One of the more poignant moments of my life came last year when I stopped for a glass of wine at a local night club and the next day read a newspaper article that mentioned that nightclub and the particular stool I had been sitting on were Matthew Shepherd’s favorites when he lived here.

Which brings me to ask, in the opinion of the assembled wisdom of the Great Debates board, what are the major causes of homophobia?

Anger. Some people are angry, and need a target. Other people who are different in major ways make an easy one.


I think that most unfounded prejudice is based on ignorance and xenophobia. People somehow assume that anyone different is bad; it doesn’t seem to matter whether that difference is skin color, religion, or sexuality.

Here’s an interesting sidebar–anyone agree or disagree with the sentiments expressed in this press release? (I’m reprinting it in full because it ran on my company’s wire today to the media, so copyright restrictions are not applicable.)

ACLJ Files Federal Lawsuit Challenging Sexual Orientation Ordinance in Louisville, Kentucky

LOUISVILLE, Ky.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Sept. 13, 1999–The American Center for Law
and Justice, an international public interest law firm, today filed suit in U.S.
District Court in Louisville challenging the City’s ordinance that extends
protected status in employment to the categories of “sexual orientation” and "
gender identity."
The ACLJ filed suit against the City of Louisville, the Mayor and other
officials on behalf of J. Barrett Hyman, M.D., a medical practitioner, who
contends that his Biblically-based Christian beliefs prevent him from complying
with the City’s ordinance. The lawsuit contends that because of his sincerely
held religious beliefs, Hyman is compelled to deny employment and discharge from
employment any person whom he learns is living a homosexual, bisexual,
transgendered, or transsexual lifestyle.
“By forcing employers who object to homosexuality and transgenderism to hire
people who practice those lifestyles, the City of Louisville is attempting to
legislate its own view of morality at the expense of the fundamental rights of
its citizens,” said Francis J. Manion, Senior Regional Counsel of the ACLJ-
Midwest, who is representing Hyman in the suit.
Manion said: “The City’s so-called ‘Fairness Ordinance’ is not fair. It
tramples on an employer’s constitutional right to the free exercise of religion.
It forces an employer to choose between following the dictates of his
conscience and going out of business. The ordinance is not only wrong, it is
On February 1, 1999, the City of Louisville amended its ordinances to extend
anti-discrimination provisions to include the following: 1) “an individual’s
actual or imputed heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality”; 2) those "
having a gender identity as a result of a sex change surgery"; 3) those who
manifest “for reasons other than dress, an identity not traditionally associated
with one’s biological maleness or femaleness.”
At the same time, the ordinance subjects violators of the ordinance to fines
of up to $50,000.
According to the complaint, Hyman believes that being forced to hire employees
on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity would contradict the
traditional family image he seeks to convey to patients and prospective patients
of his medical practice.
The lawsuit names as defendants the City of Louisville, Mayor David Armstrong,
the Louisville and Jefferson County Human Relations Commission, and the
Commission’s Executive Director, Phyllis Atiba Brown. The suit contends the
ordinance violates the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S.
Constitution, as well as the Kentucky Constitution. The lawsuit requests that
the court declare the ordinance unconstitutional and unlawful and seeks a
permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from enforcing the ordinance.
Manion said: “The City of Louisville has failed to recognize that in this
country there is a fundamental constitutionally-protected right to freely
practice one’s religion. The bottom line is that governments cannot be
permitted to penalize the practice of Christianity by fining employers who
simply want to run their businesses in accordance with their beliefs.”
The American Center for Law and Justice is an international public interest
law firm and educational organization that specializes in pro-family cases. The
ACLJ is headquartered in Virginia Beach, VA and the Web site address is www.aclj.org.
CONTACT: The American Center for Law and Justice
Francis J. Manion, (502) 549-7020
13:34 EDT SEPTEMBER 13, 1999

I’ve had the same question before, I’ve wondered about it enough to create a few possible answers and some more questions. I can see two distinct parts of homophobia (there may be more, but I can’t think of any off hand).

Part A: Homosexuality is unnatural. Sex is about reproduction; gay sex cannot result in reproduction.

As far as I’m concerned, this is about 75% hogwash. Sex is not all about reproduction; contraception is a very old and accepted technology in those cultures that aren’t laboring under this misconception. As a non-Christian, it’s hard for me to believe that entire religions full of people are unnatural and/or going to hell. Furthermore, gay people do reproduce, parent, and (want to) get married.

The other 25% of “gay is unnatural” is sort of true, since just about all human sexuality (other than simple copulation) is unnatural. Did boxes of chocolates, senior proms, and Divorce Court evolve alongside Australopithecus africanus? I suppose this question doesn’t impress the creationists, but maybe it will help some people along.

Another part of the 25% is the question, if our (hetero-) sex drive is such an important part of the propagation of our genes, how come homosexuality hasn’t programmed itself out? Possible answers (don’t know if I believe them, but I thought them up): genes are nearly irrelevant to homosexuality; sex drive (homo- or hetero-) is more important to mom-and-dad bonding than it is to actual procreation (folks would still do it even if it weren’t quite so much fun, but they might not be as choosy about their partners?)

Part B: Homosexuality is a failure of morality and/or a triumph of hedonism.

This is about 100% hogwash (margin of error: 3 percentage points). In fact, this notion offends me as a heterosexual. Sure, I’d like to rob a bank and get rich, but my morality prevents me from doing so. Sure, I’ve been made at kids and dogs and wanted to slap them, but my morality prevents me from doing so. No amount of immorality is going to make me think Tom Cruise is better looking than Nicole Kidman (or Rosie O’Donnel for that mattter). This is because homosexuality is an orientation equal to heterosexuality, not a deep-down hidden desire underlying a superficial straightness.

Here’s a thought: To consider homosexuality a moral failing is actually a Freudian slip. People who feel this way are closet-gays who recognize on some unconscious level that their heterosexuality is a paper-thin veneer, nowhere near as strong as their latent desire to smooch Tom Cruise (I assume these are mostly guys; could be wrong).

Just to clarify: the “same question” I’m talking about is the one at the head of this topic: why homosexuality?

Second, when I say sexuality is (mostly) unnatural, I don’t mean that in a bad way. I’m all in favor of boxes of chocolates and heart-shaped bathtubs and all other manner of unnatural things (like the worldwide web, for instance). Natural sexuality would be pretty bland, if the chimpanzee exhibit is any clue.

As a support to the theory that a lot of homophobes are closet gays (I am undecided on this), I have heard preachers honestly and sincerely say that the reason we shouldn’t have sex with persons of our own sex is that the sex would be so much better. Apparently we would just have sex and never get around to making babies and the human race would all die out. One guy went on at length about how “a man knows best what feels good to a man” and so on, and I was cracking up to hear this from a straight-laced Bible-banger. It may very well be true, I have no idea, but unless you pick your partners based solely on their skill in bed, I fear his theory does not hold up.

“Eppur, si muove!” - Galileo Galilei

One reason gays are chosen as a target for hostility (or at least male hostility) may have to do with a certain practice of showing dominance exhibited in other primate species.

When a dominant male macacque wishes to show a lesser male that he’s “boss”, he will mount the lesser male and attempt to, well, poke his prong into the other male’s anus. The lesser male will, when he realizes what’s going on, immediately make a run for it, and the dominant male will usually not pursue. He’s shown that he “rules”. This behavior is not considered sexual by most primate scientists, as the dominant male shows no urge to climax (he saves that for when he’s mounting one of his females).

If we assume that humans inherited some of the same primate behavior, it’s not impossible that, on some level, the average human male considers being “mounted” to be a reduction in his stature. It emmasculates him on some level. Homosexual men present a double threat to such a mindset: (1) they might try and mount you, and (2) they enjoy being mounted, which means that if you ever mounted them to show your dominance it wouldn’t have the desired effect. And even if they’re not interested in you, their very presence also causes you to think about icky old male mounting.

I have no idea how oral sex works into this picture yet.

I’m not flying fast, just orbiting low.

Although repressed latent homosexuality has a certain justice to it, I can not believe that it makes up a MAJORITY of gay bashers. Part of it may be a fear of homosexual rape; lord knows I don’t want anything shoved up my tailpipe. I personally blame it on ignorance. Most gay bashers I have ever had a conversation with have had room-temperature IQs.

As for the “immorality” idea, homosexuality is adultery, if you take the definition of “adultery” as sex outside of marriage. There is also the steriotype of homosexuals being more promiscuous. And yet, many of the people decrying homosexuals as immoral are the same ones clapping the high-school QB on the back for bonking 37 different girls in one year.

“The large print givith, and the small print taketh away.”
Tom Waites, “Step Right Up”

IIRC, this is most likely where our slew of sexual imperatives comes from: “Fuck you”, “Screw you”,“I got shafted”, etc. It was intended to be a display of aggressiveness and dominance, not an invitation to coitus.

“Eppur, si muove!” - Galileo Galilei

I’ll cast my vote for insecurity in one’s sexuality and ignorance. I think this jibes with what others have posted. A lot of homophobes may be “closet gays” and they focus their anger towards the easy target gays present. If I hate gays, this “proves” I’m not gay. And gays are a “subset” minority that all other groups can hate–whether one is white, black, Jewish, or [insert any group here]–so gays are a universal target. Violent gay-bashing seems like an extreme case of male-bonding to me. Other people’s homophobia may be due to their fear of the strange and unknown, as Auraseer noted. I put that fear on ignorance. Still others may have a “legitimate” religious objection. Judging by the advocates of creationism, those people probably have justifiable homophobia in their view; to whit, God says it’s wrong and that’s all I need to hate 'em. Love your fellow man, huh? Not that way!

The case pldennison mentions promises to be interesting.

Historically, I think the bias aganist homosexuality may come from the precarious state of human existance in the ancient world. According to the (respectable) estimates I’ve read, women in the Roman Empire had to average five live births apiece. The mortality rates for all ages were just unbelievable. The community simply could not afford to support too many people that were not contributing to gene pool. That is why celibacy amoung the early monastics was so signifigant; they did not just give up the physical pleasure of sex; by refusing to reproduce, they were cutting ties with their former communities.
Of course, in our over populated world, this hardly applies, but I do think some families teach thier children to hate gays because on some level the parents feel that their children will become gay if they do not hate gays, and if that happpens the family line will die out.

Well, I don’t know if the Romans’ and Greeks’ low child survival rates can be shown to have contributed to anti-homosexual feeling in their culture; their opinion of the practice was quite the opposite.

“Eppur, si muove!” - Galileo Galilei

Phil, I hate to say it, but I agree with the ACLJ on this one – for any entities that don’t accept government money, that is. I do think that the owner of a private business should be able to hire whoever he wants. If that means discriminating against gays, or blacks, or Jews, or atheists, or whoever, so be it. On the other hand, if I find out about a business doing that, I’m going to use my rights of free speech and point this out to one and all, and not give said company any of my business.

If the company is receiving government money, however, they should have to provide the same non-discriminatory employment as the government.

I worked overnights for 10 years and the most shocking thing I learned was the number of propositions I got from “Straight” men in the middle of the night.

There are a lot of men straight or gay or bi and a lot of the homophobes are the same ones looking to get off at night.

I think anytime you think disliking of a homosexual is OK just substitue the word African-American or Jew and see how far it gets you. (example fill in Jew for homosexual in the Louisville case and that’d be laughed out of the courtroom)

Unfortunately homosexuals are not protected and it is for reasons like this they should be.

"Well, I don’t know if the Romans’ and Greeks’ low child survival rates can be shown to have contributed to anti-homosexual feeling in their culture; their opinion of the practice was quite the opposite. "

This is a very problamatic issue from a historical point of view. For years, Christian historians pushed the idea of Greeks and Romans as degenerate heathens as a way to make Christianity shine. Then, after the Rennasaince when we started admiring the classical period again, Christian historians spent a lot of time (and some still do) talking about how oh, they wern’t really like that, Hadrian and his boy toy were just good friends. . .Then you have some modern historians, who, keen to gay rights, go running around lableing everyone and thier cow as a homosexual (in the case of most historic figures, the question of “what was his/her sexual orientation?” is pretty much moot. There ain’t ever going to be any real evidence one way or the other.) So the whole question about how the Greeks and Romans felt about homosexuality is loaded with modern political baggage. So I don’t know what to believe. However, I will say that what evidence we do have of the greek practice of homosexuals seems to apply only to the upper classes (slaves had no slave boys!) which were the sort of small minority that a society could afford to have not reproduce. Secondly, the Romans were most certainly concerned about reproduction–Around the time of Christ, Augustus passed a seris of laws penelizing adultry and unmarried men quite severly and rewarding womwn with more than three children with a special status and real perks. (the only detail I can remember is that you could not inherit money from non family members if you were an unmarried man). So reproduction was of paramount importance to the Romans.

As far as I know there are two distinct causes for homophobia.

  1. Intellectual. I.e., not caused by deep-seated revulsion. This is a small group who are opposed to homosexuality because the Bible says so or because they think it’s irrational. Probably the smaller and less violent group.

  2. Closet homosexuals, macho men, and other insecure types who simply cannot come to terms with themselves and so bash gays in order to prove to themselves that they’re “manly”. They are terrified of gays because they are afraid of being raped because they’re afraid they might like it. So the instant they perceive a “threat” (a gay man, who of course wants to rape them), they panic. They are responsible for attacks on gay men.

Also, being insecure in their masculinity, they are shocked and offended by the idea that women might not be attracted to them, or that women might try to usurp their status as masculine. They are therefore responsible for attacks on lesbians, which often include rape.

True, and the explanation I have heard for that is that homosexuality was so prevalent and respected (mostly among the wealthy, true) that the birth rate was going down…and this does not necessarily mean that therefore homosexuality was feared or hated. I mean, if you have to pass laws to encourage men to have a lot of sex with women, something’s definitely different than the situation today. So, yes, they were concerned about the birth rate, but that does not mean they looked down on homosexuality. Wives were generally considered “lower” than men and sex with them was for procreation, not pleasure; why wouldn’t homosexuality and sex with hetairai be considered better? They could have outlawed homosexuality rather than just encouraging children, if that was their true goal.

In the Greek literature I have read the relationship between older men and boys seems defintely sexual. I mean, raving about the beauty of your protege, having him lie with you on your couch, talking about the purity of love between men and how women were inferior? Uh, yeah, they were just friends. I don’t think militant homosexuality-friendly historians have had as much effect on our perceptions of ancient Greece as you seem to think.

“Eppur, si muove!” - Galileo Galilei

My favorite argument against homosexuality is that “it’s unnatural”. As if anal sex is more disgusting than anything heterosexuals do.

Then I wander through my favorite hetero-oriented adult bookstore. Golden showers, fecal-philia, crack whore videos, puke-o-ramas, “lactating lasses” (for some reason, I like typing that)…

“It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in an argument” - William McAdoo

When I hear that “unnatural” argument, I always point out that homosexuality is prevalent in nature, but rarely do you see an animal dress up his mate to look like a Catholic schoolgirl. Now whose behavior is unnatural?

“Eppur, si muove!” - Galileo Galilei