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The Tradition Of Sexual Prejudice

Discrimination based on sexuality is practiced in many parts of the world and is rooted in many cultural and religious traditions. Negative views of homosexuality date back at least to biblical times, and have been declared by Democrats, Republicans, Communists, anarchists and fascists.

Laws in 76 countries allow prosecution for homosexual acts between consenting adults. This includes five national laws allowing the death penalty, according to researcher Daniel Ottosson, who compiles an annual “State-Sponsored Homophobia” report for the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association. About a third of those laws describe gay sex as being “against the order of nature.” Strangely, while ordering years of imprisonment for gay men, many of the laws don’t discuss lesbianism at all.

Biases about sexual orientation – and arguments for more tolerance – have been expressed in a dizzying variety of political and social contexts. Propagandists in the Soviet Union, which criminalized homosexuality in 1933, described being gay as a trait of fascism at the same time fascists in Nazi Germany were persecuting gays.

Evolving View Of Homosexuality

Until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality as a mental disorder, although researchers began eroding that viewpoint years earlier. Psychologist George Weinberg introduced the term homophobia to public use in the late 1960s, later fully framing his argument about the existence of irrational fears and (and irrational self-loathing by gays) in a 1972 book, Society and the Healthy Homosexual. Despite its connotations, homophobia is not generally taken to describe a true fear. University of Arkansas researchers reported in 2001 that interviews with people opposed to homosexuality often reflected feelings of disapproval, rather than any anxiety.

Religious training can help shape those views, with Bible passages being used to discuss gay sexuality as a sin. The apostle Paul’s letter to early Christians in Rome refers to the “shameful lusts” of gay men and lesbians and says they received “the due penalty for their perversion.”

Within America’s mainline Christian denominations, the Episcopal Church has taken some of the most liberal stances on sexual orientation, and has paid a price for its tolerance. The decision of church leaders in 2003 to consecrate an openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, inspired some members and clerics to withdraw and form the separate Anglican Church in North America, with about 100,000 churchgoers. The Episcopal Church, meanwhile, consecrated an openly lesbian bishop, Mary Glasspool, in 2010.

Emergence Of Gay Rights

Debates about same-sex marriage, rights of gay partners, and gay adoptions have reverberated through American politics since the 1990s. Decisions have played out state by state, with laws and court cases in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia establishing the legality of same-sex marriages. To keep gay couples from traveling to those states for weddings and pressing their home states to recognize the unions as legal, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Federal law does not ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and many members of the military have been discharged for being gay. Between 1993-2011, the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy prevented service members from asking about sexual orientation but they could be discharged if they discussed gay, lesbian or bisexual tendencies or otherwise identified themselves as homosexual.

Sexuality discussed at Yforum.com and Dare To Ask

While laws and religious doctrines set broad parameters for sexuality, Phillip Milano’s Dare To Ask column and Yforum.com capture the ground-level realities of people trying day by day to understand homosexual and heterosexual viewpoints and hang-ups.

Dare To Ask: Safe, sane coming out strategies

When a bisexual woman asked advice on how to come out of the closet to her family, Milano asked Candace Gingrich, a gay rights activist who once publicly clashed with her half-brother, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, over his anti-gay views.

Gingrich suggested testing the subject with some supportive relatives before talking to parents, then picking a quiet time when parents can reflect on what they’re hearing.

"That approach may be more successful than just doing it at Thanksgiving dinner,” she advised. “'Pass the salt, Mom and Dad, I'm gay' is not the wisest thing to do."

Dare To Ask: Can you be gay and Christian as well?

Milano’s readers see that opinions within any group are rarely monolithic.

To answer a question about being gay and Christian, Milano sought out Justin Lee, founder of the 14,000-member Gay Christian Network (gaychristian.net). Lee described two camps of gay Christians, one that advocates gay relationships and one that abstains because they believe the Bible condemns that.

"As Christians ... we disagree, but we love one another in the midst of disagreement," Lee said. "I believe the Bible is not anti-gay, but many people use it that way. And I'm not willing to concede it to them."

Sometimes, they see that everyone just needs to take a breath and relax.

Dare To Ask: Why are straight men wary about having gay male friends?

When a gay reader couldn’t understand heterosexual men who shy away from being “just friends,” Milano asked relationship coach and author Jim Sullivan for some perspective.

"Imagine ... what it's like for a straight man to deal with the possibility he might be perceived as less of a man if he's hanging out with a gay man, or that he might be [perceived as] gay?" advised Sullivan, who wrote Boyfriend 101: A Gay Guy's Guide to Dating, Romance and Finding True Love.

But he said some straight men need to get a grip and realize gay guys can just want to hang out.

"If there ever was some inappropriate action or flirting, just say 'I'm not interested, I just want to be friends,'” Sullivan told Milano. “... Don't broach the topic unless he makes an overture. Otherwise, if you say, 'Well, I want to be friends but I think you'll come on to me' ... what arrogance!"