Homophobia to Heterosexism: Constructs in Need of Re-Visitation

Article excerpt


Although the concept of homophobia has been used extensively in the literature since the early 1960s, researchers have shown growing concern for its relevance in present day research. Additionally, there has been variance in its definition leading to an array of ambiguities resulting in methodological limitations in empirical studies with a disregard for ensuring that definitions used match the focus of study. There have been numerous attempts to locate the construct within a theoretical framework and this has also resulted in weak empirical design. These weaknesses in research on homophobia have resulted in the coining of the construct heterosexism as a more contemporary and more appropriate definition than that of homophobia to indicate anti-gay discrimination. This review considers both terms with regard to their appropriateness and distinction and the utility of the construct heterosexism as it is applied to contemporary research on non-heterosexual communities. It is concluded that homophobia can no longer be framed as a straightforward function of individual psyches or irrational fear and loathing and that heterosexism is more appropriate in defining prejudiced behaviours and their consequences for non-heterosexual communities.

Key words: homophobia; heterosexism; terminology; methodology


Sexual orientation discrimination includes acts which range from subtle or slight slurs (speech-acts) to physical attacks (queer bashing) and even murder (Sil verschanz, Cortina, Konik & Magley, 2008) Yet despite the significance of all of these forms of discrimination, empirical research has struggled to straightforwardly investigate this phenomenon, particular due to the face that some researchers have attempted to combine definitions with theoretical underpinnings (for example, Bernstein, Kostelac & Gaarder, 2003; Lyons, Brenner & Fassinger, 2005; Smith & Ingram 2004; Waldo, 1999), whilst other researchers have not employed a theoretical framework in which to locate their research (for example, Drydakis, 2009; Silverschanz, Cortine, Konik & Magley, 2008). Furthermore, there are methodological issues arising from research on sexual orientation discrimination, with a large number of sampling, data and analysis problems (for example, Croteau & Lark, 1995; Croteau & von Destinon, 1994; Fyfe, 1983; Hall, 1986; Hudson & Richetts, 1980; Levine & Leonard, 1984; MacDonald, 1976; Weinberg, 1973). These problems are complex and range from a lack of clarity around conceptualisation of theoretical constructs to encapsulate the distinctive features of the discrimination that non-heterosexual individuals are subjected to, and the chosen theoretical paradigm to conceptualise these attitudes and behaviours, held both individually and by the community at large.

Further compounding these issues facing researchers attempting to measure sexual orientation discrimination, is the fact that a large pool of insufficient scientific language exists to describe negative attitudes and behaviours towards sexual minorities (for example, Brenner, Lyons, Fassinger, 2010; Fassinger, 2000; Powers, 1996). Having the correct language to describe, understand and research sexual orientation discrimination is one step in helping researchers to create an opportunity for society to not only accept, but recognize the varied sexual orientations and attractions found in non-heterosexual individuals, despite their minority membership. Two key terms utilised within the literature on sexual orientation discrimination are homophobia and heterosexism, terms that have been reviewed and critiqued in relation to the numerous definitions put forward by researchers in the context of sexual orientation discrimination (for example; Brittin, 1990; Herek, 1990, 1992, 2000, 2004; Kritzinger, 2001; Sears, 1997; Weinberg, 1960, 1972). This review considers both terms with regard to their appropriateness and distinction, and the utility of the construct heterosexism as applied to research on nonheterosexual communities. …