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Understanding Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia

May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia

By Leea Pronovost and JR

New JR photo 3.14.14JR of the Rainbow EldersTo best support our loved ones and neighbors who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transsexual (LGBT) on this day and every day, we must first have an understanding of these words.

To begin, we need to have an understanding of the word phobia. The meaning of the word comes from the Greek word phobos, meaning fear. Dictionary.com says that the word phobia is a noun and describes it as “a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.” Phobias that are commonly known include: fear of heights, bees, and snakes, and, currently, the fear of ticks has risen in our culture. Some phobias are due to the possibility of harmful circumstances, i.e. Lyme disease from deer ticks. Others are less rational. We will be referring to phobias that are learned through cultural biases, ignorance, confusion, or the inability to manage irrational judgments and reactivity within our own psyches. Understanding if one’s fear is rational or irrational is important when it comes to dismantling fear and hate towards people who are different from us.

What is homophobia?

Homophobia is the fear of homosexuals. Homosexuals are those who prefer to be intimate with people of their own gender. Gay men and lesbian women are attracted to the same gender in a romantic, erotic, and emotional sense. They have a variety of friendships including heterosexual men and women. However, their friendships with other gay men and lesbians are the pool from which they find their romantic partners.

People who are homophobic are fearful of homosexuals and want to avoid them. Psychology may say this fear has many sources: someone may have been approached by someone of the same gender at one time; or have a fear that they themselves have homosexual tendencies; or just have a fear of the unknown. Due to societal pressures, some gays and lesbians also experience internalized homophobia – a feeling that they are less than, wrong, bad, etc.

What is biphobia?

Biphobia is the fear of bisexual (bi) people. A bisexual is someone who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to both men and women. Bisexuals are usually not noticed in society when they are relating to someone of the opposite gender. It is when they are relating to someone of the same gender that they are erroneously “labeled” homosexual. People who are biphobic are fearful of bisexuals and want to avoid them, if they recognize these preferences.

What is transphobia?

Transphobia is synonymous with transprejudice, which has a spectrum of prejudices against transgender people. Transgender (trans) is a basic umbrella for anyone who would be considered gender non-conforming: someone who is not comfortable with their birth gender and presents as a gender different from that birth gender. Transphobia can also include transsexuals who may or may not be gender-conforming individuals; some identify as gender queer, which means they do not identify as either male or female. Transsexuals often wish to transform their bodies hormonally and surgically to match their inner sense of gender/sex.

While the gay rights movement has made many strides for the rights of gay men and lesbians, the trans community has been left behind in all aspects and considerations for their rights. Just as women’s suffrage took a “back seat” to that of the African-American male voting privilege, trans rights were not made a part of the gay rights movement due to lack of acceptance by either society or the early gay rights movement. The late blooming of the entire trans movement has been a result of transphobia.

Unfortunately, transphobia is alive and well in this country, including within Massachusetts. The Public Accommodations bill is yet to be passed in this state. At this point in time, a trans person can work in a restaurant, yet be denied the right to eat in that same restaurant! Basically, the public accommodations bill will allow trans people to be treated equally in restaurants, hotels, public transportation, and hospitals. Fear of the “other” is causing a great deal of opposition to the trans community’s basic human rights.

These phobias in families may have detrimental circumstances for the person who is gay, lesbian, bi, or trans. Sometimes the family will banish, disinherit, shun, etc., the non-heterosexual member of the family. However, in other families, the non-heterosexual member is accepted as just being different.

The Rainbow Elders

The Rainbow Elders of LifePath (formerly Franklin County Home Care Corporation) have created a panel of their members to introduce people who are LGBT to seniors at their senior centers or COAs (Councils on Aging). We hope to eliminate the fear of “other" by showing that we are regular people just like them. We would also like to present our panel to caregivers to enable them to understand and have compassion for LGBTIQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and asexual) folks with whom they may come into contact.

To reach the Rainbow Elders, please call 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259. Read more on the Rainbow Elders webpage.