A personal invitation
to take an inventory of
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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".
- 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."
- 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?"
- 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?"
- Think of a child you know who is between the ages of 6 and
10. This child unexpectedly asks you what a homosexual is.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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."
- Your church elders suggest appointing an openly gay minister to your
parish. At a congregational meeting you are asked to express
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.
- Did you feel uncomfortable at any points in this exercise?
Can you identify any specific things that made you uncomfortable?
- Were any of the situations similar to your own experiences?
How did your reactions to these situations compare to your own experience?
- Did you feel frightened or anxious in response to any of the
situations? Which ones? What do those situations
have in common? What were you anxious about?
- Did you feel angry in response to any of the situations?
Which ones? Can you identify the reasons for your
anger? Is it possible that under the anger is some kind of
- Were there any situations that seemed like "no big
deal". Which ones? Why were they more
comfortable for you?
- Do you think your responses to any of these situations were
irrational? Why do you think you reacted that way?
Were those particular situations more unfamiliar?
- Have you learned anything about yourself through your responses to these
- Is there anything you would like to do to follow up on your insights from
Margaret H. Parkinson, R.N., M.N.