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A personal invitation

to take an inventory of

homophobic attitudes



This exercise is an opportunity to identify and examine your feelings about sexual minority people.   For the purposes of this exercise,  homophobia refers to the irrational and often unconscious fear or dislike of,  aversion to,  or discrimination against,  homosexual people  (lesbians and gay men)  or homosexual behavior.   It also includes fear or dislike of other sexual minority individuals such as bisexuals and transgendered people.   Heterosexism is the assumption,  prevalent in our society,  that everyone is heterosexual,  that the "best" families have a mother,  a father and two kids and that heterosexuality is inherently superior and preferable to homosexuality or any other sexual orientation.

This exercise assumes that everyone is homophobic to some degree since homophobia is deeply rooted our heterosexist society  -  heterosexuality is presumed to be the only normal or healthy sexual orientation.   We assimilate homophobic attitudes every day because we live in communities that honour and openly celebrate the heterosexual norm  (opposite sex dating,  marriage,  divorce,  inheritance,  etc).   The assumptions we make about others,  and even about ourselves,  are heterosexual until we are confronted with more options.   This is even true for those who identify as gay,  lesbian,  bisexual or transgendered.

Homophobia is a powerful force in our society creating distrust,  destruction,  and discrimination.   It is a silent hatred that destroys lives,  pulls families apart and wounds children.   The only thing worse than open and direct homophobia is unidentified homophobia  -  attitudes that lie hidden and unacknowledged in the hearts of otherwise kindly people.   These assumptions produce a pain that cannot be relieved because it is unidentified and unacknowledged.

The purpose of this exercise is not to condemn anyone but rather to encourage us all to acknowledge and examine our own prejudices.   When we render our attitudes conscious we have a greater chance of making rational decisions about them.   It is not useful to condemn ourselves for personal homophobia because such condemnation may cause us to lose the courage to examine ourselves.   Accepting that we carry some homophobic attitudes and being willing to identify them is the first step toward eliminating them.   When a hidden destructive force is openly acknowledged it tends to shrivel in response to reasonable examination.   Are you ready to take a serious look at your prejudices against sexual minority people?



Set aside a half hour of uninterrupted,  private time.   Have paper and a pen available.   The exercise describes a series of fourteen situations that you might come upon in your daily life.   Read each description and immediately write down your first responses and feelings to the situation.   The more honest you can be with yourself the more useful the exercise will be.

  1. You are shopping in a large shopping mall.   Up ahead you notice two men walking together with their arms around each other.   One man moves his hand down the other one's back and gently grasps his friend's buttock.   A conservatively dressed woman walking nearby notices you watching.
  2. While walking along a footpath you notice two women approaching a parked car.   It seems that one is going to get in the car and the other one is staying behind.   As they say goodbye,  the two women,  hug each other warmly and kiss on the mouth.
  3. A teenage friend,  a son or a daughter,  a sister or a brother,  a cousin,  a neighbour,  asks to talk with you privately,  and you agree.   Your young friend tells you that she/he is  "queer"  and says  "I would like to bring my partner to your house for your birthday celebration.   Is that OK?"
  4. You go to your high school reunion.   You meet someone you have not seen in a long time but with whom you were quite friendly during high school.   You are delighted to see your friend again and you hope the two of you can reestablish a friendship.   While reminiscing about  "old times"  your friend tells you he/she is gay and says  "I would like you to meet my partner".
  5. You have a new work colleague.   She sets up her work space including a plant,  a couple of cute toys and a framed photograph of herself and another woman.   When you welcome her to her new job you ask about the woman in the photo.   She says,  "Oh,  she is my lover."
  6. On television you see a news report about the Auckland Hero Parade.   The coverage shows some scantily dressed marchers including some women and men quite blatantly revealing their attraction for people of the same gender as themselves.   Some of the men are bare chested displaying rings in their pierced nipples and navels.   Someone in your family comes into the room and asks,  "What are you watching?"
  7. You attend a Christmas concert put on by a Gay Men's Chorus.   During an intermission you strike up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to you  -  seems like an interesting person to get to know.   After a while the person asks,  "Are you gay?"
  8. Think of a child you know who is between the ages of 6 and 10.   This child unexpectedly asks you what a homosexual is.
  9. Two women move into your neighbourhood.   One of the women is pregnant.   When you introduce yourself they tell you they are having a baby by artificial insemination.
  10. A friend invites you to a cabaret and you think it might be fun.   When you get there you find you are in a gay bar and the entertainment is a drag show.   You see cross-dressing performers in some sexually explicit acts.
  11. You are at a family reunion.   Your gay cousin is there.   He and his partner start talking very passionately about their resentment at not being allowed to legally marry and other disadvantages they endure because they are gay.   A number of conservative relatives are within hearing distance.
  12. You are visiting your grandmother in a nursing home.   Lucy,  the woman sharing your grandmother's room,  is quite ill.   You notice an elderly woman sitting beside Lucy's bed holding her hand.   You hear the woman say,  "You are my darling.   I have loved you for 50 years and I will always love you."
  13. You are at a political meeting.   During a break you overhear a person asking a woman,  "Are you married?"   The reply is  "Well,  in a manner of speaking I am.   I am a lesbian and have been with my partner for ten years."
  14. Your church elders suggest appointing an openly gay minister to your parish.   At a congregational meeting you are asked to express your opinion.


Take a few deep breaths and relax for a few minutes.

Consider your responses to the fourteen scenarios in the light of the following questions.

Margaret H. Parkinson, R.N., M.N.
Seattle, Washington


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