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This blog is a hate-free place, dedicated to the spreading of awareness and understanding of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Community, their shame experiences and their potential to be resilient. Our goal is to increase your empathy and compassion.

We do not claim to be experts on this topic, however, we recognize the importance of sharing what we can in the hope that at least one person feels compelled to re-evaluate their thoughts, feelings and perceptions.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

GLBT Stereotypes: Words of the Straight Community

In a survey of more than 2,000 adult lesbians and adult gay men in 8 major U.S. metropolitan areas, more than 90% of the males and 75% of the females reported having been verbally harassed because of their sexuality. Almost 1/2 of males and more than 1/3 of the females have been threatened with physical violence because of their orientation; and 1/5 of the males and 1/10 of the females reported that they had been punched, kicked, or beaten because of their homosexuals. These verbal harassments, threats, and acts of physical violence stem from stereotyping and labeling.

We interviewed members of the heterosexual population to identify their perceived stereotypes of the GLBT Community. We asked, "What stereotypes apply to the GLBT Community? Have you ever been a perpetrator of such labels?"

Here's just snippet of what we got...

1. I don't have a problem with the gay community and never really have. I make fun of people a lot for being homosexual, but its just a joke. I know that many people do have a problem, and it seems to usually be men. I think some men are afraid of other men hitting on them. There's a difference between being a hot lesbian and a dyke. Hot lesbians are accepted in society more so than dykes. A lot of men are attracted to hot lesbians, but are completely turned off by dykes. Transexuals or transgenders...I don't think they're as accepted as gay or lesbians. Stereotypically, I think transsexuals are thought of to be prostitutes, but I know that's probably a small percentage of them.

2. Lesbians fall into two categories (which are not mutually exclusive): butches, who are shy, man-hating woman that wear lumberjack clothing and do not need attention, and lipstick lesbians, who are flirty, man-hating woman that wear girly clothing and need a lot of attention. Gay men fall into two categories: flamboyant guys, who walk weird, have dramatic hand movements, and talk with a lisp...images that come to mind are a hairdresser and Richard Simmons, and a nonchalant kind-of-guy, who are unrecognizably gay, and the only way you know they are is because they have a boyfriend. In general, I am more comfortable with lesbians than with gay men. I think flamboyant gay males are annoying.

3. I think the biggest stereotype is that every lesbian is manly, and every gay male is girly. Included in that is the endless list of stereotypical characteristics that people look for to identify someone as GLBT (e.g. lesbians have short hair, gay men talk with their hands, etc.). Then, there are the more serious stereotypes that all gay men molest young children, that all gay people have AIDS, and that all gay people want to convert you. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a perpetrator of some of these labels, but my guilt lies in attempting to identify the characteristics of GLBT people, not in the other stereotypes I mentioned. When I meet someone, I automatically assume they are straight unless I know or they tell me otherwise. If someone asks me if someone else is gay, I try to pick out certain mannerisms that I would consider “gay.” Of course I’m terrible at that because there are no certain mannerisms, so I try to avoid it all together. The ironic thing is that I have found GLBT people to be some of the worst perpetrators of those assigning those labels.

4. Gay men will get HIV (gay/straight...unprotected sex means there's a chance you'll get it), lesbians are butch, and gay men are feminine. I don't think I've ever been the perpetrator of these labels, but I have to admit that I have been around people who do and have said nothing before. As I have gotten to know more and more members of the GLBT community though, I am much more likely to speak up when I see those labels being used. My first year as a high school teacher was a test in this area. I had a known gay student in a class and within the first 2 weeks of school I started to notice the comments about him. Doing my best not to point him out or the specific issue I was having I spent an entire class period on respect (what it means, how to show it, what I won't tolerate etc.) and made sure that I took care of any disrespectful behavior toward anyone very quickly and made sure that everyone knew I wasn't going to tolerate it. I like to think I did a pretty good job, but it was definitely a struggle.

5. As far as stereotypes are concerned I believe that all of the usual suspects apply: The gay man with the funny walk or the obvious lisp. The lesbian woman with the mullet and a Tee-shirt with the sleeves cut off. But I believe these are all voluntary means of communication used by the person as a way to identify themselves with their respective community. Some, however, don’t feel the need to I identify themselves in this way. Did I ever perpetrate a stereotype? Sure, I believe we all do every day. We all see something about all people we look at, that is not outwardly shown. Whether it is their sexual orientation, their social status, or how much money they have. It is part of our nature to look at somebody and compare them to our self. And then use the differences to place labels and classifications. The real issue is not that we do this; I believe the real issue is the learned reaction to segregate and even hate those who are not the same.

6. I think a major stereotype of the GLBT community is that most people in the GLBT community are promiscuous. I'm sure I have been the perpetrator of such labels at one point in time or another -- whether it was externally or whether it was a personal thought. I think that because there is so much negative pressure from society on the GLBT community that sometimes those in the GLBT community feel the need to overtly declare their sexuality to assert their right to their sexual preferences -- which leads to the overgeneralized stereotype of promiscuity in the GLBT community. I think it's really difficult for the GLBT community to dispel this stereotype.

7. When I think of stereotypes of the GLBT community it would be that gay men make good neighbors, have a good sense of fashion, are emotionally sensitive, bad at sports, and are promiscuous. Lesbians are not feminine, play softball and hate men. I have probably used the phrases “you're so gay” or “what a fag” a million times in my life as a derogatory comment to taunt my friends when they do something that would fit in one of the stereotypes.

In your comments, please feel free to respond to the same questions. Just remember to post mindfully, as this is not a place for ridicule and shaming, but a place to educate others.

And, remember, the only way not to shame the GLBT Community with the stereotypes is to not perpetuate them or make anyone a victim to them through your judgement. Consider not telling inappropriate jokes with "being gay" as the punch line, or correct someone when they make a derogatory comment, but most of all, give every individual the benefit of the doubt and respect them by not assuming you know them based on their appearance alone!

For more information on crime against the GLBT population, visit the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force link on our Around the Nation section in the sidebar.