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What is homophobia?

It’s a slippery one – defining homophobia. For those of us who are LGBTQI, we tend to know it when it happens. Though for those of my brothers and sisters who are closeted, the fact that they don’t feel safe to be open about themselves perhaps indicates an underlying culture of homophobia that is harder to define. If that is difficult for straight people to understand, just think for a moment about the last time you had to do a risk assessment before you kissed or held the hand of your partner in public. Not a question of whether people will reach for the sick bag, or even notice, but whether you and your partner will receive a mouthful of abuse or be physically threatened.

For those of us who are also people of faith, there is the added ‘complication’ of religious traditions and scriptural injunctions. That means, for a few of my Christian sisters and brothers, the right to judge, to condemn and even to hate (let’s be honest), without any stricture. For many others, it is to be powerless to stop these vocal few. Is faith the trump card when it comes to homophobia?

I wonder whether it is possible to devise a simple test that all of us can use to assess whether what we are thinking and about to say is, in fact, homophobic. I take as my inspiration the recent cartoons that have appeared on facebook and twitter about political correctness. So here goes: when you are about to say something about ‘the gays’ or ‘homosexuals’, replace those terms with either ‘the Jews’ or ‘black people’. If, when you do so, the resultant sentence sounds a bit anti-Semitic or racist, the chances are the original was probably a bit homophobic. You might also want to consider whether making statements about gay people as a whole group is either true (it almost certainly isn’t) or even necessary. If you’ve thought something negative about LGBTQI people, the chances are we’ve also thought it about ourselves and don’t need a reminder ….

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