Homophobia is no myth. Over the past weekend, several news stories highlight the prevalence of homophobic hatred throughout the world. Clearly a large proportion of the world's population builds their worldview based on antipathy towards and hatred of gays:
In Hungary, "skinheads and right-wing activists" greeted participants in a gay-rights parade with rotten eggs and smoke bombs. When Budapest police tried to disperse several of the protesters, some of them threw beer bottles at the officers, says another AP report.
In the Croatian capital of Zagreb, about 20 people in a gay-rights parade were hurt by anti-gay attackers carrying weapons appearing to be Molotov cocktails, and two required hospitalization for their wounds. Vile hatred of gays takes aim at marchers advocating for equal rights, tolerance, and acceptance.
In the Sacramento area, a group of Slavic men on a picnic noticed that a man did not have a female date and danced with both women and men in his party. They tossed racist and anti-gay slurs at Satendar Singh, and later one of the men struck Satendar and hurled bottles at his party. Satendar died on July 5th from the wounds inflicted by the attackers.
A man in Massachusetts seeks nearly $10 million in damages because he failed the bar exam. He told the Associated Press that the reason he failed is that he refused to answer a question about the rights of two married lesbians and their children (presumably he had no problem answering questions about murderers, rapists, and divorced heterosexuals).
Because Stephen Dunne found the grounds for the bar exam's question "morally repugnant and patently offensive," he believes he is justified in not answering the question. So he sues. This particular attack against gays is not with Molotov cocktails or beer bottles, but with inflammatory language, insulting argument, and frivolous lawsuits that could distract the attention of gay activists.
Just about any weekend turns up dark or odd stories like this, as you are well aware if you follow news about gay-rights. The stories serve as a cautionary reminder that hatred of gays is alive and well and can't be ignored.
Read the stories and you will see that the methods of anti-gay attack vary. The motivations and tactics range from overt violence to subtly worded position papers. The attacks wound physically, psychologically, and spiritually. But there is a common thread that unites all homophobes.
In Soulfully Gay (Integral Books/Shambhala, 2007), this author writes: "In general, the greater the consciousness that develops in a human being, and the more spiritually enlightened one becomes, the deeper the sympathy for homosexuals and the sensitivity to our common humanity. Homophobia is real. It is nasty, it is unseemly, it is ungodly, and it is present only at the lowest levels of human development."
Homophobia is a set of beliefs and behaviors based on the hatred or fear of gay people, or based on the premise that homosexuality is intrinsically inferior, sick, and shameful. There is a natural tendency for younger human beings--especially adolescent males, but more generally as well--to go through a phase of development in which they need to strongly repress natural same-sex emotional and sexual urges in order to pass certain hurdles of entering adulthood.
For this and other reasons, it may be said that a certain degree of homophobia is natural in our culture for negotiating certain lesser developed stages of life. Unfortunately, many adults get stuck in this juvenile and primitive mode of relating, and they continue in their homophobia well into adulthood. Unfortunately, their homophobia is often supported by religious beliefs, cultural attitudes, and even political ideologies.
So the problem of homophobia, broadly conceived, is a problem of underdevelopment or arrested development in psychological, moral, and spiritual maturity. Adults trapped in ugly and restrictive juvenile attitudes are among the worst homophobes, and they must be encouraged to grow beyond their outmoded anti-gay mindsets.
Adults restricted by selfish and ethnocentric moralities are unable to empathetically place themselves in the shoes of a homosexual or transgender person, and therefore their moral horizons have not expanded enough to let go of their homophobia. They are moral cripples, in a manner of speaking.
Authentic spirituality teaches empathy and compassion towards all, and forbids the expression of intolerance and hatred. Adults saddled with backwards heterosexist religious beliefs must be encouraged to question their received opinions in the light of more sophisticated readings of their sacred traditions. They must be taught to spiritually grow up.
When homophobia is properly understood as a problem of immaturity in consciousness and lack of heightened spiritual awareness, then it is possible to reject the impulse to hate the homophobe. We can accept the homophobe for who they are, and tolerate where they're at in their own journey towards maturity.
It is human to react defensively and respond to hate with intolerance of our own. But what is really justified is an attitude that makes room for the immature to think and act immaturely while creating barriers to prevent the homophobes from inflicting harm to others.