Homophobia is –a strong dislike and fear of homosexual people–. Homophobia can manifest itself in different ways: from insults to physical violence.
In 1972 Weinberg published the famous book –Society and the Healthy Homosexual–, which had a great influence on the following debate and studies about the attitude of heterosexuals towards homosexual men and women. In that text the word homophobia appeared for the first time.
It's been reported later on, that rather than a clinical form of phobia, this concept refers to a social phenomenon which is rooted in the ideologies and interindividual relations (Herek, 1990). The basic statement does not change anyway: even though homosexuality is not a form of mental insanity, it has been considered such for most of the 20th century and even today the effects of homophobia have a strong influence on the quality of life of homosexual people.
Some researches carried out in the US revealed that an always increasing number of gay and homosexuals are victims of some form of discrimination or intolerance. According to a research of the 80s 5% of gay and 10% of lesbians of the people sampled reported a physical abuse in the previous year because of their sexual orientation, and almost half of the sample (47%) had witnessed some form of discrimination on the work place or in other social contexts. These research demonstrate also that there is a strong connection between some social–demographic and attitudinal factors: low cultural level or coming of age, a conservative religious position, authoritarianism and so on.
There is a more concealed form of homophobia called –interiorised homophobia–, i.e. the form of homophobia affecting the homosexuals -under the negative influence of family and society, like heterosexuals - which does not allow them to live at ease as homosexuals. Interiorised homophobia derives from the conscious or unconscious acceptation of the feelings, the attitudes and prejudices about homosexuality typical of the homophobic cultural trends.
Since childhood each individual grows with the perspective of becoming a heterosexual adult and when one realises he is homosexual, while he is building his own identity, does not find the support and acceptation to express fully his self. When homosexual people discover their sexual identity, they find out they are alone. A homosexual would then avoid acknowledging his sexuality in order to elude the anxiety, shame and guiltiness that this acceptation would cause to them. They would think about themselves as a reason of uneasiness or embarrassment to their family, like something to hide. This leads to a decrease of self–appraisal.
The principal effects of interiorised homophobia are the following:
- Belief that the homosexuality is a wrong feeling to be hidden or denied;
- Refusal of one's homosexuality because of the sense of guilt, anxiety and shame it causes;
- Not to reveal oneself to family, friends, colleagues, hiding one's real sexual identity;
- Increase of social auto–marginalisation;
- Dramatic decrease in self–appraisal;
- Insecurity and submissive behaviour;
- Emotional diseases, like anxiety and depression;
- Increase in alcohol and drug addiction;
- Sometimes, attempted suicides.