Internalized Homophobia Oppresses LGBTQ People

Even if you haven’t experienced homophobia yourself, you’ve probably witnessed it – at school or college, in the workplace, or on social media. Merriam-Webster defines it as “an irrational fear, dislike, or discrimination of homosexuality or homosexual people.”

But homophobia isn’t always about other people. If someone is affected by homophobic attitudes from family, friends, or society at large, they may suffer from internalized homophobia, also known as internalized homophobia or internalized homophobic negativity.

Internalized homophobia occurs when an LGBTQ person “absorbs those negative cultural and institutionalized heterosexual messages and stereotypes from society and then puts those same prejudices on themselves,” Jo Eckler, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Texas and author of “I Can’t Fix You – Because You’re Not Broken,” told Health.

Internalized homophobia often leads to feelings of shame, self-hatred, disgust, anxiety and/or depression, especially if the person doesn’t realize what’s happening.

“Many LGBTQIA people can tell stories of trying and failing very hard because of this internalized negative bias and the way society treats LGBTQIA people,” explains Eckler.LGBTQIA stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersexual and (Asexual).

“Seeing yourself in the same judgmental way our heterosexual, homophobic, patriarchal culture sees you is another way to think about internalized homophobia,” Kristen Martinez, an LGBTQ+ affirmative counselor at Pacific NorthWell in Seattle, told Health.” We can all identify instances of externalized homophobia directed at others, but internalized homophobia often manifests itself in our internal self-talk and how we expect others to perceive us.”

It’s easy to see how internalized homophobia can manifest itself. While we’ve been making progress toward equality, we still live in a society with overriding assumptions that heterosexuality is “normal” and anything else is deviant.

“Being considered ‘abnormal’ by LGBTQIA is not only that, but it’s often accompanied by discrimination, stereotyping, negative assumptions, prejudice, and even violence and hate crimes,” says Eckler.” We may hear negative comments and even disgust from those around us. The media doesn’t help – it can be very challenging for LGBTQIA people to find positive, realistic portrayals of themselves in movies or on TV.”

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you think you suffer from an inherent homophobia. According to Eckler, it’s impossible not to receive this information, especially at a young age.” If you get enough information that you’re disgusting and don’t belong in society, you can start to believe it on some level, whether you’re aware of it or not,” she says.

The first step in dealing with internalized homophobia is talking about it.” That helps us name and identify it, which changes our relationship to it,” says Martinez.” We’re more aware of our cultural conditioning and can begin to realize that we can choose how we treat ourselves – it doesn’t have to be the way our flawed, oppressive culture treats us.”

Eckler agrees that talking about internalized homophobia can move a person from feeling shame to more realistically recognizing that the information comes from the outside rather than the inside. If it goes unacknowledged and unchecked, it can affect not only how we treat ourselves, but how we treat others.

“This can manifest as members of the LGBTQIA community having negative bias or discrimination against other members of that community,” says Eckler.” The more we can recognize and reduce our inherent homophobia, the better we can support each other.”

Self-love and self-care are tools that can help a person unlearn internalized homophobia.” When we can learn to treat ourselves with the internalized respect, worth and value that we deserve simply because we are human, we can begin to heal the wounds of internalized homophobia,” says Martinez.

Eckler suggests looking at media portrayals with a more critical eye to identify internal homophobia.” There are more positive characters on TV and in movies now, but stereotypes still come up a lot,” she says. A good place to start is GLADD’s annual report covering the portrayal of LGBTQIA people on television. Laverne Cox’s documentary Disclosure, about media portrayals of transgender people in the last century, is another resource, now available on Netflix.

Setting healthy boundaries with people also helps dismantle homosexual attitudes; if you don’t allow yourself to talk to yourself in a dehumanizing way, you won’t allow anyone else to do it either.” Find safe, affirming spaces for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, or non-binary,” says Martinez.” Read the queer author. Remember, it’s a practice of unlearning and healing. Internalized homophobia and other systems of domination and oppression are all around us.”

“Remember, you are a whole person, not just a stereotype, and you deserve the same rights as everyone else,” says Eckler.” When those feelings of shame or disgust come up, find someone you trust, someone you can talk to, someone you can meet with compassion and support. Being in a welcoming and diverse community, whether face-to-face or online, is another way to feel less alone and feel connected.”