How Parents Can Challenge Unintentional Homophobia


How Parents Can Challenge Unintentional Homophobia

by Audrey Benedetto

When we think of homophobia, we might first think of the big things like violence, bullying, and discrimination, but the small “accidental” acts of homophobia often go unnoticed. Unintentionally homophobic words or actions might not seem like a big deal, but all those little things add up over time to create an atmosphere of intolerance that can be extremely damaging for your child. I am not a parent yet, so I can only imagine how terrifying it is to let your child go out into this big, wide, world and hope that the tools you’ve given them will be enough for them to succeed and stay safe. As the parent of an LGBTQ child, you may be concerned about the additional challenges your LGBTQ child will face simply because of how they identify. The truth is, the world can be a little harder on those of us in the LGBTQ community; I’m not going to argue against that. While we’re definitely entering a time when tolerance is on the rise, our society is nowhere near complete acceptance. You may not be able to protect your child from the prejudices they will face, but you can certainly help make the world a little bit safer for them (and others!) by speaking up when you witness homophobia, helping to educate others about the LGBTQ community, and being an ally to your LGBTQ child.

So what is unintentional homophobia?

Basically, unintentional homophobia is any comments or actions that are rude, disrespectful, or hateful towards LGBTQ people. Often these comments and actions are not intended to be hurtful and come from a place of ignorance about the LGBTQ experience—they can even be well-intentioned, hence the “unintentional” part. Here are just a few examples of unintentional homophobia:

  • The classic use of “that’s so gay” as an insult. More and more people are realizing this is not an okay thing to say, but it still pops up more than you’d expect! “No homo” is another example of this. Homophobic language in general is never funny, cute, or appropriate.

  • Perpetuating harmful stereotypes—for example, stating or implying that all feminine men must be gay (they’re not) or that all gay men are feminine (they’re not).

  • Assuming someone is straight. (Say “Are you dating anyone?” instead of “Do you have a boyfriend?”)

  • Misgendering someone/using incorrect pronouns (he, him, his; she, her, hers; they, them, theirs).

  • Looking to an LGBTQ person to represent and speak for every single member of the community.

The only real way to combat unintentional homophobia is to educate yourself so you can educate others. Chances are that if someone is being homophobic by accident, they’ll be more receptive to changing their speech, actions, thoughts, etc. to be more respectful. They’re not truly homophobic, just uninformed, and that’s where you come in!

It is so important to speak up.

If a situation arises while you’re with your kid and you witness some homophobic remarks or actions, say something. It can be as simple as “Please don’t use that word,” or “That is very disrespectful.” You will be a hero in your kid’s eyes and you will hopefully opened someone else’s mind to the negative impact of their actions.

If you don’t say anything, you’ll have missed an opportunity to educate and to stand up for your child. What’s worse, letting hurtful homophobic words go unchallenged signals to your child that you don’t see anything wrong with what was said, and that you might even agree with it, even if you don’t. The bottom line is: speak up. Any awkwardness you feel about confronting someone is not worth the consequences of staying silent.

If you witness homophobia when you’re not with your kid, it is still important to speak up. Not only is it just the right thing to do morally, but by challenging that kind of behavior, you’re helping to create a safer environment for your kid and others by not perpetuating hate/intolerance/ignorance. You never know who is listening, and that kind of bravery can inspire others to do the same when confronted with a similar situation down the line!

If you see an opportunity to educate, take it.

It can be difficult to catch up on all the lingo that comes with a being a part of the community. (LGB...what was it again?) Don’t let doubts or hesitations hold you back. Take the time to educate yourself so you’ll have a response when you do witness an instance of homophobia. If you need some insight, talk with your kid about their experiences and what they would do when faced with homophobia. I guarantee that they will appreciate your willingness to learn, so don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if it is uncomfortable or you’re not sure exactly how to ask it. Once you feel confident in your LGBTQ knowledge, use instances of unintentional homophobia to educate others: your friends, your relatives, your coworkers, the man behind you at the grocery store, anyone! Not everyone will be receptive to what you have to say, but most will.

You are in a unique situation to be an ally to the LGBTQ community, so use your powers for good! While you yourself (presumably) identify as straight, your amazing, beautiful, wonderful child whom you love to pieces does not. You can use your status as a straight ally to benefit everyone by spreading tolerance and dropping knowledge on those who weren’t as fortunate as you to have an LGBTQ kid to learn all this from.

It is not always possible—or safe—to speak out against homophobia, and that is okay.

As important as it is to make your voice known, you may sometimes find yourself in situations that do not allow you to speak up. Becoming an ally to the LGBTQ community might include receiving some of the hate and prejudice directed at the community you support. So it is crucial to assess the situation you are in before you act. If you witness homophobia and are unsure of how you should react, ask yourself:

  • Why do I feel hesitant to speak up?

  • Will my words/actions endanger me or someone else?

  • Is the person I am speaking to going to be receptive to my words, or merely become hostile?

  • Is this an opportunity to educate, or will this escalate into an argument/altercation?

You may kick yourself for letting an opportunity to speak up pass by simply because you felt awkward or uncomfortable, but it is ABSOLUTELY OKAY to stay silent when you think you or someone else may endure physical or emotional harm if you engage with someone making homophobic comments. If you do experience a situation like that, make safety the main priority. Once you feel safe to do so, discuss with your child why it wasn’t appropriate to speak in this case and that sometimes staying silent and removing yourself from the situation is the best course of action.

Audrey Benedetto is a writer, artist, and human being who currently lives in Manhattan. Her passion for gender, sex, and race issues began in college and influences how she sees and moves through the world. She enjoys karaoke, long walks, and french bulldogs. Audrey is constantly learning and would like to share some of what she’s picked up along the way.

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