A reading in honor of the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

How funny that the day “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would cease to have effect in the U.S. military, someone would write me asking me to reminder her of the source of an article I’d recommended a year ago, on the history of the terms ‘heterosexism’ and ‘homophobia.’

It seems a fitting day on which to reiterate my recommendation of Gregory Herek’s article, “Beyond Homophobia” (Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 2004).

In common speech, heterosexism has been used inconsistently. It has often served as a synonym for homophobia. Some authors, however, have distinguished between the two constructs by using heterosexism to describe a cultural ideology manifested in society’s institutions while reserving homophobia to describe individual attitudes and actions deriving from that ideology.

After carefully tracing the history of ‘homophobia,’ Herek advances his argument for distinctions beyond this important but limited term.

I offer some preliminary thoughts about three general arenas in which hostility based on sexual orientation should be studied. First, such hostility exists in the form of shared knowledge that is embodied in cultural ideologies that define sexuality, demarcate social groupings based on it, and assign value to those groups and their members. Second, these ideologies are expressed through society’s structure, institutions, and power relations. Third, individuals internalize these ideologies and, through their attitudes and actions, express, reinforce, and challenge them. I refer to these three aspects of antigay hostility as, respectively, sexual stigma, heterosexism, and sexual prejudice.

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