Homophobic is not an offensive word

Today I am going to write about a subject that is very close to my heart, homophobia. It may seem a rather strange subject to write about but it has been in the news quite a bit here in Ireland and I have had a lot of time to think about it . Just to be clear, I am not going to talk about gay rights but rather about the word itself and why it can be used to denounce people that are against equality for LGBT people. I would also like to apologise if I offend anyone, these are my opinions and I am not the most politically correct of people. I would encourage you to post your own views, opinions and feedback in the comments below.

To give a little bit of background as to why I am going on this rant, recently on Irish television there has been a lot of talk about whether it is appropriate to refer to people that are against marriage equality as homophobic.  According to the conservative line of thought, homophobic is an offensive term as it implies that people that are against marriage equality hate or are afraid of gay people. They insist that they are perfectly fine with gay people, they just don’t want them to be able to marry. At the base of this argument is the root of the word –phobia which means “fear of”. There is an attempt to distinguish between “true homophobia” which is classified as any “serious” act that discriminates against the LGBT community and “having traditional values” which is the exclusion of LGBT couples from marriage.

Let me begin by drawing a comparison to another word, xenophobia. As you all probably know, xenophobia is the fear of what is different, also known as racism. It contains the dreaded suffix -phobia as well but nobody disputes that precluding black people from marriage is xenophobic. Nobody would dare come up nowadays and say that black people should not get married to white people and that is “just their opinion”. If anybody tried to justify that they were not xenophobic because they were perfectly ok with “the blacks”, they would be rightly thrown off the stage and might even end up being prosecuted.

If we go back 70 years the opposite would have been true. Hiding behind the original Greek meaning of the suffix -phobia is a weak argument. It is similar to me arguing I am not white because my skin is technically pink, or saying that you are not having breakfast (comes from breaking-fast) because you had a coffee beforehand. It is grasping at straws and does not stand. To get a glimpse of how pervasive and subtle homophobia is in modern society I highly recommend watching this incredible speech by Panti, a well-known Irish gay rights activist.

Putting all that aside, I do believe that the argument against marriage equality does come from a position of fear. Fear bred from ignorance and the refusal to empathise with your fellow human beings. It stems from the realisation that your cosy little world is no longer as small as you want it to be and that perhaps you will lose the moral high ground that you desperately require. Realising that the way you have though all your life is wrong is not an easy step to take and many people are not able to take it. They are also afraid to admit this and are therefore very offended when anybody points a finger at them and says “you are part of the past”. By eliminating the word homophobic from the discourse, they intend to maintain the upper ground and not be called out for the small-minded bigots they really are.

I strongly believe that denying LGBT couple the right to marry is homophobic. It is a clear form of discrimination and should be called as such. Being a homophobe does not mean you will run down the street if you see a gay person, it means you are afraid to let them share your rights, it means that you still consider some territories out of bounds for “the gays”.

I would propose one rule of thumb: for any given sentence about gay people, substitute the word “gay” for “black”. If it makes you cringe, then the original sentence was homophobic. For example:

  • It’s my opinion that gay people should not have the right to marry turns into It’s my opinion that black people should not have the right to marry: homophobic.
  • It’s my opinion that gay people are fun to be around turns into It’s my opinion that black people are fun to be around: not homophobic, just your opinion.
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