Zastrow, C., Kirst-Ashman, K.K. & Hessenauer, S.L. (2019). Empowerment series: Understanding human behavior and the social environment (11th Ed.). Cengage Learning.
· Chapter 13: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Articles, Websites, and Videos:
The highly politicized topic of sex, gender and sexual orientation from the view of a health care provider will be discussed in this video. It provides information on how we utilize terms to describe others, yet these terms eventually become labels which do not consider the uniqueness of the individual and therefore, turn into stereotypes and assumptions.
· LO 1 Explain sexual orientation and gender identity (including concepts such as homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender people)
· LO 2 Review stereotypes about lesbian and gay people
· LO 3 Discuss conceptual frameworks concerning sexual orientation
· LO 4 Address discrimination and the impacts of homophobia
· LO 5 Describe lesbian and gay lifestyles (including lesbian and gay relationships, sexual interaction, gay pride, and empowerment and a sense of community)
· LO 6 Explore significant issues and life events for lesbian and gay people (including legal empowerment, violence against them, coming out, ethnicity, adolescence, parenting, aging, and HIV/AIDS)
· LO 7 Recognize gay and lesbian pride, empowerment, and a sense of community
John had been attending the state university for more than a year. He didn’t have a chance to visit his parents in their small Midwestern town very often. When he did get home, his visits were usually limited to holidays. So when Thanksgiving rolled around, he found himself hopping on the Greyhound bus headed for Slab City, Wisconsin, his home.
This trip home was a problem for him. No matter how often or how deeply he mulled it over in his mind, he couldn’t find an answer. He had something to tell his parents that he didn’t think they would like very much. Over the past year, John had come to realize something about himself. He had come out; he was gay.
As he watched the countryside roll by, he thought about his childhood, about his high school friends, and even about the girl, Millie, he had dated for two and a half years during high school. What would they think if they found out?
For whatever reasons, the idea of a same-sex intimate relationship, which involves having a sexual orientation for members of the same gender, frequently elicits a strong negative emotional response. As future professional social workers, you need to identify and address this negative response. The National Association of Social Workers’ (NASW) Code of Ethics specifies that “social workers [should] respect and promote the right of clients to self-determination and assist clients in their efforts to identify and clarify their goals” (NASW, 2008). Additionally, it specifies that “social workers should obtain education about and seek to understand the nature of social diversity and oppression with respect to race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, political belief, religion, and mental or physical disability” (NASW, 2008). The NASW Policy Statement on “Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues” states that “NASW is committed to advancing policies and practices that will improve the status and well-being of all lesbian, gay, and bisexual people” (NASW, 2012, p. 221). Clearly, determination of one’s sexual orientation is a person’s right.
, gender relates to the feeling of being “male or “female.” Typically, persons with male biology feel “male,” and those with female biology feel “female.” However, there are persons with female biology who feel “male,” and persons with male biology who feel “female.” The general term “transgender” may apply to these individuals. There are also individuals who may feel both female and male (“bigender”): and persons who may feel neither male nor female (“agender”).
13-1eThe Fluidity of Sexuality
A man is committed to prison and has sexual relations with other men. Is he gay? A shy, lonely woman who has never dated any men is approached by a lesbian friend. The lonely woman decides to have an affair with her friend. Is she a lesbian? Two 14-year-old male adolescents experiment with each other by hand-stimulating each other to orgasm. Are they gay? While having sexual intercourse with his wife, a man frequently fantasizes about having sexual relations with other men. He has never had any actual sexual contact with a man in his adult life. Is he gay?
The answers to these questions are not so easy. Placing people in definite, distinct categories is difficult. It is not always easy to draw a clear distinction between a heterosexual and a person who is gay/lesbian. It may make us feel more secure and in control to cordon off the world into neat and predictable little boxes of black or white. However, in reality, the world is an endless series of shades of gray. People frequently like to polarize others as being either heterosexual or gay/lesbian. Perhaps such labeling makes situations appear to be predictable. If a person is labeled a heterosexual, then many assume that they know a lot of things about that person. For example, if a woman is labeled a heterosexual, then she is probably unassertive, sweet, demure, and emotional. She will date men and probably marry and become a mother and homemaker. If a man is gay, then he will probably frequently flick his wrists and become a hairdresser. In reality, things are not so predictable and clear. discussed the construction and complexity of gender.
The problem with these neat categories is that they foster stereotypes. As we know, a stereotype is a fixed mental image of a group that is frequently applied to all its members. Often the characteristics involved in the mental picture are unflattering. Stereotypes refuse to take into account individual differences. They negate the value and integrity of the individual. identifies some of the stereotypes characterizing lesbian and gay people.
Review Stereotypes about Lesbian and Gay People
Lesbian and gay people are not only the victims of homophobia, but also the targets of derogatory, inaccurate stereotypes. Some of the more common ones are that gay and lesbian people like to assume either a male or female role, and that they are potential child molesters. These stereotypes are false.
Overview of Stereotypes
A prevalent stereotype about gay and lesbian people is that gay men typically look extremely feminine and that lesbians appear very masculine. In truth, these stereotypes are not accurate in most instances (Johnson, 2014; Nugent, 2014; Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2014; Tully, 2001). People are individuals with individual traits. With the breakdown of traditional gender roles, identifying lesbians and gay men by appearance is difficult.
The stereotypes about how gay and lesbian people look is the result of confusion between two central concepts—gender identity and sexual orientation. Gender identity refers to a person’s internal psychological self-concept of being either male, female or another gender. We have indicated that sexual orientation refers to “one’s erotic, romantic, and affectional attraction to the same gender, to the opposite gender, or to both” (Greenberg et al., 2014, p. 370).
Playing Male and Female Roles
Another common stereotype about gay and lesbian people is that in any particular pair, one will choose a “masculine,” dominant role and the other a “feminine,” submissive role. As with most heterosexual couples, this is usually not the case (Johnson, 2014; Morrow, 2006c; Rathus et al., 2014). Any individual, gay/lesbian or heterosexual, may play a more dominant or more submissive role depending on his or her particular mood, activity, or the interaction involved. People are rarely totally submissive or totally dominant.
The Myth of Child Molesting
Another derogatory stereotype targeting gay and lesbian people is that they are inclined to molest children (Greenberg et al., 2014; Rathus et al., 2014; Tully, 2001). This stereotype is especially damaging for gay/lesbian teachers in that it can cause them to lose their jobs. In reality, the majority of all child molesting is done to young girls by heterosexual men, usually people trusted and close to them (e.g., a father, stepfather, or brother) (McAnulty & Burnette, 2003). Heterosexual men are 11 times more likely to be child molesters than are gay men (McCammon & Knox, 2007; Moser, 1992).
Ethical Question 13.1
1. Do you harbor any stereotypes about lesbian or gay people? If so, what are they? What, if anything, do you plan to do about them?
13-1fWhat Does Being Gay/Lesbian Mean?
Many theories in the past have focused on how people develop their same-gender sexual orientation by passing through a number of stages. Numerous models have been proposed, all of which “tend to have several things in common. There is almost always a predictable progression from some sort of first awareness of same-gender attractions and feelings; to a stage of self-labeling as being gay, lesbian, or bisexual; through stages of becoming more accepting of the new identity and sharing it with others; to a final stage of incorporating the identity into the total sense of self” (Crooks & Baur, 2014; Kelly, 2008, p. 375; Rathus et al., 2014).
Figure 13.1The Personality Pie
The same-sex sexual orientation is seen as prominent, at the expense of all other aspects of the lesbian or gay person’s personality. A more realistic view is one in which the same-sex sexual orientation is seen in context. The fact that a person is lesbian or gay is only one slice of a person’s personality pie. A realistic perspective allows the many various aspects of the person’s personality to be acknowledged and appreciated.
Many people are taught homophobia , the extreme and irrational fear and hatred of gay and lesbian people. These feelings warp their perception of gays and lesbians. Some people feel that being of the same-gender orientation is “pathological” (Bieschke, McClanahan, Tozer, Grzegorek, & Park, 2000, p. 311; Greenberg et al., 2014). describes conversion therapy that attempts to change people to heterosexuals.
The Ethical Problems of Conversion Therapy
Some people harbor the belief that “same-sex attraction represents a deviation from normal sexual and gender development” (Bieschke et al., 2000, p. 311). They support the idea of conversion therapy (also referred to as reparative or reorientation therapy) to convert people who are gay or lesbian to heterosexuals (Bieschke et al., 2000; Johnson, 2011b; Morrow, 2006b). The idea is that having a same-gender sexual orientation is simply wrong and should be changed. The implication is that external values (specifically, heterosexism , the intolerant attitude and discriminatory behavior against gay and lesbian people by heterosexuals) should be forcibly imposed upon people, thus denying their right to self-determination in this area.
In the past, such treatment included “techniques such as prayer, exorcism, religious-based guilt inducement, and punishment-oriented forms of behavior modification (Tozer & McClanahan, 1999; White, 1995)” (Morrow, 2006b, p. 185). Today’s approaches tend to focus on “cognitive-behavioral techniques in an attempt to suppress an individual’s attraction to others of the same sex” (Bieschke et al., 2000, p. 312). Cognitive-behavioral therapy “involves the modification of thoughts and actions by influencing an individual’s conscious patterns of thought” (Boyle, Hull, Mather, Smith, & Farley, 2009, p. 363).
The American Psychological Association (APA) rejected the effectiveness of and ethics involved in conversion therapy after an APA panel reviewed “83 studies on sexual orientation change conducted since 1960” (Associated Press, 2009). The APA determined that no concrete support existed on the behalf of conversion therapy. If anything, it determined such “therapy” could be damaging by causing depression and suicidal inclinations.
Thirteen professional organizations of helping professionals and educators have published a pamphlet entitled “Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth” that is available online without charge (APA, 2008; Just the Facts Coalition, 200S). It concludes,
Because of the aggressive promotion of efforts to change sexual orientation through therapy, a number of medical, health, and mental health professional organizations have issued public statements about the dangers of this approach The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Social Workers, together representing more than 480,000 mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be “cured” (Dively et al., 2008, p. 9)
Morrow (2006b) comments on conversion therapy for youth:
Parents who are uncomfortable with having a gay or lesbian child may seek out conversion therapy practitioners under the mistaken assumption that their child’s sexual orientation can be changed through such therapy. There is no credible empirical support for the success of conversion therapy in actually changing sexual orientation … Conversion therapy practice can cause psychological harm, to LGBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender] youth by reinforcing negative stereotypes and misinformation and inducing, internalized homophobia. (pp. 185–186)
The National Association of Social Workers Policy Statements (NASW, 2012) state that conversion therapy is unethical. Specifically,
· NASW supports the right of the individual to self-disclose, or to not disclose, sexual orientation and encourages the development of supportive practice environments for lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients and colleagues.
· NASW reaffirms its stance against reparative therapies and treatments designed to change sexual orientation or to refer to practitioners or programs that claim to do so. (p. 222)
Morrow and Tyson (2006) suggest how social workers can help people who are seeking conversion therapy to better understand themselves and their sexual orientation:
An initial response would be to assess the nature of the personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences that could have led the client to the point of seeking sexual orientation change. Affirmative practice would include helping the client understand the powerful forces of homophobia, internalized homophobia, and heterosexism—at the micro and macro levels of social power and influence—and the ways in which these forces create and perpetuate the internationalization of GLB-negative messages. Thus, initial intervention in such cases lies in helping clients understand the power of heterosexism in how they view sexual orientation in their own lives. Also, it would be appropriate to inform clients that conversion therapy is scientifically unproven and that its practice is considered unethical. (p. 396)
introduced transgender and transsexual people. discusses this group further.
A bisexual person is romantically and sexually attracted to members of either gender. We have already initiated the idea that same-sex sexual orientation is not a clear-cut concept. Bisexuality is even less clearly defined. In the first major study of sexuality in our era, Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin (1948) found that it was very difficult to categorize people as homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual. They found that many people who considered themselves heterosexual had had same-sex sexual experiences at some time during their lives. For example, 37 percent of the men in his sample of 5,300 had had at least one sexual experience with another male, to the point of orgasm, after reaching age 16. In a study of 5,940 women, Kinsey and his associates (1953) found that between 8 and 20 percent had had some type of same-sex intimate contact between ages 20 and 35. A significantly smaller percentage of each group had exclusively same-sex sexual experiences throughout their lifetimes.
). A rating of zero on the scale meant that the individual was exclusively heterosexual—the person had never had any type of same-sex sexual experience. Conversely, a score of 6 on the scale indicated exclusive homosexuality—this individual had never experienced any form of heterosexual behavior. Those persons scoring 3 would have equal same-sex sexual orientation and heterosexual interest and experience.
Figure 13.2Conceptualizations of Homosexuality and Heterosexuality
Source: A. C. Kinsey, W. B. Pomeroy, and C. E. Martin (eds.) (1948). Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Adapted by permission of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender & Reproduction, Inc., Bloomington, IN; Adapted from M. D. Storms, 1980, “Theories of Sexual Orientation,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 783–792.
More recent researchers have discovered similar difficulties in clearly categorizing people in terms of their sexual orientation. Storms (1980, 1981) suggests that the Kinsey scale still failed to provide an accurate description. He developed a two-dimensional scheme to reflect sexual orientation (see ). The two dimensions are homoeroticism (sexual interest in and/or experience with those of the same gender) and heteroeroticism (sexual interest in and/or experience with those of the opposite gender).
Additionally, Storms’s scheme portrays level of sexual interest. Those individuals who express high interest in both sexes are placed in the upper right-hand corner. They are considered bisexuals. Those persons who have a very low sexual interest in either gender are placed in the lower left-hand corner. They are considered asexual. Persons with primary sexual interest in the same gender, homosexuals, are placed in the upper left-hand corner. Similarly, people with primary sexual interest in the opposite gender, heterosexuals, are placed in the lower right-hand corner.
We’ve established that gender expression is complex. Terms used to refer to various groups depend on the issues involved. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people may experience some of the same issues, such as homophobia and discrimination. In these contexts, the terms LGBT or GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) might be used. However, each group also has its own special circumstances and issues, so sometimes only one or some of these groups (such as transgender people, or lesbians and gay men) will be the focus of reference.
Ethical Question 13.2
1. What ethical issues do you think are involved in conversion therapy? Explain your reasons.
Note that a newer acronym sometimes being employed to refer to people whose sexual orientation is not strictly toward the opposite gender is LGBTQ. Here “Q” stands for “queer” or “questioning” (Carroll, 2013b, p. 270; Rosenthal, 2013, p. 234). Another tern used is LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) (Alderson, 2013). discussed intersex people, individuals who have some mixture of male and female predisposition and configuration of reproductive structures.
However, Alderson (2013) cautions:
Terminology is often challenging when writing or talking about groups who have been historically oppressed and disenfranchised. Postmodern writers have become very sensitive to the labels used to describe individuals….
Identities [labels used to refer to some group of people] describe one aspect of a person. A lesbian woman, for example, is more than just her nonheterosexual identity—she is also someone’s daughter, someone’s neighbor, and someone’s friend. She is a lover, a worker, and an inhabitor of earth. Similarly, referring to a transsexual individual as a “transsexual” diminishes this person’s existence to this one aspect of self …
Identity labels—when chosen at all—are picked by individuals themselves to describe some aspect that defines their sense of self. Consequently, they can be transient labels, inaccurate labels, or over-simplified labels. Such is also the case with some LGBTI individuals—our sexuality and gender is so much more than the label we give it. (pp. 2–4)
13-1hNumbers of Lesbian and Gay People
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to state exactly how many people are lesbian or gay. However, it may be useful to consider the numbers of people who have adopted a primarily lesbian or gay orientation over an extended period of time.
Based on Kinsey’s work, “many authors have used 10 percent as the proportion of men who are gay” (Berger & Kelly, 1995, p. 1066; Mallon, 2008). Kinsey found that although more than one-third of American men had had homosexual experiences leading to orgasm during their adolescent or adult lives, only 10 percent of men were exclusively gay/lesbian for a three-year period between ages 16 and 55, and only about 4 percent were gay/lesbian throughout their lives.
1. According to the NASW Code of Ethics, why is it important for social workers to advocate for transgender individuals? What are some specific steps social workers can do to advocate for the transgender population?
Why are some people lesbian or gay? Although various theories have been proposed to explain why people are lesbian or gay, none has been proven. (A similar question that could be asked is, “Why are some people heterosexual?”) No one can give a definitive answer concerning why some people are gay/lesbian and others heterosexual. Some of the principal hypotheses will be reviewed here. They fall under the umbrellas of biological and psychosocial theories. Evaluation of theory, interactionist theory, ethical issues related to theory, and other research will also be discussed.
The biological theories attempting to explain same-sex sexual orientation can be clustered under three headings: genetic, anatomical (brain), and hormonal. They are based on the idea that same-sex sexual orientation is caused by physiological factors over which individuals have no control.
The genetic explanation for same-sex sexual orientation supports the idea that people’s sexuality is programmed through their genes. Bailey and Pillard compared groups of identical twins, fraternal twins, and brothers who were adopted (1991). Identical twins develop from the splitting of a single fertilized egg. They are therefore genetically identical. Fraternal twins, on the other hand, develop concurrently from two separate eggs that were fertilized by two separate sperm. They are only as genetically similar as any brothers might be. Brothers who are adopted, unless they are family members, have no genetic commonality. The researchers found that when one identical twin was gay, 52 percent of the time, their twin brother was also gay. But in the case of fraternal twin brothers, only 22 percent of the pairs were both gay, and when the brothers were adopted, both brothers were gay only 11 percent of the time. The researchers concluded that this provides evidence for a genetic link. They indicated that the degree of genetic contribution to same-sex sexual orientation could vary from 30 to 70 percent.
Another study looked at 108 lesbians who had either identical or fraternal twin sisters and another 32 lesbians who had adopted sisters (Bailey et al., 1993). They found that among almost half of the identical twins, both were lesbians. However, only 16 percent of fraternal twins and 6 percent of the unrelated sisters were both lesbians. These results further support the idea of a genetic component to same-sex sexual orientation. Subsequent research using more refined methodology had similar findings that helped substantiate the results of this study (Kendler, Thornton, Gilman, & Kessler, 2000; Kirk et al., 2000).
“Gay men have more gay brothers than lesbian sisters, while lesbians have more lesbian sisters than gay brothers”; Carroll (2010, pp. 283–284) also “found evidence of a ‘gay’ gene on the X chromosome but did not find a ‘lesbian’ gene.”
Some research in Australia studied 1,538 pairs of twins (Bailey, Dunne, & Martin, 2000). The researchers used “a strict criterion for determining sexual orientation” and “found a concordance rate (the percentage of pairs in which both twins are gay) of 20% among identical male twins and 0% among pairs of male same-sex fraternal twins. The corresponding concordance rates for female identical and same-sex fraternal pairs were 24% and 10.5%, respectively” (Crooks & Baur, 2011, p. 255).
“There is a great deal of evidence that gay and lesbian sexual orientations run in families” (Bailey et al., 2000; Carroll, 2013b; Dawood, Pillard, Horvath, Revelle, & Bailey, 2000; Greenberg et al., 2014, p. 377; Kendler et al., 2000). However, “[s]exuality experts do caution that a specific gene linked to homosexuality has not been identified. Also, because of the complexity of sexual orientation, it is likely that a possible genetic link is only part of the picture” (Greenberg et al., 2014, p. 377).
Some lesbian and gay people have expressed ethical concerns regarding proving any theory about same-sex sexual orientation involving a biological component. On the one hand, many express relief at the thought that others might consider their same-sex sexual orientation not to be their “own fault.” If there’s a medical basis, the general public might become more accepting of lesbians and gay men. Gelman and his colleagues (Gelman, Foote, Barrett, & Talbot, 1992) found that people were generally more accepting of lesbian and gay people if they felt such people were “born that way” instead of choosing or learning that lifestyle.
On the other hand, if specific genetic or hormonal “ingredients” are found for same-sex sexual orientation, lesbian and gay people might be considered defective by society at large. Taking this one step farther, society at large might decide to make biological “corrections” prenatally. Might this mean changing what a person was meant to be into something else? Might potential parents be more likely to abort a fetus determined to be lesbian or gay if they learn about the same-sex sexual orientation early in the gestational process? There are no easy answers to these questions in our technological age.
13-2fOther Research on the Origins of Same-Sex Sexual Orientation
Bell and his colleagues (Bell, Weinberg, Martin, & Hammersmith, 1981) undertook a massive investigation through the Alfred C. Kinsey Institute for Sex Research concerning the causes of same-sex sexual orientation. They studied 979 lesbians and gay men, and compared them to 477 heterosexual women and men. Study participants were asked extensive questions about many aspects of their lives. A statistical method called path analysis allowed the researchers to explore possible causal relationships between a number of variables, such as prenatal characteristics and family relationships, and the development of sexual orientation.
Although the research offers some of the most extensive and methodologically sound findings available, none of the aforementioned theories to explain same-sex sexual orientation was supported. If anything, several of the variables proposed by these other theories were found not to be related to same-sex sexual orientation. For instance, no relationship was found between being gay and having been seduced by a person of the same gender when young. The researchers found no ultimate answers, but they did identify some interesting aspects of being lesbian or gay. Three findings are of special significance.
First, sexual orientation appears to emerge by the time both males and females reach adolescence. This is the case even when people have little or no sexual experience. Sometimes people begin grasping that they’re not heterosexual because of different feelings during childhood. “Many realize during adolescence that something is missing in their heterosexual involvements and that they find same-sex peers sexually attractive” (Crooks & Baur, 2014, p. 269).
Second, lesbian and gay people have similar amounts of heterosexual experience during childhood and adolescence when compared to heterosexual people. There is one basic difference, however. Although lesbian and gay people participate in heterosexual activity, they do not enjoy it very much.
discusses discrimination and the impact of homophobia on gay and lesbian people.
Spotlight on Diversity 13.1
Address Discrimination and the Impacts of Homophobia
“Did you ever hear the one about the dyke who … ”
“Harry sure has a ‘swishy’ way about him. You’d never catch me in the locker room alone with that guy.”
“They’re nothing but a bunch of lousy faggots.”
Our common language is filled with, derogatory terms referring to lesbian and gay people. Just as other diverse groups are subject to arbitrary stereotypes and to discrimination, so are gay and lesbian people. Because of negative attitudes and the resulting discriminatory behavior, alternatives for lesbian and gay people are often different and limited. There are often other negative consequences. Other, nonsexually related aspects of their lives are affected because of their sexual orientation.
For example, a male third-grade teacher may live in fear that the parents of his students will discover he’s living with another man. He loves his job, which he’s had for nine years. If parents put pressure on the school administration about his same-sex sexual orientation, he may get fired. He may never get another teaching job again.
Another example is provided by a female college student who expends massive amounts of energy to disguise that she’s a lesbian. She attends a state university in a small, Midwestern, rural town. She is terribly lonely. She keeps hoping that that special someone will walk into her life. However, she doesn’t dare let her friends know she’s lesbian or she really will be isolated. There wouldn’t be anyone to talk to or to go to dinner with. They would just never understand. People have committed suicide for less.
Lesbian and gay people are frequently the victims of homophobia. We have defined homophobia as the extreme and irrational fear and hatred of gay and lesbian people. People with same-gender sexual orientation have historically been discriminated against by the U.S. military, religious, mental health, medical, and various other institutions and systems.
Some feel that the term homophobia is too strong because the word phobia means “an intense and persistent fear of an object or situation” (Barker, 2014, p. 322). Antihomosexual or antigay stance, prejudice, or discrimination might be alternate terms. In reality, homophobia is likely a continuum. People probably vary markedly in the depth of their negative feelings about lesbian and gay people. Regardless of what it’s called, many people harbor seriously negative perceptions and prejudice against lesbian and gay people (Carroll, 2013b; Kelly, 2008; LeVay & Valente, 2006; Messinger & Brooks, 2008).
It is not clear how homophobia originated. It may involve people’s attempts to deny same-sex sexual feelings in themselves (Maier, 1984). Perhaps the more strongly homophobic people are, the more they are working to deny such feelings in themselves. Regardless of the cause, the manifestations of homophobia are all around us. In the past, same-sex sexual orientation was considered an illness. Not until 1974 did the American Psychiatric Association remove it from the list of mental illnesses.
Crooks and Baur (2011) potently describe how venomous homophobia can be:
Unfortunately, homophobia is still common and often plays a big role in the lives of many gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals (Symanski, 2009)…. The homophobosphere, antigay postings on Internet blogs, both expresses and creates hate (Doig, 2008). Such expressions contribute to the ongoing daily harassment of and discrimination against anyone outside ‘acceptable’ heterosexual parameters, and they legitimize the mind-set of people who commit hate crimes directed at gays. Hate crimes include assault, robbery, and murder, and they are committed because the victim belongs to a certain race, religion, or ethnic group or has a certain sexual orientation. (pp. 261–262)
Rathus and his colleagues (2014) relate that homophobia may assume “many forms, including the following:
· use of derogatory names (such as queer, faggot, and dyke)
· telling disparaging ‘queer jokes’
· barring gay people from housing, employment, or social opportunities
· taunting (verbal abuse)
· gay bashing (physical, sometimes lethal, abuse).” (p. 283)
A potentially negative side effect would be to internalize such negative attitudes. In other words, a gay or lesbian person might think, “If being gay or lesbian is bad, and I am gay or lesbian, then that means that I am bad, too.”
It is vitally important that social workers confront their own homophobia and learn more about the special issues of lesbian and gay clients. Social workers must explore and confront their own homophobia in order to understand and meet the needs of lesbian and gay clients and their families; not doing so raises grave questions about their ability to undertake ethical social work practice (Alderson, 2013; Morales, 1995; Morrow, 2006c).
Social workers must do the following:
1. Develop LGBT content knowledge base [including the recognition of current LGBT issues and an understanding of the LGBT lesbian and gay communities] …
2. Challenge personal biases about sexual minority people and practice in accordance with social work values and ethics….
3. [N]ot presume the sexual orientation or gender identity of clients….
4. Use accurate and respectful language in all communication to and about clients….
5. Avoid assuming that the characteristics and needs of all sexual minority groups—gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender—are the same….
6. Approach cases from an ecological systems perspective [It is important to appreciate the significance of the social environment and its effects on lesbian and gay people’s lives. Practitioners should confront oppressive policies, laws, and treatment and advocate for change. Social workers should be aware of available resources and potential social supports.] …
7. Honor diversity among LGBT people [Each lesbian or gay person is a distinct and unique individual, just as each heterosexual person is.]
8. Honor client self-determination regarding disclosure …
9. Honor clients’ rights to privacy regarding their sexual orientation and gender identity….
10. Advocate for LGBT-affirmative work environments and LGBT-affirmation agency services. [Social workers should advocate for fair and equal treatment and for services designed to meet the needs of LGBT clients.] (Morrow, 2006c, pp. 13–15)
1. Why do you think people are lesbian, gay, or bisexual? To what extent does a person’s sexual orientation matter to you, and why?
What is it like to be a lesbian or gay person? How would life be different or similar if you awoke tomorrow morning and discovered that you were homosexual? What would happen to your relationships with family, friends, and colleagues?
discusses the importance of a sense of community among gay and lesbian people.
1. What, if anything, should be done to protect lesbian, gay, and bisexual people from discrimination in employment?
Since gay and lesbian people historically have been prohibited from joining the CIA, the FBI, and the armed forces, it’s important to view the current picture within a historical context (McCrary & Gutierrez, 1979/80; Tully, 1995). The following content discusses both the history of the treatment of lesbians and gay men in the military, and the current, much different scenario.
Leonard Matlovich provides one of the most publicized examples of discrimination against gay and lesbian people by the military. As the son of an air force sergeant, Matlovich was raised on air force bases. Upon his high school graduation, he immediately joined the air force. He received numerous decorations for his service, which included fighting in Vietnam. He was also labeled superior in his evaluations.
Years later, at age 30, Matlovich acknowledged that he was gay and became involved in gay activities. When he told this to his superiors, he was discharged with a general discharge, a type of discharge considered less than honorable. He eventually took his case to court. He “later collected $160,000 in back pay when the air force could not rebut his claim to an exemption from the no-gays policy.”
In January 1993, President Clinton announced a plan to revoke the 50-year-old ban on gay and lesbian people in the military. However, Congress so eroded the plan that the final version entailed an uncomfortable “Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue” guideline (Gelman, 1993, p. 28). This meant that military personnel were supposed to pretend, with an “out of sight, out of mind” approach, that same-sex sexual behavior doesn’t exist. Many questions were raised regarding this policy. Consider the following facts.
Personal Relationships, Finances, and Same-Sex Marriage
The right of lesbian and gay people to marry legally in the United States has been a hotly debated issue. A major change occurred in June 2013 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down major aspects of the federal 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA had defined marriage as being between a man and a woman (Gacik, 2014). In 2013 the Court ruled that same-sex marriage must be accepted by the federal government and that such couples should receive all the federal benefits available to heterosexual couples. These benefits include “Social Security survivor benefits, immigration rights and family leave” (Williams & McClam, 2013). They also include federal tax benefits such as filing joint federal tax returns. Note, however, that federal agencies may determine which same-sex marriages are eligible for benefits; for example, some agencies such as the IRS will recognize all same-sex marriages, whereas the Social Security Administration takes into consideration the couple’s state residence and whether that state recognizes same-sex marriage (NOLO, 2014a).
In its 2013 decision the Supreme Court did not force states to accept gay marriage, but rather left them to make their own determinations (Williams & McClam, 2013). (For many decades prior to 2015, a majority of the 50 states had banned same-sex marriages.)
Whether gays and lesbians have the right to marry has been a hotly debated issue for the past few decades in the United States. In June 2015, the United States Supreme Court in a landmark ruling said that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage. The 5–4 U.S. Supreme Court decision means all 50 states must perform and recognize gay marriage.
Internationally, the following countries now allow same-sex marriage, in addition to the United States: Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Argentina, Iceland, Portugal, Denmark, Uruguay, New Zealand, Brazil, and France, England, and Wales.
1. Should lesbian and gay people have given the right to marry?
Child Custody and Visitation Rights
In the past, lesbian and gay parents have experienced major difficulties in custody debates over their children because of their sexual orientation. Numerous courts have denied parents custody simply because they were lesbian or gay (ACLU, 2014b; Barusch, 2012; Carroll, 2013b; Hunter & Hickerson, 2003; Parks & Humphreys, 2006). For example, a Florida lesbian mother lost “custody of her 11-year-old daughter to the child’s father, who was convicted of killing his first wife” (CNN, 1996). Further complicating the matter, the man’s daughter with his first wife accused him of sexually abusing her when she was a teenager. In another case, an Alabama court refused custody to a lesbian mother; the chief justice condemned homosexuality as an “inherent evil and an act so heinous that it defies one’s ability to describe it” (Kendell, 2003). Still another instance involves a grandmother who was awarded custody of her grandson because his mother was a lesbian living with a female partner; the Virginia judge ruled that the mother’s “conduct is immoral” and that her behavior “renders her an unfit parent” (Kendell, 2003). On the other hand, some state courts have ruled that child custody could not be denied purely on the basis of parental homosexuality unless it was proven that such sexual orientation would hurt the child (Berger & Kelly, 1995).
Judges presiding over custody disputes can make arbitrary judgments concerning what is in the child’s best interests (Hyde & DeLamater, 2014; Kendell, 2003). Some judges may have homophobic ideas, which have the potential of influencing their decisions.
There are several myths about lesbian and gay parenthood that might influence people against lesbian and gay parents. First, there is the misconception that lesbian or gay parents will influence their children to become gays or lesbians. No verification exists for this myth or for the worry that children growing up in families with lesbian or gay parents are more likely to be lesbian or gay (Barusch, 2012; Carroll, 2013b; Hyde & DeLamater, 2014; Morales, 1995). Second, there is the idea that children will be damaged by growing up in lesbian or gay homes. All indications are that children growing up in such households flourish as well as those raised in heterosexual homes (Carroll, 2013b; Hyde & DeLamater, 2014). Third, some people mistakenly believe that gay and lesbian people’s parenting skills are inadequate. No evidence bears this out (Barusch, 2012; Moses & Hawkins, 1982). Finally, research indicates that fears about children with lesbian or gay parents experiencing difficulties in peer relationships, having inadequate social skills, or enjoying less popularity than their peers with heterosexual parents are also unsupported (Hyde & DeLamater, 2014).
1. How can violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people be stopped?
“Coming out of the closet,” or “coming out,” refers to the process of a person’s acknowledging publicly that she or he is lesbian or gay. It is frequently a long and difficult process in view of the homophobia and stereotypes enveloping us (Crooks & Baur, 2014; Morrow, 2006a; Swigonski, 1995).
Lesbian and gay people today usually become aware that they are different from most others in terms of sexual orientation before the age of 20 (Martin, 2008; Moses & Hawkins, 1982). The process of coming out itself frequently takes one to two years. It should be noted, however, that there is great variation regarding how any specific individual comes out. For some people, it may take much longer, and they may come out much later in life. For many people, especially adolescents who do not have much independence and are subject to severe peer pressure, the coming-out period may be very difficult.
One way to describe coming out is to identify the four stages involved (Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, 1984; Crooks & Baur, 2014). These stages are
coming out to oneself;
getting to know other people within the gay and lesbian community;
sharing with family and friends that one is lesbian or gay; and
coming out of the closet—that is, openly and publicly acknowledging one’s sexual orientation.
The first stage of the process—namely, coming out to oneself—involves thinking about oneself as a person who is lesbian or gay instead of as one who is heterosexual (Crooks & Baur, 2014; Moses & Hawkins, 1982; Rathus, 2014b). This may involve a period of identity shifting, during which individuals experiment with the label. They may begin conceptualizing themselves as lesbian or gay and begin thinking about what such a label will mean concerning their own lifestyle.
discusses some issues involving ethnicity and sexual orientation.
Spotlight on Diversity 13.3
Ethnicity and Sexual Orientation
It is critically important for social workers to assess “the impact of differences in class, ethnicity, health status, rural or urban background, and stage of gay identity formation, in addition to the individual’s psychodynamics, ego strengths, and social supports” in order to help clients most effectively (Shernoff, 1995, p. 1077). Appreciation of people’s individual strengths and differences is the key. For example, a 45-year-old Hispanic gay man living in a sparsely populated rural environment in Texas will experience very different life circumstances and issues than will an 18-year-old African American gay man living in a bustling urban Los Angeles neighborhood. Likewise, a 24-year-old Asian American lesbian living in uptown Manhattan will experience life very differently from a 78-year-old Native American lesbian living in northern Montana.
African American and Hispanic gay men may have difficulty experiencing a comfortable level of acceptance both in their ethnic communities and in the primarily white gay community (Alderson, 2013; Tully, 2000; van Wormer et al., 2000). This is also true for gay men who are Asian American and Native American (Alderson, 2013; Shernoff, 1995). On the one hand, white gay organizations may be racist or unresponsive to the needs of other ethnic groups despite reflecting the same sexual orientation. On the other hand, various ethnic and racial communities may be homophobic, resulting from a range of cultural traditions (Alderson, 2013; van Wormer et al., 2000).
Nonwhite gay men may see their racial and ethnic communities as safe havens from the oppressive white majority culture. Therefore, they may be less likely to divulge openly their sexual orientation for fear of losing that support (Morales, 1995). It can be very helpful for them to seek linkage and support from other gay men of similar racial and ethnic heritage who better understand the problems resulting from membership in two “minority” groups (Shernoff, 1995).
A special issue for gay Hispanic men involves their traditional religion and folk beliefs (Shernoff, 1995). Many Hispanic people are strongly influenced by “the impact of conservative Catholicism and its emphasis on traditional values (which strongly reject gay love or sexual expression)” (p. 1077). Additionally, many gay Hispanics place serious significance on the concept of espiritismo, or spiritualism (Shernoff, 1995). Social workers must be aware of such issues and explore the significance they have for clients.
Asian American gay men may see their sexual orientation as being incompatible with traditional values espoused by their culture. As a result, many may be pressured to adopt dual identities, one concerning their racial heritage and one their sexual orientation (Shernoff, 1995). Social workers may help them to think through their situations and make effective decisions regarding what choices and plans are best for them.
Tafoya and Rowell (1988) indicate that “Native American gay and lesbian clients often combine elements of common gay experiences with the uniqueness of their own ethnicity. To treat them only as gay and to ignore important cultural issues may bring … [counseling] sessions to a quick end with little accomplished” (p. 63).
Lesbians of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds experience pressures similar to those suffered by gay men of diverse ethnic and racial heritage; this is due to their membership in more than one diverse group (Alderson, 2013; Almquist, 1995; Hunter College Women’s Studies Collective, 1995; Smith, 1995). Lesbians of nonwhite racial backgrounds confront a type of “triple jeopardy”; they suffer not only from racism and sexism but also from heterosexism (Greene, 1994). “Just as the experience of sexism is ‘colored’ by the lens of race and ethnicity for women of color, so is the experience of heterosexism similarly filtered for lesbian women of color” (p. 395). Furthermore, “for racially oppressed groups, lesbianism may seem like a betrayal of … [their] ethnic community. Among African Americans and Native Americans, for example, reproductive sexuality may be viewed as contributing to the survival of a group subject to racist genocide attempts” (Hunter College Women’s Studies Collective, 1995, p. 151). In other words, lesbianism may be viewed as a betrayal of one’s racial heritage, because lesbians don’t form traditional heterosexual pairs oriented toward reproduction and increasing racial numbers.
addresses one woman’s exploration of her self-identity and sexual orientation.
Coming out can be a difficult process. Support from others is very important.
Cheryl’s Exploration of Her Self-Identity and Sexual Orientation
Cheryl, age 19, worked as a sales clerk at Shopko, the local discount store. Although she still lived with her parents primarily for financial reasons, she was starting to make her own decisions. She debated moving into an apartment with several female friends, and whether she should attend the local technical school or college part-time. These were not the issues she addressed, however, as she came in for counseling.
Cheryl hesitantly explained that she was very anxious about the sexual feelings she was having. Although she was steadily dating her high school sweetheart, he did not interest her sexually. She was thinking more and more about her sexual attraction toward other women. She had had these feelings for as long as she could remember. Lately she was becoming obsessed about them. She was very worried that she might be a lesbian.
On further discussion, she expressed fears about what being a lesbian would be like. She was concerned about starting to look too masculine and about becoming sex-starved for other women. Cheryl’s counselor provided some information about what being lesbian or gay is really like. They discussed and discarded some of Cheryl’s negative stereotypes. The counselor referred Cheryl to some written material on lesbianism and to some local organizations so Cheryl could get more information.
As counseling progressed, Cheryl began to nurture her weakened self-image. Her years of anxiety and her efforts to hide her feelings had taken an emotional toll. Her counselor helped her to work through her confusion about all the negative things she’d heard about gays and her perception of herself. Cheryl began to look at herself more realistically. She began to focus on her personal strengths. These included her sense of humor, her pleasant disposition, and her desire to become more independent and establish a career for herself. She found that these attributes and her personal identity had nothing to do with the negative stereotypes she had previously heard about same-sex sexual behavior.
Finally, her, counselor helped net to define and evaluate the various alternatives open to her. For the first time, she explored the possibility of breaking up with her boyfriend. She considered the possibility of pursuing a sexual relationship with one of the women she had recently met at a gay and lesbian rights organization meeting. She was already beginning to develop friendships with other women she’d met in a lesbian support group.
After several months of counseling, Cheryl had made some decisions. She had gone through the signification process. She had moved out of her parents’ home and into an apartment with several female friends, none of whom were lesbians. After much fear and trepidation, she had come out to them. To her relief, they indicated that although they were surprised, it made no difference concerning their friendship. She had broken off with her boyfriend and had started a sexual relationship with another woman. Not only did she have no regrets about her new romantic situation, but she felt extreme relief, satisfaction, and a new sense of freedom.
Cheryl still had not decided whether to come out to her parents. She was still working on that. Nor had she yet decided what career route would be best for her. However, her new sense of self-identity provided her with new confidence and strength. The future looked hopeful and exciting instead of dull and restrictive.
13-4dLesbian and Gay Adolescents
Lesbian and gay adolescents have to deal with not only their identity development in general but also their identities as lesbians or gay males in a heterosexual world. This frequently occurs during adolescence when their sexual selves start to awaken. Social workers should pay particular attention to lesbian and gay adolescents during this time in their lives. ( addressed some of the issues facing adolescents concerning the special circumstances of their identity development.) Boes and van Wormer (2002), noting that adolescents “are sometimes treated as if they were less than human,” go on to explain:
Struggling to survive in environments (school, home, church) that are more often than not hostile to their very being, gay and lesbian youth have many intense personal issues to resolve. Among the most pressing issues … are [the following]:
· The turmoil involved in coming out to yourself discovering who you are and who you are not.
· Deciding who to tell, when, and how to tell it.
· Rebuilding relationships and grieving rejections when the truth is known.
· Developing new and caring support systems.
· Protecting oneself from a constant onslaught of attacks of one who is openly out or from the guilt feelings accompanying the secrecy and deception of being in the closet.
Lesbian and gay adolescents are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts (Johnson, 2011a). A major suggestion for working with lesbian and gay youth is to avoid minimizing or denying the young person’s developing identity and sexual orientation. Rather, help to empower them by taking their thoughts and feelings seriously and providing them with the information and support they need.
. Although initially many people labeled it a gay disease, it is now spreading among heterosexuals at a greater rate than among gays. Therefore, in , AIDS was discussed as a condition that could affect anyone, heterosexual or gay or lesbian. Because gay men were among the first to contract the disease in the United States, a few comments will be made here about its impact on them. (AIDS is virtually unknown among lesbians, except those who are intravenous drug users, a separate high-risk group.)
addresses the promotion of optimal well-being for all LGBT people, not just those who are HIV-positive.
Spotlight on Diversity 13.4
Social Work with LGBT People: Promoting Optimal Well-Being
Social work has at least two important thrusts in working with LGBT people. One involves the individual practitioner’s attitudes and skills. The other concerns agencies’ provision of services to LGBT people.
Josephine Stewart, who chaired the NASW National Committee on Lesbian and Gay Issues, has made several suggestions for social work practitioners working with LGBT clients (NASW, 1984). For one thing, we have established that it is very important to confront one’s own homophobia. One of the worst things a practitioner can do is negatively label an LGBT client and criticize that client for her or his sexual orientation. This contradicts the basic social work value of the client’s right to self-determination. A negatively biased practitioner can unknowingly work against a client’s development and maintenance of a positive self-image. Alternatives involving an LGBT lifestyle and resources available in the LGBT communities might be ignored or even rejected.
Another suggestion for working with LGBT people is to become familiar both with the LGBT lifestyles and with the LGBT communities. This knowledge is necessary in order to help clients identify and evaluate the various alternatives available to them. Such learning is a career-long process. It’s also helpful to know people within the LGBT community who can update a practitioner on new events and resources.
Agency Provision of Services
The other issue concerning social work with LGBT people involves agencies’ provision of services. Social workers should provide leadership to improve and develop agency policies on the behalf of LGBT people and help initiate programs to serve them. LGBT people need various services that address specific aspects of lesbian and gay life. These might include lesbian support groups, groups for gay men who are in the process of coming out, legal advice for lesbian or gay parents seeking child custody, or couple counseling for same-sex partners. Such services can be provided by agencies focusing on and serving only LGBT people, or the services can be main-streamed into traditional agencies.
Regardless of where services are provided for LGBT people, the fact is that they are needed. Social workers need to apply social work values to LGBT clients. They need to learn about resources available for LGBT people and make appropriate referrals. They also need to educate others about the special issues confronting LGBT people. Finally, social workers frequently need to act as advocates for the rights of LGBT people. Sexual orientation needs to be addressed as simply another aspect of human diversity. Sexual orientation should be respected instead of denied. Political candidates in favor of LGBT rights need to be supported. Agencies that discriminate against LGBT people need to be confronted, educated, and pressured to provide needed services in a fair and unbiased manner.
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