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1990: homophobia in HIV/AIDS education.

... Blaming, hostility, denial, and misinformation are not unique issues for HIV educators. They are common manifestations of homophobia, broadly defined as the fear and hatred of those who love and sexually desire people of the same gender. Homophobia is deeply ingrained in American society. It is present in most educational settings, and because of the necessity of discussing same-gender sexual activity, it is present in virtually all HIV education ...

HIV education can either perpetuate homophobia ... or begin to dismantle it. Few people admit that they are homophobic, sexist, or racist. It is difficult not to be homophobic in our society. Most of us were presented with inaccurate and highly prejudiced information about homosexuality as children, and the culture in which we live continuously offers, perpetuates, and promotes--on a daily basis--prejudiced and inaccurate information about homosexuality. As a result, many adults tend to rely on and perpetuate the information they received as children. However, in spite of this, some youth and adults have attempted to obtain accurate information, are working to overcome their prejudices, and are attempting to educate others in overcoming theirs.

Overcoming any type of prejudice requires a great deal of work and time. Above all, it requires a commitment to study, and to take action. However, within the context of HIV education, there are some concrete steps that can be taken now to reduce denial, prejudice, and hostility.

This article presents information about homophobia and some guidelines for delivering non-homophobic education. The term "HIV/AIDS education" is used broadly here, to designate any methodology and audience where the purpose is to stop new HIV infection, and to encourage compassion and care for those already infected. Therefore, the term "HIV/AIDS educator" will refer to any person whose work requires them to teach others about HIV/AIDS, whether this education takes place in counseling sessions, in classrooms and community settings, and/or through the distribution of written, audiovisual, and audiocassette materials ...

The Manifestation of Homophobia

At the individual level. Homophobia manifests in several ways. At the individual level, like other forms of oppression, it is a learned behavior. Individual homophobia can be identified across a broad range of behaviors. Participation in, listening to, or laughing at so-called gay jokes is homophobic, for example. On a slightly more hostile level, expressions of aggression toward gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, such as the expressions of a young man who angrily stated "[gay people] should be shot" and "all that [lesbian] really needs is a good lay," is homophobia. At the extreme end of the range of hostile expressions and behaviors is the terrifying reality of "bashing"--physical violence directed at lesbians and gay men simply because of their sexual orientation. Such violence has reportedly increased dramatically since the advent of HIV/AIDS hysteria.

At the organizational level. At the organizational level, homophobia manifests wherever there is the assumption that everyone is heterosexual--and that if they are not, they should be. The heterosexual assumption of normalcy is played out organizationally in pervasive acts of omission: institutions often fail to recognize the presence of lesbian and gay members on their staffs or to offer insurance opportunities to committed same-gender partners. In addition, they do not provide the same special support services for gay men and lesbians and their significant others, including personal leave in the event of illness or death, as are offered to heterosexual partners and families. The message is clear: same-gender partners and families do not, and should not, exist. Acts of commission at the organizational level also abound. There are rules that forbid the granting of security clearance to "known homosexuals," and policies that allow the firing of gay and lesbian teachers, solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.

At the cultural level. At the cultural level, homophobia manifests as a broad social indictment of homosexuality. In virtually all media, the heterosexual assumption is reinforced through pervasive and persuasive heterosexual images. Families are depicted as having a mother and father, and lovers are never of the same gender. The heterosexual lifestyle is portrayed, not just as the norm, but as the ideal. At the same time, when gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals are made visible, they are most often presented as oversexed, deviant, and sick. The word promiscuous, for example, is a label generally used only to describe women and gay men. How often do we hear heterosexual men being referred to as promiscuous? As for deviance, it is commonly assumed that gay men are driven by their attraction to boys; yet, research clearly tells us that 95% of those who sexually abuse children are heterosexual men. Lastly, in HIV education programs, educators are invariably asked about the causes of homosexuality. The implicit assumption is that if the cause can be found, a cure can also be found; homosexuality, thus, must be a sickness.

At the classroom level. Such expressions of homophobia inevitably find their way also into our classrooms, where such statements ... remind us that homophobia is not just an issue for students, but it is also an issue for educators. [For example,] language about innocence has strong attitudinal implications: if some people infected with HIV are innocent, then there must be others who are guilty. Assigning blame allows people to see others as different from themselves. It then becomes a battle between them and us, and between those who are infected with HIV, and those who believe they never will be. Additionally, this mindset builds walls against compassion for those who are infected with HIV and inhibits our ability to live in a world and work with people who are different from us.

HIV educators--regardless of the context--share immense responsibility not to reinforce, indirectly or unintentionally, the misinformed and misguided values and beliefs of clients, students, and audiences. This responsibility is magnified when the message one wishes to convey involves the life-and-death decisions of the people with whom one is working. HIV educators also must examine their attitudes and actions before they begin to educate others about HIV....

Excerpted from SIECUS Report, Volume 19, Number 1, October/November 1990.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Forty Years of Speaking out SIECUS on GLBTQ Issues; Sex Information and Education Council of the United States
Author:Thompson, Cooper
Publication:SIECUS Report
Date:Mar 22, 2004
Previous Article:1970: homosexuality and objectivity.
Next Article:2001: social and developmental challenges for lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth.

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