Facts about Heterosexism - LGBTQIA Healthcare Guild

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Facts about Heterosexism

Heterosexism is the assumption that all people are heterosexual and that heterosexuality is superior and more desirable than homosexuality or bisexuality. Heterosexism is also the stigmatization, denial and/or denigration of anything non-heterosexual. We live in a predominantly heterosexist society and that attitude is used to justify the mistreatment, discrimination and harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning individuals. Many who are glbtq also internalize this attitude leading to denial of their true selves/identities, low self-esteem, self-hatred and other issues. There would seem to be a direct link between heterosexism and homophobia, the irrational fear or hatred of homosexuals (including bisexuals and transgender individuals).

Some manifestations of heterosexism are: Over-sexualization:

It is thought that GLBT people are only looked upon as mere sexual beings rather then complex people with lives apart from their sexuality or gender identity.

Assuming that every same sex interaction is sexual, or potentially sexual.

Assuming that GLB people are interested in someone of the same sex regardless of sexual orientation.

Interpreting everything that GLBT people do in terms of their sexuality.

Avoiding touching or becoming close to GLBT people in fear they will take it the ‘wrong’ way.

Denying Significance- Personally:

The opposite of Over-sexualization by assuming that sexual orientation is not significant.

Remarking, “It doesn’t matter to me that you’re gay.” Sexual identity is significant and should matter.

Expecting GLBT people not to talk of their relationships as many heterosexual people do, assuming that sexual orientation should not be talked about.

Denying Significance- Politically:

Criticizing GLBT people for making on issue of their sexuality. Remarking things such as, “I don’t care what they do in bed, but don’t tell me about it.”

Not understanding that in our culture, which is alternately oblivious to GLBT people, or dangerous for them, sexuality and gender identity is already a political issue.

Not understanding that heterosexuality is politically enforced by giving legal rights for marriage, finance and other such things, while legally denying homosexuals the right to marriage, housing, jobs, child custody, etc.

Labeling Homosexuality, Bisexuality or Transgender a Problem:

Being in the mind that GLBT people want or need special treatment. Or believe they all need special treatment because of their sexual orientation.

Believing that homosexuality, bisexuality or transgender can and should be cured.

Making Invisible:

Assuming that everyone is heterosexual until told else wise.

Always asking women about boy friends and men about girlfriends.

Telling GLBT people they are over reacting when they get upset about the oppression that they feel.

Expecting to be Taught:

Putting the burden of responsibility for education and for working for change on the GLBT person. Not helping or working for change concerning GLBT issues.

Forcing GLBT people to take all of the initiative in coming out.

Not making openings to come out by acknowledging in conversations the possibility of non- heterosexual relations.

Becoming upset that GLBT people are not patient about educating you.

Miss- Defining Homosexuality, Bisexuality:

Confusing bisexuality with non- monogamy; assuming that bisexuality means being involved simultaneously with both men and women.

Assuming that bisexuality is fickle or promiscuous, that they cannot commit to a stable monogamous relationship.

Mussing that lesbians hate men.

Assuming that GLB people want to convert to heterosexuality.

Trying to help someone go “straight.”

Thinking non-heterosexual orientation is a phase.

Assuming lesbians and gay men’s sexual orientation is in reaction to a bad heterosexual experience.

Thinking that you have more right then a GLBT person to judge the morality or normalcy or any persons sexual orientation, including heterosexuality.

Heterosexual privileges

As a heterosexual, I am privileged to be able to be free of fear and walk across campus holding my girlfriend's or boyfriend's hand.

As a heterosexual, I am privileged that I can be a member of ROTC without fear of being "found out" and losing my scholarship as well as my career plans.

As a heterosexual, I am privileged to join a fraternity or sorority without fear of being rejected based on my sexual identity.

As a heterosexual, I am privileged to be able to talk freely about my "relationships" with roommates, friends, and family.

As a heterosexual, I am privileged to play varsity sports without the fear of being removed from the team because of my sexual identity.

As a heterosexual, I am privileged to walk into any bar or dance with my partner and dance without fear of being verbally or physically abused.

As a heterosexual, I am privileged to interview for jobs and be able to discuss my plans for marriage without fear of being discriminated against.

As a heterosexual, I am privileged to run for a student leadership position without students focusing only on my sexual identity.

As a heterosexual, I am privileged to walk this campus without fear of physical or verbal harm based solely on my sexual identity.

As a heterosexual, I am privileged that I am a member of the dominant culture and I MAY CHOOSE TO BE AN ALLY for gay, lesbian, and bisexual students.

From: http://www.jmu.edu/safezone/wm_library/Heterosexism%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf

Heterosexism and Heteronormativity

Heterosexism in Perspective

If we turn around questions commonly asked of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual people, we can see a whole different perspective on sexual orientation.

What do you think caused your heterosexuality?

When and where did you first decide that you were a heterosexual?

Is it possible that your heterosexuality is just a phase you might grow out of?

Is it possible that your heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others of the same sex?

If you have never slept with someone of the same sex and enjoyed it, is it possible that all you need is a good gay lover?

To whom have you disclosed your heterosexual tendencies? How did they react?

Why do heterosexuals seem so compelled to seduce others into their lifestyle?

Why do you insist on flaunting your heterosexuality? Can’t you just be who you are and keep it quiet?

With so many child molesters being heterosexual, do you feel safe exposing your child to heterosexual teachers?

Why do heterosexuals place so much emphasis on sex?

  1. With the menace of overpopulation, could the world survive if everyone were a heterosexual?

Heterosexual Privileges

As a heterosexual, I am privileged to be able to be free of fear and walk across campus holding my girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s hand.

As a heterosexual, I am privileged that I can be a member of ROTC without fear of being “found out” and losing my scholarship as well as my career plans.

As a heterosexual, I am privileged to join a fraternity or sorority without fear of being rejected based on my sexual identity.

As a heterosexual, I am privileged to be able to talk freely about my “relationships” with roommates, friends, and family.

As a heterosexual, I am privileged to play varsity sports without the fear of being removed from the team because of my sexual identity.

As a heterosexual, I am privileged to walk into any bar or dance with my partner without fear of being verbally or physically abused.

As a heterosexual, I am privileged to interview for jobs and be able to discuss my plans for marriage without fear of being discriminated against.

As a heterosexual, I am privileged to run for a student leadership position without students focusing only on my sexual identity.

As a heterosexual, I am privileged to walk this campus without fear of physical or verbal harm based solely on my sexual identity.

As a heterosexual, I am privileged that I am a member of the dominant culture and I MAY CHOOSE TO BE AN ALLY for gay/ lesbian/ bisexual students.

From: http://www.csun.edu/~psp/handouts/Heterosexism%20and%20Heteronormativity.pdf

Cost of Heterosexism: How Heterosexism Hurts Us All

You do not have to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, or know someone who is, to be negatively affected by homophobia. Though heterosexism and homophobia actively oppress gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender individuals, they also hurt heterosexuals.

Heterosexism hurts us by teaching us:

• to have negative stereotypes about others which keep us from connecting with them

• to be rigidly "dualistic:" think in either/or, right/wrong and good/bad patterns

• men should be logical, rational, stoic, reserved, dominant, macho, strong, courageous; punished for being too emotional, "soft," spontaneous, affectionate, or expressive

• women should be passive, sensitive, dependent, ''pretty," petite, polite, nurturing, supportive, to put other's needs before our own; punished for being assertive, intelligent, or independent

• to minimize and to exaggerate differences and uniqueness

• to believe myths, lies, misinformation (missing information) through "educational" institutions

Heterosexism reinforces feelings of:

• fear of the unknown/different cultures

• fear in taking risks outside of prescribed traditional gender role norms

• fear of what could happen to us if we "break the silence" and challenge the system

• the inner struggle/conflict between doing what feels "right" and "just," and doing what "society" demands

• seemingly instinctive fear of people who are different

• the pain of having to choose between personal integrity and familial/peer approval and acceptance

Heterosexist Attitudes, Beliefs, and Behaviors result in:

• distancing from those who are different

• a false sense of superiority

• self-righteous attitudes

• false sources of self-esteem

• a monocultural understanding of life

• unconsciously colluding with the system of heterosexism

• unknowingly acting on our privileges and power without understanding how we are hurting/oppressing others

• being forced to conform to socialized standards of the dominant heterosexual culture

Losses as a result of Heterosexism:

• being prejudged as an active heterosexist, a threat, an oppressor without being given the chance to demonstrate otherwise

• not being encouraged to develop communities with gays, lesbians and bisexuals; to work collectively to create or change things

• adopting stereotypes and myths that undermine attempts to build coalitions of groups working together to create change at a systems level

• being kept in competition with members of other targeted groups, competing for the "scraps and leftovers" from the table of oppression

• being prevented from having a deeper understanding of the inter-relatedness of all forms of oppression

• having a lack of meaningful relationships and true community with gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons

• being so full of negative thoughts, feelings, stereotypes and hatred towards others affects our mental health

• accepting the realities of "punishments" from individuals, groups and societal institutions if we choose to challenge heterosexism

• not being taught the interconnections between all of the "isms:" racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, Jewish oppression, disability oppression, and others.

• being drawn into the destructive competition over "which form of oppression is the worst"

• being blinded to the interconnectedness of all forms of oppression and pits people against each other

  1. being conscripted into "doing the oppressors' work" for them

From: Kathy Obear, The Human Advantage, 1991

Counselors for Social Justice (CSJ) Position Statement on Sexism and Heterosexism

Counselors for Social Justice (CSJ) acknowledges that sexism and heterosexism are interconnected and negatively impact the academic, career, and mental well being of individuals, families and communities. The multiple ways in which sexism and heterosexism manifest themselves in society require that counselors move beyond time and office bound interventions. For this reason both direct counseling and social advocacy are needed to address the individual, social/cultural, and institutional forms of sexism and heterosexism in society. This position is consistent with the values inherent within CSJ, and it aligns with the American Counseling Association’s (ACA) Code of Ethics (American Counseling Association, 2005). Rationale The CSJ supports social, political, and economic justice. It believes all beings should be treated with dignity and respect, and afforded an equal opportunity to be successful in life. Consistent with this believe it informs counselors that they have a moral and ethical responsibility to advocate for all marginalized people in our society. For counselors to work effectively they must be aware of the ways sexism and heterosexism serve as barriers to human development, as it is this knowledge that serves as the impetus for counselors to engage in social justice advocacy at the micro, meso and macro levels (Lewis & Arnold, 1998). Both sexism and heterosexism are interconnected in that they are linked by a common thread: patriarchy. Patriarchy is the system through which male structural power is enacted. Whether intentional or unintentional, the exploitation of women, sexual minorities, and transgender individuals is justified by the oppressor to limit access to resources and to rationalize dehumanizing attitudes, beliefs and behaviors (Adams et al., 2000; Glick & Fiske,1997). Moreover, heterosexism acts as a weapon of sexism by enforcing compulsory heterosexuality and rigid gender roles (Campbell, et al., 1997; Pharr). This creates a limited view of humanity and contributes to mental health disorders for those who do not or cannot conform (Blumenfeld, 1992; Harro, 2000).

Sexism negatively impacts everyone. Women report that their experiences of sexism are relatively common (Swim, Hyers, Cohen, & Ferguson, 2001)). Sexism includes a wide range of events such as derogatory comments and sexual harassment to more extreme events such as sexual assault (Moradi & Subich, 2002). Oftentimes, women will internalize sexist beliefs. Internalized sexism occurs when women buy into the negative attitudes, beliefs and cultural norms about the role of women in society. Sexism has been linked to negative mental health outcomes for women, particularly affective symptoms such as depression, anger, and anxiety (Klonoff, Landrine, & Campbell, 2000). Though most studies about sexism study the impact on women, men are not exempt from its negative effects. Though the system of sexism benefits men, they too are socialized to conform to gender norms. These include norms about appropriate emotional expression which in turn, may contribute to negative mental health problems (Worell & Remer, 2003). In addition to the impact of CSJ Position Statement on Sexism and Heterosexism: sexism, heterosexism also has been found to have negative mental health outcomes for individuals (Meyers, 1995; Szymanski, 2005). Research also indicates the development of a healthy sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression is an important aspect of human development and subsequent mental health (Adam et al., 2000; Meyer, 1995; Szymanski, 2005). In addition, the use of reparative therapy and transformational ministries as a part of counseling is also problematic (American Counseling Association, 2000). Using counseling as a tool to repress a person’s sexual orientation and using religion to promote certain sexualities and gender identities is unethical and potentially damaging to the mental health of the client. Similarly, the pathologizing of gender variant individuals is also evident in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV‐TR (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Diagnosing gender variance as a mental disorder raises questions of consistency, validity, and fairness. It also reinforces false negative stereotypes of gender variant people. It is time for the counseling profession to affirm that difference is not disease, nonconformity is not pathology, and uniqueness does not equate to illness.

Relevance to Counseling

The growing body of research indicating the harmful effects of sexism and heterosexism on human development and mental health signals their relevance to counselors, and is a call to action to the counseling profession (Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, 2005; Klonoff, Landrine, & Campbell, 2000; Worell & Remer, 2003). “Heterosexist stereotypes can impose physiological and psychological burdens on sexual minorities of all ages and ethnic backgrounds” .(Ritter & Terndrup, pp. 11) As social change agents, counselors would do well to adopt proactive measures that combat the harmful effects of sexism and heterosexism in society. The prevalence of sexism and heterosexism is a call to action. It is therefore important for counselors to better understand how socio‐environmental factors, specifically sexism and heterosexism, may impact their clients. On an individual basis (micro‐level), helping clients to explore and understand how sexism and heterosexism impacts them personally is warranted when the client presents with minority stress or affective symptoms related to experiences of sexism. On a broad or macro‐level, the call to advocacy is pressing in order to reduce the overall impact of sexism and heterosexism on individual’s lives.

Recommended Actions

  1. 1)CSJ should communicate to the American Counseling Association (ACA) and all its Divisions its position relative to Sexism and Heterosexism

  2. 2)CSJ should invite the Association for Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling (ALGBTIC), and the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES) to join with CSJ to establish Action Taskforces that would a) develop and promote the use of appropriate and inclusive language for counselor educators, practitioners and researchers to deal with sexism and heterosexism, to include gender‐neutral pronouns. (e.g., ze); b) infuse the AGLBTIC competencies into counselor education programs; c) establish an Action Taskforce to advocate for the removal of gender identity disorder as a mental disorder in the DSM IV‐TR to lessen the stigma for gender variant clients; d) work with health care industries to limit costs and increase access to transitioning services such as hormone treatment and sex reassignment surgery; e) advocate against all forms of reparative therapy and transformational ministries; f) implement “Safe Zone Trainings” that address how counselors can be allies to the LGBT community in counselor education programs;

  3. 3)CSJ should work with ACES and ALGBTIC to infuse counselor training programs with materials that: a) emphasize the importance of understanding how sociocultural factors such as sexism and heterosexism negatively contribute to client problems; b) demonstrate how to implement appropriate microlevel and macrolevel interventions; c) emphasize concrete ways in which counselors can become advocates and promote social justice for their clients; d) use the multicultural counseling competencies developed by Sue, Arredondo and McDavis (1992) to help counselors develop awareness, knowledge and skills to work with women, sexual minorities and transgender individuals; e) employ the ACA Advocacy Competencies as suggested by Lewis, Arnold, House and Toporek (2003) as a framework for addressing issues of sexism and heterosexism at the individual, school/community, and public arena levels; f) establish a joint Action Taskforce with all interested Divisions to promote research that thoroughly investigates the effects of sexism and heterosexism and identifies appropriate intervention strategies at individual, social/cultural and institutional levels. Position statement approved by CSJ Board 6/08.


Homophobia is More Pronounced in Individuals Who Have Internal Conflict Regarding Their Own Sexual Identity

Homophobia is more pronounced in individuals with an unacknowledged attraction to the same sex and who grew up with authoritarian parents who forbade such desires, a series of
psychology studies demonstrates. The research, published in the April 2012 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, reveals the nuances of prejudices like homophobia, which can ultimately have dire consequences.  "Individuals who identify as straight but in psychological tests show a strong attraction to the same sex may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves," explains Netta Weinstein, a lecturer at the University of Essex and the study's lead author. "In many cases these are people who are at war with themselves and they are turning this internal conflict outward," adds co-author Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester who helped direct the research.

"Sometimes people are threatened by gays and lesbians because they are fearing their own impulses, in a sense they 'doth protest too much,'" Ryan told LiveScience. "In addition, it appears that sometimes those who would oppress others have been oppressed themselves, and we can have some compassion for them too, they may be unaccepting of others because they cannot be accepting of themselves."  In all of the studies, participants who reported supportive and accepting parents were more in touch with their implicit sexual orientation, meaning it tended to jibe with their outward sexual orientation. Students who indicated they came from authoritarian homes showed the biggest discrepancy between the two measures of sexual orientation. "In a predominately heterosexual society, 'know thyself' can be a challenge for many gay individuals," lead author Netta Weinstein, a lecturer at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom,said in a statement. "But in controlling and homophobic homes, embracing a minority sexual orientation can be terrifying."

The research also sheds light on high profile cases in which anti-gay public figures are caught engaging in same-sex sexual acts. The authors cite such examples as Ted Haggard, the evangelical preacher who opposed gay marriage but was exposed in a gay sex scandal in 2006, and Glenn Murphy, Jr., former chairman of the Young Republican National Federation and vocal opponent of gay marriage, who was accused of sexually assaulting a 22-year-old man in 2007, as potentially reflecting this dynamic. "We laugh at or make fun of such blatant hypocrisy, but in a real way, these people may often themselves be victims of repression and experience exaggerated feelings of threat," says Ryan. "Homophobia is not a laughing matter. It can sometimes have tragic consequences," Ryan says, pointing to cases such as the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard or the 2011 shooting of Larry King....

From: Science Daily: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120406234458.htm  and Live Science: http://www.livescience.com/19563-homophobia-hidden-homosexuals.html


Avoiding Heterosexist Bias in Psychological Research

The authors describe various ways that heterosexist bias can occur in scientific research and suggest ways that social and behavioral scientists can avoid it. Heterosexist bias is defined as conceptualizing human experience in strictly heterosexual terms and consequently ignoring, invalidating, or derogating homosexual behaviors and sexual orientation, and lesbian, gay male, and bisexual relationships and lifestyles. The deleterious scientific, social, and ethical consequences of such biases are discussed. Questions are provided for researchers to use in evaluating how heterosexist bias might affect their own selection of research questions, sampling, operationalization of variables, data collection, protection of participants, and dissemination of results...

The Heterosexism Enquirer - Challenging Heterosexism Against Sexual and Gender Minorities

The Heterosexism Enquirer (www.mun.ca/the) is an electronic magazine dedicated to challenging heterosexism in society's institutions, individuals, families and communities. THE challenges heterosexism by increasing awareness of the existence and impact of heterosexism, through curriculum and educational materials, and through promotion and evaluation of strategies to challenge heterosexism....

Dr. Herek - Sexual Orientation: Science, Education and Policy Dealing with Homophobia

This site features work by Dr. Gregory Herek, an internationally recognized authority on sexual prejudice (also called homophobia), hate crimes, and AIDS stigma. It provides factual information to promote the use of scientific knowledge for education and enlightened public policy related to sexual orientation and HIV/AIDS...

Religious Homophobia Often Masks Religious Leaders Own Deep-Seated Fears Regarding Their Own Sexuality

Guardian, UK - It is an interesting observation that experience tells us that it is more often than not the very closeted clergy who deployed an almost neurotic obsession with the size and length of the altar cloth and ecclesiastical protocol is "their own way of dealing with their demons"....
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