Current Day Evil: Homophobia in America
By Alex Stilson
Homophobia causes a myriad of problems for society and for people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, along with their allies. This can be clearly seen throughout the history of our great country. However, it has become a major issue since the middle of the nineteenth century.
After World War II many new laws came into place which pointed out the “evils” of homosexuality. Later on hate crimes became more focused on the LGBT community than ever before. It also increased the number of suicides for gay teenagers. Finally, the issue of homophobia involves opposition to gay marriage.
Homophobia, in the U.S., began to become more prominent in the years after World War II when people felt threatened by secrecy, and as a result went after the LGBT community. Many laws were passed during this time, including the sodomy laws. Anyone caught for “indecent exposure, ‘inviting’ persons for immoral purposes, and public disorderly conduct,” (William N. Eskridge Jr. 5) would be considered in violation of the sodomy law.
Later on certain states altered this law so that anyone who has committed a sodomy law violation could be put into a psychiatric ward for being gay. Within these wards, the doctors would use a number of ways to “cure” homosexuals. The means of “curing” people included “psychotherapy, aversion therapy, pharmacological shock, injection of hormones, cerebral lobotomies, and castration” (William N. Eskridge Jr. 7).
Laws went beyond just these sodomy laws. There were laws in place during the fifties and sixties that allowed police to use decoys, spies and raids to arrest and charge homosexuals with crimes ranging from misdemeanors all the way up to felony level crimes. The police used spies to follow and track people down so they could try to arrest the couples for having sex. This was ineffective since they were not able to arrest as many people as they had hoped.
They later turned to using decoys to try to arrest gays. They did this by using decoys to try to make people commit crimes such as hiring a prostitute, giving/receiving oral sex or even kissing. In some cases, though, “vice officers were willing to forget the ‘magic words’ in return for cash,” (William N. Eskridge Jr. 9). This shows how the cops were willing to forget or lower the charges on the person if they were to get paid cash money.
Finally the police raided social areas where gay people would hang out. Police forces around the country used raids because they were much more cost efficient than using decoys and spies. During these raids the police charged gays with “disorderly conduct or lewdness…. Arrests for disorderly conduct based on observations of same-sex hugging and kissing,” (William N. Eskridge Jr. 10).
The raids, again, resulted in few to no arrests, because they were not able to create enough convictions to make the raids worthwhile. However these raids continued for many years. These laws, set up by the previous generations, helped form and perpetuate homophobia in America, which is still relevant to this day. These homophobic laws set up by our forefathers are evil because they took away the freedom of self-expression and ruined the lives of the LGBT community as well as their families.
The most significant evil in this whole era of our history is how homosexuals were made second-class citizens with fewer rights and more unfair treatment compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
As decades and generations of people came and went, homophobia only increased in America, which led, and still leads, to hate crimes across our country, in every state and most likely every single community. A prime example of a hate crime was the death of Matthew Shepard. On October 7, 1998.
Matthew Shepard was in a bar when two men named Aaron McKinney and Russel Henderson acted like they were gay in order to get Matthew Shepard to follow them into their car. They drove out into the middle of nowhere and Shepard was “robbed, beaten, tied to a fence and left to die,” (Steve Liss 1). A cyclist found Shepard about eighteen hours later, still surprisingly alive after his whole ordeal; Shepard was then brought to the hospital. After five days in the hospital Matthew Shepard died on October 12. His death was on the news nationwide, which led to protests across the country either for or against Shepard’s death. During Shepard’s funeral ceremony Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, preached that ‘God hates gays,” outside the church.” (Steve Liss 2).
Organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis have also been responsible for being involved in the persecution and lynching of gays. However they are not given as much legitimacy as the Christian church. Religion can be to blame for increased homophobia because “Anti-gay messages rooted in religious intolerance only contribute to misunderstanding and hatred for homosexual people and can lead to more violent incidents like the murder of Matthew Shepard,” (Steve Liss 3).
When writers refer to religious intolerance they do not mean that all churches and religions specifically teach homophobia. An interesting fact is that 1,019 victimizations prompted by sexual orientation were reported in 1995. In 2002 there were almost 1,300 reported incidents and in 2004 there were nearly 1200 incidents of hate crimes reported.
Religious intolerance and hate groups are on the forefront of homophobia in America. The evil of hatred can lead to murder, severe injuries and horrific treatment to homosexuals who never did anything to the person committing the hate crime. The evil of religious intolerance is that more and more followers of certain religions have become hostile towards the LGBT community, based on beliefs which were never stated in religious texts, or have been misinterpreted.
One of the most controversial topics involving the gay community today is the increase in suicide among LGBT teenagers. Young people and mere children are taking their own lives because of society’s aversion to homosexuality, bullying and non-acceptance by adults and peers. Suicide among gay teens is no new thing. Causes of suicide include little or no emotional support, verbal and physical antigay abuse everywhere and forms of bullying.
According to Gary Remafedi, James Farrow and Robert Deisher, “most gay youth suicides are committed by teens dealing for the first time with issues of sexual orientation and identity, (“Suicide Risk for Gay Teens” 2).
Teenagers and youth during puberty question their sexuality and who they truly are, and it does not help them feel safe or supported when people around them are homophobic. They can also feel uncomfortable because of direct or indirect bullying by their peers and adults. Examples of indirect bullying include saying “that’s so gay,” “faggot” and other derogatory terms for gay people. This affects more kids in the LGBT community, or those even questioning their sexuality, than most people realize. Homophobia in schools can also lead to students isolating themselves and remaining anonymous and frightened by their peers.
According to studies, about “500,000 adolescents attempt suicide every year… 5,000 succeed and at least 30% of completed suicides are gay youth,” (“Suicide Risk for Gay Teens” 1). The suicide of many gay teens each year is a true atrocity, resulting from bullying, lack of support and physical and verbal abuse by adults and peers. The bullies that provoke these suicides are the true evil in this situation. They indirectly cause the death of someone’s child, they make the victim’s life a living hell and cause them to have depression, and worst of all, the suicide is a life lost to the world without a reason.
A final obstacle that is set up for society because of homophobia is the issue of gay marriage. In 1996 the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, was passed. It basically says that gay marriage is wrong and marriage can only be between a man and a woman. In a debate over the bill, Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) said, “Love and commitment can exist between a man and a woman and it can and does exist between men and women.” (“Same-Sex Marriage” 1) This statement shows how love is love, no matter the gender.
Opponents of marriage equality claim “the traditional family has stood for 5,000 years,” (“Same-Sex Marriage” 3). This is an utterly false statement. The ancient Greeks, over 2,000 years ago, saw same-sex relationships as acceptable within certain limits, and some societies and religions still accept marriages in which a male has several wives. No one knows what any culture’s concept of marriage was 5,000 years ago, in the Bronze Age.
Homophobes say that “marriage is a covenant established by God wherein one man and one woman are united for the purpose of founding and maintaining the family,” (“Same-Sex Marriage” 3). This quote can be interpreted a number of ways; however, a man and a woman are not needed to maintain a family; it can be done by anyone, including widows, single parents and even the children themselves if necessary.
Rep. Tom Cobum of Oklahoma once claimed, “There are studies to say that over 43 percent of all people who profess homosexuality have greater than 500 partners.” (“Same-Sex Marriage” 4). This statement cannot be true. For most people, gay or straight, this statement is completely false because most people never have more than 500 partners in their entire lifetimes, although there are some exceptions.
DOMA must be repealed so LGBT people can truly obtain equality and will no longer be treated like second-class citizens. With the passage of DOMA, gay couples cannot have the same health insurance, raising the cost for both partners; they cannot get married or even get civil unions in all states and some states do not recognize legal relationships formed elsewhere.
Last but not least, DOMA violates equality for LGBT Americans as compared to heterosexual couples. Because of this law there is no true equality among United States citizens when it comes to the right of marriage and there is no sign that this will change soon. The passage of DOMA in 1996 is an evil in itself, since it prevents gays from loving their partners, takes away rights such as visiting their partners in the hospital (since they are not family members or related) and making it hard for couples to be truly together and happy in their lives. These are truly the evils and atrocities brought on by the federal government, which affect society as a whole in one way or another.
With the creation of anti-gay laws after World War II, hate crimes, religious intolerance, teenage suicides and inequality when it comes to marriage, it is no wonder that homophobia is a huge current day evil. In the land of the free there is an abundant amount of discrimination, hate and turmoil brought on by homophobia. This is a true evil and there is hope that one day it will go away, but until then we need to keep working at it. Do not ever give up on the hope of a better tomorrow.
“Hate Groups and Religious Intolerance.” Gender Issues and Sexuality: Essential Primary Sources. Ed. K. Lee Lerner, Brenda Wilmoth Lerner, and Adrienne Wilmoth Lerner. Detroit: Gale, 2006. 135-137. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 24 Apr. 2012.
Snowder, Frances. “Homophobia Increases the Suicide Risk for Gay Teens.” Homosexuality. Ed. Auriana Ojeda. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 24 Apr. 2012.
Walen, Alec. “Society Should Allow Same-Sex Marriage.” Homosexuality. Ed. Paul Connors. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2007. Current Controversies. Rpt. from “The Defense of Marriage Act and Authoritarian Morality.” Dissent (Summer 1997). Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 24 Apr. 2012.
Eskridge, William N. “Apartheid Of The Closet.” Florida State University College of Law. 1 Apr. 1996. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <http://www.law.fsu.edu/journals/lawreview/frames/244/eskrfram.htm>