Challenging Homophobia
An online workshop for middle and high school educators.
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Part I : Identifying Homophobia

Recognizing Homophobia in Action

There is a wide range of ways homophobia can materialize. Allport, in his study on prejudice, developed a model that shows five degrees of prejudiced action. The importance of this model is that it shows the relationships among different types of prejudiced acts. It shows a progression that has been acted out repeatedly, throughout history. It shows how one type of action prepares the way for the next.

Acting Out Prejudice

Allport defined five ways that prejudice can be expressed or acted upon. These five types of prejudiced action are :

  1. Antilocution (name calling, stereotyping)
  2. Avoidance (defamation by omission, exclusion)
  3. Discrimination (refusal of service, denial of opportunity)
  4. Physical Attack (threat of physical violence, murder)
  5. Extermination (mass assassination, genocide)

This model represents a range of behavior from verbal abuse to physical violence and genocide. And within each level there is a range of behaviors.

Antilocution begins with simple name-calling, develops into stereotyping, then with defamation by omission, makes the transition to the next level of Allport's scale, avoidance. First, the targeted person is misrepresented, as a member of the targeted class. Later, with defamation by omission, the target is prevented from any representation at all. The unknown is more frightening -- and easier to make things up about.

The patterns of name-calling, stereotyping and omission extend to social avoidance -- from the attitude of the high school student disowning her friend upon discovering that she is a lesbian -- to the “unofficial” organizational proclamation, “We don’t have people like that in our club.” With this transition, avoidance becomes discrimination .

Avoidance and discrimination only extend so far. These tactics can keep targeted individuals from entering the agent's group, but it doesn't make them go away completely. One isolated group can still "bump up against" another. The intolerance that fed the efforts at exclusion can also feed efforts at intimidation with the intent of pushing the entire targeted group away. This is when discrimination intensifies into physical attack. Beginning with the threat of violence, this level of prejudiced action escalates easily from isolated spontaneous incidents into group behavior.

And once you’ve got groups acting out their prejudice with physical violence, the way is prepared for directing that energy methodically, in the name of war, or some some delusive ideology. Then you have reached the threshold of Allport's fifth level, extermination -- genocide.

The Nazi genocide campaign that resulted in the murder of 6,000,000 Jewish people during World War II also targeted "undocumented" immigrants and gypsies, prostitutes, Jehova's Witnesses, people with disabilities and homosexuals for annihilation in the death camps.

There are people in the United States and in many other countries around the world today, government officials, religious leaders, grass roots political organizers, who have publicly advocated the extermination of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

NEXT: Homophobia in Action at School

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