STEVEN JONAS, MD, MPH
Homophobia can be defined as hatred and fear of homosexuals on the basis of who they are, and the nature of their sexuality and sexual practices. Given the attention paid to the matter in the relevant texts, both homosexuality and homophobia have existed in the human species at least since Biblical times, and very likely for much longer than that. It is certainly the case that homophobia is to be found in the texts underlying each of the Abrahamic religions. (I am not familiar with its place, if any, in the major non-Abrahamic religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism.) For most of its history it has indeed had a religious basis. It was only in the 20th century that it became politicized.
In Nazi Germany, according to Wikipedia (1): “Upon the rise of Adolf Hitler, gay men and, to a lesser extent, lesbians, were two of the numerous groups targeted by the Nazi Party and were ultimately among Holocaust victims. Beginning in 1933, gay organizations were banned, scholarly books about homosexuality, and sexuality in general, were burned, and homosexuals within the Nazi Party itself were murdered. The Gestapo compiled lists of homosexuals, who were compelled to sexually conform to the ‘German norm.’ Between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested as homosexuals, of whom some 50,000 were officially sentenced. Most of these men served time in regular prisons, and an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 of those sentenced were incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps. . . . Homosexuals in the camps were treated in an unusually cruel manner by their captors.” Gay men, at least, were forced to wear a pink triangle even before the Jews were forced to wear a yellow Star of David.
In the United States the politicization of homophobia can be traced back at least to the portrayal in the 1980s of the outbreak of AIDS by the Reagan Administration and especially its right-wing religious supporters like the late Rev. Jerry Falwell as “God’s punishment” for the gay population. In 1985 Newt Gingrich had this to say about AIDS and what the Republican Party could do with the issue (2): “AIDS is a real crisis. It is worth paying attention to, to study. It’s something you ought to be looking at. [It] will do more to direct America (sic) back to the cost of violating traditional values, and to make America (sic) aware of the danger of certain behavior than anything we’ve seen. For us, it’s a great rallying cry (emphases added).”
With the advent of the Clinton Presidency the GOP made a major issue of “gays in the military” and their supposed negative impact on “combat capability.” This despite the fact that there have been gays in the U.S. military since the revolutionary war, with no seeming impact on its “combat capability.” In the brutal winter of 1778 the middle-aged bachelor, Prussian army officer Baron von Steuben, arrived at Valley Forge to take over the training of General Washington’s Continental Army. The good Baron arrived with his 19 year old, make, French, secretary. The Baron apparently did not speak French. Further, as it happens, the U.S. apparently had its first gay President long before it had its first African-American one. James Buchanan was a life-long bachelor who for at least part of his term was accompanied by a male friend in the White House. Buchanan was a horror as President, helping to lead the nation into Civil War by errors of both commission and omission. But none of them could be traced to his homosexuality.
Nevertheless, in modern times, the GOP has made promotion of homophobia, for political purposes, a major theme (3). They have used three issues. First, “gays in the military.” Second, the so-called, totally discriminatory Federal “Defense of Marriage Act” (based on the totally fanciful, unproved, and indeed unprovable notion that both gay marriages and civil unions somehow have a negative impact on the “institution of male-female marriage.”) Third is the broad-scale ongoing assault on gay marriage per se at the state level (which, course, among other things violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment). As William Rivers Pitt of Truthout has told us, these all come under the heading of “dog whistles” for homophobia and for homophobics.
Many people respond to this whistle that is highly destructive to our social fabric, for both gays and straights. The question then arises, how does this happen? Is homophobia an inborn or acquired characteristic? The related question is: “Is homophobia curable?” While we know that homosexuality is inborn (4), the nature of homophobia has not been studied. I suggest, with some urgency, that the time has come to do so. In Nazi Germany official anti-gay discrimination eventually led to attempts at extermination. In this country, just recently a man described as a “pastor,” one Charles Worley, has seriously proposed rounding up all “lesbians, queers and homosexuals,” and depositing them in an open camp surrounded by an electrified fence, and except for air-dropping food, leaving them there to die (5, 6). Yes indeed. It is becoming ever more urgent to know if homophobia is curable.
One can here propose the outlines of such a study. Before addressing the question of curability” per se, the question of whether homophobia is inborn, like homosexuality, or an acquired/learned behavior, like racism and anti-Semitism, would need to be addressed. The starting point would be to consider the various sub-sets of homophobes. There are the religious types like Worley, Falwell, and Robertson, who are quite open about it. There are the political types, like Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove (who motivated religious-rightists to go to the polls to vote for GW Bush in 2004 by putting anti-gay marriage initiatives on the ballots of 11 states), and Mitt Romney. There are the closeted, homosexual, Republican political homophobes, like former Senator Larry Craig. (It happens that he has just been sued by the Federal Election Commission for using campaign funds in his defense on the matter of getting caught in that men’s room .) Then there are the homophobic religious organizations, like the Mormon Church which was the major financial and personnel engine behind the overturn of gay marriage in California. That is one starting point for the study.
From the epidemiological perspective there are several others, which we do not have the space to consider here. If it is found that homophobia is an acquired characteristic, it is not only curable but preventable. Nevertheless, sad to say, in this country at least, as long as the GOP continues to use homophobia politically, without being directly challenged in that political usage, with the potentially extremely dangerous outcome that has now been verbalized by Charles Worley, no cure will be possible.
Finally, is the situation thus hopeless? No, not at all. Currently, all of the major gay rights organizations assiduously avoid criticizing the GOP and its institutional homophobia, even while attacking on the GOP’s homophobic issues. Why? Well for one thing there are many gay Republicans (just as in the early days of Hitler’s rule there were gay Nazis and Jewish admirers of the man). There are also many wealthy ones, who apparently provide major funding for the major gay rights organizations and their issues, like gay marriage legalization. It appears obvious that Step One in the battle against homophobia and in developing a national program for curing it if it proves to be curable, is the creation of a major, national, gay rights organization that focuses in the first instance on the GOP and its political use of homophobia.
2. The Freedom Writer, “Newt Set Strategy For Religious Right-10 Years Ago!” February, 1995, p. 19.
3. ThinkProgress War Room, “GOP Doubles Down on Anti-Gay Agenda,” The Progress Report, May 14, 2012.
4. Carey, B., “Psychiatry Giant Sorry for Backing ‘Gay Cure’ “, The New York Times, May 19, 2012.
6. Anderson Cooper 360, CNN, May 28, 2012.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Steven Jonas is a professor of preventive medicine and the author of score of books and hundreds of essays. He serves as a senior contributing editor on several political websites, including The Greanville Post, Buzzflash/Truthout, and other venues.
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