Gay people have been a marginalized group throughout history. Although our society has come a long way, discrimination against gay people still happens frequently in this day and age.
History of Gay People in Society
Homosexuality was once considered an illness in the past, with attempts made to cure it with conversion therapy or other means. It was normal and in fact encouraged then to be openly hostile towards gay people.
In fact, homosexuality was listed as a psychiatric disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) up until 1973, when its removal sparked heated debates from both sides of the coin.
Since homosexuality was believed to be a disorder, parents would often send their gay youths to gay conversion therapy, or gay reparative therapy, which was practiced mostly by religious groups that were against homosexuality. Conversion therapy made use of prayer and counseling to help people change their sexual orientation, on the basis that people “developed” homosexuality due to childhood trauma, shaming from their families or a lack of love and affection from their parent of the same sex. However, there was little evidence that conversion therapy worked, with the sessions leaving many gay youths scarred and traumatized instead.
Homophobia and Discrimination
Gay discrimination occurs when people who identify as gay are treated less favorably than those who are not gay, for no other reason than their sexuality. For a long time, straight or heterosexual has been seen as the norm, while homosexuality was seen as deviant or abnormal. Discriminatory acts against gay people are said to be homophobic in nature, with homophobia defined as the hostility towards homosexual people. Homophobia may also refer to any stigma against gay people.
Homophobic acts usually include offensive jokes or remarks, using homosexual terms as slang in a negative context, bullying, gossip, physical or emotional attacks, destroying property and negative portrayal in the media targeted at gay people. Additionally, homophobia can also cause a person to be rejected by their friends and family after they are found out to be gay.
While homophobia is not exactly gay discrimination, one often leads to the other. Harboring negative feelings or hostility towards gay people can usually push a person to discriminate against them.
Why Does Gay Discrimination Occur?
Of course, there can be many reasons why individuals may view gay people in a negative light. That being said, there are usually similar patterns in the views of those who discriminate against gay people or otherwise have homophobic views. These people typically see “gay” and “straight” as two distinct groups, in which there is no overlap. They believe that people are either gay or not gay. They also tend to stereotype homosexual people and associate all homosexual people with negative characteristics solely on the basis of their sexuality.
On the other hand, those who are not prejudiced towards gay people tend to have the belief that there is nothing “wrong” with homosexuality. They feel that homosexuality is universal, naturally occurring, cannot be changed and is simply a different human characteristic.
Gay people may also be negatively viewed because they tend to be associated with HIV and AIDS. At one point, homosexual people were believed to have caused the wide spread of HIV and AIDS among the population. Terms such as the “gay plague” were widely used in the media because people thought that HIV and AIDS spread only through homosexual acts. Nowadays, people are better informed, and most are aware that these illnesses are not caused by homosexuality. However, subconscious association and prejudice still run deep in the minds of many. This is quickly turning into a vicious cycle where homosexual people tend to reach out less for HIV prevention, treatment and care for fear of facing discrimination.
Gay Discrimination Today
Today, most mental health organizations such as the American Psychological Association believe that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and homosexual people do not need to be “cured”.
These days, we may not see gay discrimination to the extent as it was in the past. Unfortunately, this does not mean that gay stigma is fully gone. In many regions of the world, homophobia is a very real topic, with homosexuality still illegal in a number of countries. Gay discrimination occurs in workplaces, schools and homes around the world. Many gay people still report having faced at least one count of gay discrimination or homophobia in their society. One of the most vulnerable victims of gay discrimination are youths who are not accepted by their families for being gay. Sometimes, they may even be thrown out of the house or disowned by their family. In the United States, an estimated 20 to 40 percent of young homeless people identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Gay marriage is legal in only 28 countries in the world. In contrast, consensual homosexual sexual acts is illegal and effectively punishable by death in six countries, with six other countries possibly imposing the death penalty. Homosexual relations are illegal in 72 countries and not recognized in the rest of the world.
Even in places where homosexual unions are allowed, gay couples may be subject to restrictions by law. For example, not all countries allow gay couples to marry – they are only allowed a civil union in some parts of the world, while in others they may only live together. Some countries also prohibit gay couples from owning housing or land. Additionally, gay couples may face limitations if they wish to adopt a child, since certain countries only allow heterosexual couples to adopt children. Gay people may have limited positions available to them in the military on the grounds of their sexual orientation. In some countries, they are banned from serving at all.
Protection Against Gay Discrimination
Almost all countries that do not recognize gay unions also do not have anti-discriminatory laws to protect gay people. As such, it is not illegal for gay people to be subject to discrimination, prejudice, bullying and hate crimes in their day-to-day lives. Gay people are sometimes even killed on the streets simply due to their sexual orientation.
On the contrary, in countries that support gay marriage, there are usually laws to protect the rights and interests of LGBT+ individuals, including gay people. Gay rights are seen by the United Nations as human rights, and support for gay people has been higher than ever with the help of information, the media and the Internet.
Fortunately, even if the current situation may seem bleak in some countries, the world has progressed since the first gay rights movement began a century ago. Today, more people are able to fight for their basic rights regardless of the sexuality they identify with. It is important for gay people to be aware of any laws that protect them and any sources of help they can turn to.