Homophobia is discrimination against someone in the LGBTQIA+ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, plus) simply because of their sexual orientation. Before 1962 same-sex activity was completely criminalized in all 50 states. Since then, they have fought and won visibility in the public sector, as well as many lawful rights, including marriage equality nationwide which happened in 2015. Many members of the LGBT+ community are now legally protected from discrimination in many states and in many cases.
Although things continue to get better in the United States for members of the LGBT+ community, many still lack access to housing, employment, public accommodations, and comprehensive legal services. They also face many social challenges not experienced by non-LGBT+ people, particularly in places with large conservative populations, such as rural areas and the Deep South. Homophobia is particularly rife within educational establishments. Just under 99% of LGBT+ students between the ages of 13 and 21 reported hearing disparaging comments about their sexuality. 97% stated that they heard harmful, homophobic terms while at school, with 69% saying that this had extended to verbal harassment, 57% saying they had been threatened, and 11% reporting that they were physically assaulted.
In October 1998, a young man named Matthew Shepard was brutally tortured and murdered in Colorado because of his sexual orientation. His death set off a nationwide outrage and debate about hate crimes and homophobia, ultimately resulting in The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act which was signed into law in October 2009. However, many states still lack state-level hate crime laws that cover sexual orientation and gender identity, and there is currently no federal statute specifically addressing employment discimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT+ people of color, especially black trans women, face the highest rates of discrimination and hate crimes.
We can fight against homophobia by reaching out to those in our spheres who are members of the LGBT+ community. We can speak to them about their experiences and be a safe place for them. We can participate in discussions and community outreach events that promote equality and education. We can also examine our own beliefs and biases, taking special care not to make assumptions about the sexual orientation or gender identity of those around us. More than anything, we can use our voice to interrupt harmful things we may hear, and bring the conversation back into a zone of human dignity and respect.