Homophobia is Still an Issue… What Can We Do?

Words by Laneikka, 19 NSW

I didn’t come from a homophobic household.

And yet I remember crying at Jamberoo because my sister groped a mermaid statute’s boobs with her hands. There was something about same sex couples that left me fearful.

I had this undeniable anxiety that even existing near LGBTIQ+ people would ‘turn’ me queer.

This anxiety wasn’t based on what most people consider homophobia to be, I didn’t hear vicious slurs hurled by conservative ignorance in the street. If I’m honest, it was quite the opposite, it was the upwards inflection and wide eyes when a family member would murmur “that’s cool…” or the teethy smiles and immense enthusiasm from a friend when they’d exclaim “yes kween! Now I like… have a gay best friend!!!”

There’s a naivety within these homophobic remarks, they’re disguised as a symbol of “acceptance” but even the word acceptance is homophobic, a person’s sexuality is not something you need to approve or confirm, it’s their sexuality, no need to overcompensate. I’d like to swap the term ‘acceptance’ for ‘allyship’; someone who is there for the LGBTIQ+ community when needed, who can help those who fear they won’t be ‘accepted’ for their queerness, embrace their identity.

Ironically enough, after writing a play, finishing school and watching Blue is the Warmest colour on repeaaaat! I would soon realise that I was born… well, queer.

Pre-COVID, I attended the Mardi Gras Film Festival for the world premiere of ‘Ellie and Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt)’. After the film, there was a Q&A with brilliant queer activist and actor Zoe Terakes, who spoke about the subtlety of homophobia and its prominence in society today.

“It’s the little things that add up” they said.

For me, some of these little things include; attending a non-religious high school where queer sexual education was excluded, maintaining friendships with girls who ‘support you’ but feel ‘funny’ about hugging you and sharing intimate moments with male partners before they inform you “you’re with a guy right now though?”
We live with the fact that LGBTIQ + people aged 16 to 27 are five times more likely to commit suicide.

This statistic does not reflect what I’d call ‘acceptance’.

Terakes coined this type of discrimination “subtle homophobia” and the more I thought about it, the more I realised subtle homophobia is everywhere and we don’t even know we’re doing it.

In some ways, subtle homophobia can be harder to deal with than blatant homophobia because it is harder to pick up on; it’s the leftover crumbs from years of discrimination that make you feel like you’re delirious.

This type of discrimination can form from stereotypes and film tropes about the LGBTIQ+ community that have been used as the butt-end of “jokes” or conclusions drawn by uninformed, fearful heteronormative people trying to grasp the concept of queerness.

The one that irks me the most is the appearance trope “I wouldn’t have guessed you were queer”. I get really self-conscious about this one because it’s the reason I didn’t come out until my late teens. It took me years to get over this idea that some people would only view me as a cis gendered, straight, heteronormative white woman when, in fact, there is NOT, I repeat, there is NOT a certain “look” queer people have.

If you’re still feeling stuck about how to become the ultimate LGBTIQ+ ally, here’s a bunch of subtly homophobic things to avoid: 

  • Second guessing someone’s sexuality: it’s a very personal thing to tell someone your sexual orientation, please do not respond with “Really?” or repeating “You’re [insert sexual orientation]?” back to them.
  • Making jokes: The “threesome” joke was never funny, leave it at home with your problematic uncle.
  • Generalisations: “I know a girl who is [insert sexual orientation] she’s….” “You guys all like [insert queer stereotype] right?” Sexuality is individual and unique to each person, don’t try and group people together.
  • Extreme enthusiasm: I love a fat laugh as much as the next gal but when every conversation is “YES KWEEN! SLAY! WERK!” it’s a little overwhelming, I’m not a walking Mardi Gras… (but that would be pretty cool though).
  • Avoid stereotypes at all costs: don’t ask me if I like sports, camping or if drive an SUV?! Ask me a genuine question about my life instead! It’ll be a way better conversation, guaranteed.
  • Sympathy: I would like to clarify that as a queer ally, empathy is important., A sincere chat and thoughtful ear on queer issues is essential to bridge the gap between the heteronormative and queer communities. Condescending remarks disguised as sympathy; i.e. “I support you… I’m always here” feel disingenuous, there’s no need for pity, hugs however are very much needed.  

If you’re ever unsure, just ask yourself… “Would I ask a straight person this?” If the answer is no, don’t ask it. I’ll never know the difference.

Finally, I want to acknowledge that I speak from a place of privilege, I am lucky enough to live in a country where I don’t face blatant discrimination, injury or death from being who I am. There are many queer individuals who must continue to fight daily for their rights. The more we educate ourselves and destigmatise and stereotypes of what it means to be queer, the closer we get to normalising LGBTIQ+ relationships. One day, I hope kids will ask their adult at home “what’s homophobia?”

Want to educate yourself further? Great! Have a look at these great resources below:

The Subtle Side of Homophobia

Stop Saying “That’s So Gay!”: 6 Types of Microaggressions That Harm LGBTQ People

How to recognize subtle homophobia (and why it’s not okay)

Illustration by AileenYou can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenetc

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