In a 1993 episode of the hit TV sit-com Seinfeld, an eavesdropping college reporter prints the mistaken story that Jerry and George are longtime intimate companions, resulting in many protestations by Jerry and George they weren’t gay; ”Not that’s there’s anything wrong with that!” In the decades that have followed, this phrase has been bandied around like a Monopoly ‘Get Out Jail Free’ Card, giving apparent impunity to all straight people saying anything demeaning about LGBTQI+, absolving them of perpetuating negative stereotypes or any hurt they may cause.
When reflecting on the definition of homophobia, the Seinfeld characters made it clear they weren’t homophobic, but it was obvious that being gay wasn’t something any of them wished for. In a diverse and interconnected world, discussions around sensitive topics, including sexual orientation, require thoughtful consideration and respectful dialogue. It is important to differentiate between holding personal beliefs or opinions and engaging in discriminatory behaviour or attitudes towards individuals based on their sexual orientation.
Homophobia is a term used to describe irrational fear, hatred, or prejudice towards individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. It encompasses a range of negative attitudes and actions, including discrimination, marginalisation, or promoting harmful stereotypes based on sexual orientation. Even though discriminating on the basis of gender or sexual identity is against the law in Australia, recent studies have found:
- 42% of LGBTQI+ people hide their sexuality or gender identity at social and community events;
- 47% of gay and lesbian people have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the last five years; and
- LGBTQI+ employees are twice as likely to be victims of workplace discrimination compared to their non-LGBTQI+ colleagues.
Disagreeing with homosexuality does not automatically equate to being homophobic. Holding differing personal beliefs or opinions is a natural part of human diversity. However, it is essential to navigate these discussions with empathy, understanding, and respect for the experiences and identities of others.
Societal attitudes towards homosexuality have evolved and changed over time and across cultures. Ancient Roman artefacts portraying sex acts between men, Thai ladyboys and Samoan Fa’afafines, all point to widespread gender and sex fluidity beyond the hetero-norm.
Regardless of LGBTQI+ being part of society for thousands of years, a continued lack of respect and tolerance for people different to ourselves has resulted in the promulgation of reams of anti-discrimination legislation, with the Commonwealth’s Respect@Work and State based WHS Psychosocial Hazards Code of Conduct just the most recent examples.
When we have conversations in the workplace disparaging Pride Round in rugby league, belittling Drag Queen Storytime, or suggesting someone needs to ‘man up’ if they show emotion, we are in effect communicating our belief that people who are different to the hetero-normative expectation are somehow less worthy because of it, even when this belief isn’t directly communicated to someone in the LGBTQI+ community. Researchers have found that just one instance of a micro-exclusion such as these is enough to see a 25% decline in an individual’s performance on a team project.
Respecting the dignity and rights of every individual, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, skin colour or ability is paramount. So next time you catch yourself quipping ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that’, check in with yourself. You might find what was wrong, was what you said.
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