Homosexuality continues to be under attack throughout the world, from penalization by governments to the behavior of intolerant individuals. Whatever the cause, it is estimated that even today, two people die per day as victims of homophobia.
I’m homosexual, so what?
It was with this resounding phrase that Oscar Wilde defended himself before the British courts on charges of sodomy in the 19th century.
The writer, openly homosexual, was found guilty and sentenced to two years hard labour.
Oscar Wilde is not the only intellectual to have been openly homosexual. In today’s world, personalities such as Elton John, Pedro Almodóvar, Dolce and Gabbana or the British politician, Angela Eagle have all “come out.”
Others have been less fortunate, falling victim to homophobic attacks such as politician and activist, Harvey Milk, who was killed in 1978 by a homophobic conservative.
Another victim was the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, who was stabbed in the abdomen during a public act in 2002.
An indication of society’s half-hearted acceptance of homosexuality is the fact that there are no known homosexual active footballers. The last known homosexual player was Justin Fashanu who committed suicide in 1998, unable to cope with the resulting social pressure.
These are only a handful of many cases which have occurred in the past and are still happening today, situations where homosexuals have decided to end their life or have had it taken away from them through intolerance.
This intolerance when taken to the extreme is defined as homophobia and is considered a mental disorder.
Homophobes experience an obsessive aversion to homosexual men and women and are classified in the same category as other mental illnesses such as racism, sexism or xenophobia. These disorders are based on feelings of hatred for the relative group with the affected individual believing them to pose a threat and hold values detrimental to society.
Like homosexuality, homophobia is difficult to analyse and most psychologists believe that the mental disorder of homophobia does not adhere to any specific pattern. It can arise from a negative experience, an assault, an unconscious attraction to the same sex, media influence or living in a traditional and conservative or highly religious culture.
It is understood that homophobes begin to experience a strong aversion towards homosexuals and homosexuality including for example, literary material, films and other features related to the gay community.
Their behaviour and even language can progress from indifference towards this minority group to verbal and physical aggression acting either on an individual level or as part of a group.
A recent study by the Universities of Rochester and Essex and the University of California in Santa Barbara, suggests that homophobia is more pronounced in individuals who deny an attraction to the same sex. The study includes four experiments which were carried out in Germany and the US using 160 university students.
These findings indicate that the anxiety and aversion that various heterosexuals feel towards gays and lesbians may arise from their own repressed feelings towards the same sex.
Throughout the 20th century steps have been taken to eradicate racial and gender discrimination yet homophobia still exists with no collective consciousness of the danger that this poses.
A danger that many homosexuals perceive as so great that they decide to end their own lives after being attacked, openly or covertly, and when faced with a lack of understanding and support from a society that is a silent accomplice to their suffering through its failure to act on the matter.
A study carried out in the UK by gay rights advocates Stonewall uncovered some chilling figures: 17% of young homosexuals have received death threats and as many as 12% have suffered sexual abuse.
In Scotland, half of homosexuals aged between 15 and 26 have seriously considered suicide at some point in their life; in France as many as 27% and in Italy 13%, with youths aged between 16 and 18 being the most likely to attempt suicide in these two countries. In Belgium, homosexuals aged between 15 and 25 are two to five times more likely to commit suicide.
Not even northern Europe is immune to the problem. In Germany 18% of homosexuals aged between 15 and 27 have tried to commit suicide at least once, 66% have been physically or verbally abused by their own families and 27% report that they have been taunted by teachers.
In many countries it is the government who is guilty of creating this aversion to homosexuality. One such country is Iran where, in July 2005, two young men received 228 lashes and were hung in view of a large crowd in the city of Mashhad (in the north east of Iran) for maintaining a homosexual relationship.
The government accused them of raping a boy, an accusation which was later proved false, suggesting that the government itself had created this false rumour.
The latest very public case of homophobia to date is that of a young Chilean man last March. The victim was brutally assaulted by four neo-Nazi youths, their only motive being the victim’s homosexuality. The attack resulted in his death at only 24 years of age.
This incident brings to mind another famous case known in Mexico City as “El Sádico.” The youth was arrested in 2006 for kidnapping and murdering several gay adolescents claiming that by killing them, he was doing society a favour.
The future of homophobia
Through the approval of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by United Nations, steps have been taken to protect sexuality and gender identity rights.
The most significant date worthy of celebration, however, is 17 May 1992 when the World Health Organisation eliminated homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses.
This signified an important step forward given that a large part of the discrimination directed at the homosexual community was based on the idea that they were mentally ill. For this reason, 17 May has become the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
In 2010 the European Parliament announced that all states wishing to join the European Union are obliged to modify their legislation in order to protect members of the homosexual and transsexual community against discrimination.
Each step forwards reflects positive progress as only a few years ago homosexuality was considered an illness, and although homosexuality is not illegal in Europe, not all states recognise homosexual marriages or guarantee them the same rights.
Outside Europe the situation is less favourable as up to 76 countries condemn homosexuality. For this reason, there is an urgent need for a generation who respects sexual preferences, education, controlled media so as not to encourage this hatred, and for governments who begin to work towards creating rights for homosexuals and punishing those who assault them.
Society must understand that we are all free and equal and that sexuality is natural and intimate to each individual and does not require approval from others.
(Translated by Rebecca Hayhurst E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)