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How Heterosexism and Internalized Homophobia are Institutional Problems

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

By Mehul Sharma

Image via Aussa Lorens/Oprah Magazine

Since the 1970s, same-sex couples have sought legal recognition of their relationships, yet it was only in 2015 that the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Not only has the LGBTQ+ community historically faced legal challenges, they have also continued to face discrimination and prejudice in all aspects of life; professional, personal, and public. Unfortunately, the external oppression that the LGBTQ+ community has had to face often continues internally, as many battle feelings of self-hatred and self-disgust.

Internalized homophobia is extremely common and is defined as when one takes society’s prejudices, hatred, and biases portrayed towards LGBTQ+ individuals and directs it inwards, resulting in self-oppression. Internalized homophobia manifests in one’s mental health in many ways: denial of your sexual orientation to yourself and others attempts to alter or change your sexual your orientation, feeling you are never good enough, low self-esteem, negative body image, contempt for the more open or obvious members of the LGBTQ+ community, and thousands of other ways. This type of homophobia can even go to the extreme level of trying to pass as heterosexual in their personal or social life and even engaging in horizontal oppression (when an LGBTQ+ person, subjected to homophobia/heteronormativity, begins to discriminate against other LGBTQ+ people, thereby colluding with and perpetuating heterosexism). There are several reasons why one suffers from internalized homophobia, ranging from cultural expectations individuals grow up around, to institutionalized heterosexism; both are very similar and are used interchangeably, and lead to the same type of mental health issues that affect a large amount of the LGBTQ+ community and even the heterosexual community.

While heterosexism is often used interchangeably with internalized homophobia, their meanings differ slightly as heterosexism actually leads to internalized homophobia. According to the ADL, “People experience heterosexism in a wide variety of ways including name-calling and teasing, bullying and harassment, anti-gay slurs, isolation and exclusion, micro-aggressions, stereotypes, being judged, not being accepted or supported by family and others, and many more.” Society has become increasingly accepting of homosexuality, especially in media portrayals, but the innate belief that heterosexuality should be the only normal sexual orientation still pervades every aspect of American life. In many immigrant families as well, homosexuality is never spoken about and if one comes out, they can be shunned, kicked out, or worse.

This stigma has pervaded society throughout history and into the present day, no matter how woke we think the world has become. We’ve all heard the heteronormative phrases, “Blue is for boys and pink is for girls,” or the more common “Boys will be boys,” but it’s far past the expiration date for these backward-thinking ideas. We need to dismantle the heterosexism perpetuated throughout American society.

Start from analyzing your own life, realizing how internalized homophobia could be affecting your life without you knowing it, no matter what sexual orientation you identify as. Research internalized homophobia and heterosexism and build a network of individuals who are allies and can provide support. Most importantly, work on loving yourself and distancing yourself from toxic influences that can add to the already present internalized oppression.

Written by writer Mehul Sharma

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