Jorge is a bisexual guy who has mentored other LGBT people over the years. He likes to share his experience with others.
When Your Friends Are Biased Against Gay People
Do you have homophobic friends who seem completely ignorant about how prejudiced and irrational their ideas are?
Perhaps you're thinking of coming out as gay or bisexual, and you're afraid that they could judge you. Or maybe you're not gay at all, but you're just a reasonable person who is concerned that your friends are a bunch of homophobic ignoramuses.
What do you do? How can you approach homophobic friends about their obvious biases?
Well, it's not always easy. The most important thing is to remain calm and try to view the situation as objectively as possible. Try not to get your emotions involved and follow some of the tips below.
1. Determine the Degree of Their Homophobia
Some people these days treat homophobia (and many other kinds of prejudice) as a cardinal sin. They don't see any differences in degree, and basically consider someone who makes an off-colored joke about gay people to be just as "guilty" as someone who irrationally hates all LGBT people with a fiery passion.
This is a terrible mindset to have. It's the mindset of a crazy religion.
The truth is that someone who occasionally uses gay slurs in a joking context—as distasteful as that may be to you—is worlds away from someone who actually has hatred in their soul.
The first kind of person is pretty much harmless, if rude and offensive. The second kind of person often actively works to reduce human rights or even may physically harm an LGBT person.
So before you judge your friends, examine the degree of homophobia.
Do your homophobic friends just make dumb locker room jokes because that is what they were taught? Do they just have a mild dislike of gay people because they see them as "other" and don't have any actual experience with them?
Or do they actually hate gay people and want to beat some of them up in a dark alley or something?
If you're dealing with the latter, more severe case, then forget about reading the rest of this article. Run. Run far away and don't talk to those crazy people ever again. Even if you're not gay yourself, they could decide that they hate you or someone else for any reason in the world. They will bring you nothing but trouble. If you have to be friends with them, do so at a distance.
Hopefully, you're just dealing with the first, much milder form of homophobia, though. In that case, the rest of these tips should serve you pretty well.
"The truth is that someone who occasionally uses gay slurs in a joking context—as distasteful as that may be to you—is worlds away from someone who actually has hatred in their soul."
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2. Make Them Aware of Their Homophobia
Often, people are simply not aware of their own homophobia. Maybe they don't even realize that they could be disturbing other people with their remarks.
In cases like these, often they are saying homophobic things out of cultural habit more than actual homophobia on their part.
Just pointing it out mildly and casually may be enough to get them to realize:
"Hey, man, I know you don't really mean anything bad when you say that word, but there are a lot of gay people around here, and it could make them think that you're actually a homophobe," you could say.
If you're gay yourself, you might add, "Whenever I hear someone say that, I get kind of creeped out. Since I know you, I know that you're a good person, but if you were a stranger, I'd assume that you were the kind of guy who might beat me up."
Make it clear that you know (or assume) they're not trying to be rude, but that they're unintentionally coming off as a homophobe.
"Just pointing out their homophobic comments mildly and casually may be enough to get them to realize that it's offensive."
3. Don't Be Harsh in Your Disapproval (But Be Honest)
The best way to make someone hold onto their opinion even harder is to be self-righteous.
You may not be intending it that way, but if you attack someone harshly for something mildly homophobic that they said or did, they're much more likely to get defensive. They might even double down and become more homophobic. ("Gay people are so sensitive!")
Maybe it makes you feel good to self-righteously attack homophobic people. That's fine, but just because it feels good, doesn't mean it's right. More than likely, you're actually helping to further solidify homophobia.
Human beings cannot change their ideas when they're defensive. They're too busy trying to come up with reasons why they're in the right!
Instead, don't explode. Don't make it about how the homophobe is wrong. Don't make it about how you know better than they do. Don't make it about how "it's the 21st century" and they're stuck in the past.
Avoid reacting emotionally if you can. If you can stop yourself, try not to be "offended." Their homophobia really has nothing to do with you.
This does not mean that you shouldn't speak up!
Just listen first, and then calmly tell your homophobic friend that what they said or did probably doesn't contribute positively to the people around you.
View the situation for what it is: a mistake that's born from ignorance. Avoid being judgmental towards your friend. After all, there are probably lots of things that you're ignorant about, too, right?
If they're judgmental of gay people, what kind of purpose does it serve to be judgmental of them in turn? Did a judgement of a judgement ever help someone change their mind and learn the truth?
"The best way to make someone hold onto their opinion even harder is to be self-righteous."
4. Let Them Have Their Opinions
Part of not being judgmental is letting people just have their opinions, even if their opinions are stupid.
Very often, people don't change their minds right away. After you tell them that their homophobia isn't cool, it may take time for it to sink in. Everyone changes at their own pace.
If, in the meantime, you treat their opinion as unacceptable and work hard to change it, you can actually slow that progress down a great deal.
For example, let's say that your friend tells you that gay people shouldn't get married because it would change the "definition" of marriage for everyone.
So you respond that you don't think any law can change the definition of anything, that human rights are more important than an abstract concept of "marriage," and that gay people are human beings like anybody else.
After listening to your reasonable points, they say that they still think gay people shouldn't marry.
Why? Well, there could be a number of excuses. You and I both know that they have no argument.
So what, though? Let them live with that silly opinion. You could argue that it's a "dangerous" opinion because then they might vote against gay marriage rights. True enough--but arguing with them about it probably will not change their mind.
As you already realize, this sort of opinion is irrational, based entirely on an emotional discomfort that they have with gay people getting married. They arrived at this opinion through their emotions, so no amount of outside logic will get them out of it.
You planted the seed of doubt in their mind, though. Hopefully it will grow into a non-homophobic tree.
"If you treat their opinion as unacceptable and work hard to change it, you can actually slow that progress down a great deal."
5. Expose Them to New Ideas
Sometimes people are homophobic because that's simply all they've known.
For example, maybe they've been taught that being gay is a mental disorder or a moral failing, and they're simply ignorant of all the physical evidence that has emerged to the contrary.
If your homophobic friend mentions these erroneous ideas that are not backed by data, call them on it. This is different from relentlessly trying to refute an opinion. We're talking about scientifically and historically unsupported BS that people believe about gay people. If you share new information with them, they might actually change their minds.
For example, if your friend is one of those people who says, "Why are there so many gay people nowadays? If being gay was an actual thing, then they wouldn't just be suddenly appearing in droves. In my day, there were no gays."
It's perfectly fine to respond with something like, "Oh, c'mon, being gay is nothing new. Just because the media avoided talking about it until a few decades ago, doesn't mean that gay people didn't exist. They were probably just closeted when you were young because there was so much homophobia. In fact, there's well-documented historical evidence that gay people have existed for thousands of years, across cultures."
Of course, if they roll their eyes and tell you that it's their "opinion" (meaning, that they believe something dumb for no good reason and want to continue to believe it), then follow the advice in tip #4. Just let them have their silly beliefs.
"If your homophobic friend mentions these erroneous ideas that are not backed by data, call them on it. This is different from relentlessly trying to refute an opinion."
6. Consider Exposing Them to Actual Gay People
Abstract ideas only go so far. The main thing that really makes a homophobic person change their mind is positive experiences with gay people.
Almost always, homophobic people don't really know any gay people all that well. Their impressions and opinions of gay folks are second-hand, acquired from the media or from authority figures in their lives. They have assumptions and stereotypes in the place of actual experiences.
After all, if they had close friendships with gay people, they would realize that gay people are just like everybody else.
The cure for ignorant ideas is often not "correct" ideas—it's real-world experience. Nothing shows you the truth better than reality itself, after all.
So introduce your homophobic friends to some gay people that you know. Just make sure that your gay friends are compassionate, non-judgmental, and not too easily offended.
"The main thing that really makes a homophobic person change their mind is positive experiences with gay people."
7. Avoid Letting Mild Homophobia Divide the Friendship
Friends will disagree about stuff. Yes, even stuff like whether it's okay to make ignorant comments about gay people.
If your friend is just mildly homophobic, blowing it up into a big issue that could wreck the friendship is probably not the best idea. Not only will it induce your friend to hold onto their opinions even more, but it will send the message that the cost of a friendship with you is their freedom to speak their mind.
If you realize that the homophobia is coming from a deep-seated, angry place, then that's different. In these types of cases, the problem is beyond just homophobia specifically—they have emotional issues and have probably lost touch with reality to some degree. (All prejudice is a result of losing touch with reality and being taken over by circular thoughts about some subject or group of people.)
In situations where someone is genuinely filled with irrational hate, of course it's best to keep your distance.
"If your friend is just mildly homophobic, blowing it up into a big issue that could wreck the friendship is probably not the best idea.... If you realize that the homophobia is coming from a deep-seated, angry place, then that's different."
8. Avoid Defending Your Homophobic Friends When Their Prejudice Gets Them Into Trouble
Maybe you're worried that your homophobic friends could get into an altercation for their homophobia. You might have witnessed an argument between one of your friends and someone who was offended by a slur or ignorant comment.
Should you show your friend loyalty and defend them, even though you know you're wrong?
Well, that depends. What does loyalty mean to you? Would you rather have a strong devotion to your friends—supporting everything they do—or would you rather be loyal to the truth? You can't do both of these all the time, because your friends are bound to be wrong at some point.
Acknowledge when your friends are wrong. Trying to defend their antics and back them up when others point out their faults doesn't help them to improve. Being a real friend sometimes means that you'll have to challenge each other.
"Trying to defend your friend's antics and back them up when others point out their faults doesn't help them to improve."
9. Don't Make Things Political
This is a common temptation, especially for those who are left-leaning gay people. If you spend a lot of time exposing yourself to the cultural politics of gay rights, you may not realize how much of life that you view through a political lens.
As a result, you may be extremely offended by the homophobic comments that your friends make. You may read into them much more than your friends do. You may assume ill intentions on the part of your friends, even if these intentions don't exist.
Resist the temptation to turn one instance of, "Don't be such a homo, man!" into a political or philosophical debate. Try to avoid seeing your friends as "privileged straight men" and the entire population of gay people as victims of their aggression.
The truth is that politics is BS, plain and simple. It is an attempt to talk about human beings in such general, collective terms that any ideas you can harvest from that kind of thinking are next to useless in the real world.
Your friends are just a group of individual people, who may or may not have said some homophobic stuff. You are just an individual person, who may or may not be gay (or an ally, or whatever).
Never lose sight of that. You are a specific set of people with unique, specific circumstances. This is not a "culture war" and you are not on the front lines.
Forget your politics and see your friends for what they are: human beings.
"If you spend a lot of time exposing yourself to the cultural politics of gay rights, you may not realize how much of life that you view through a political lens."
10. Remember That Ignorance Erodes Slowly
Above all, have patience. People are generally really attached to their ideas. Unfortunately, their opinions often form a part of their identity, which makes them hard to shake. They are going to be hesitant to change because it's almost like killing off a part of who they are.
This is not the exclusive territory of homophobes, though. If you look deep inside yourself, you'll probably notice this same tendency in you. Almost everyone holds onto opinions way longer than necessary because admitting that one is wrong can be very uncomfortable.
So have some compassion for your friends. Lead them to the water, like a good friend should—but never force them to drink.
"Your friends are going to be hesitant to change because it's almost like killing off a part of who they are."
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: How do I deal with a selective homophobe? My male best friend was supportive of me (female) coming out as bi, but appears disgusted by gay guys.
Answer: This is common. How you deal with it depends on the extent of his homophobia. Is he a violent homophobe who seeks to do actual damage to gay guys? Is he a douche who treats gay men differently from straight ones and actively discriminates against them? In that case, I would just run far away and never hang out with him.
Usually, straight guys find lesbians less threatening (especially when the lesbian in question is not masculine or otherwise adheres to the social norms of what women are supposed to be like), but this is not always the case.
It's also possible that his homophobia is not as selective as you think. He may be homophobic against lesbians, but just doesn't mention it in front of women. I've met guys like these. The moment the lesbians are out of the room, they start talking about how they can't believe this or that butch lesbian is "trying to be a man," etc. You may just not be aware of this.
On the other hand, if his disgust towards gay guys is merely a reflex due to conditioning, and he doesn't treat gay guys badly, then it's not really something you can blame him for just yet. This is social conditioning, and the way you "fix" something like that is through exposure. In other words, he would have to make friends with gay guys (and eventually learn that they're just normal people).
When he acts homophobic, call him out on it. This doesn't mean censoring everything he says that could be mildly interpreted as homophobic--but when he is genuinely prejudiced against specific people, let him know it's not cool.
© 2017 Jorge Vamos