Words have a lot of power.
Of course, the words we say to others directly can nurture or hurt their feelings, thoughts, and self-image. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Our choice of words can turn what could have been a constructive conversation into a destructive argument. They can represent or misrepresent ideas. They can open or close both minds and hearts.
And that’s why this post is about a word: homophobia.
It may seem pretty straightforward. Homophobic people are those with an unwarranted fear of homosexuals. But as the debate over LGBT+ rights rages on, this word has picked up a lot of weight. It’s a sharp word, the user often indicating a certain closed-mindedness or hatefulness that the one being labeled may find insulting.
Thus, I dare ask the question:
Should we call everyone who doesn’t “agree” with homosexuality homophobic?
I mean don’t get me wrong, I get why this word would be directed at anyone who believes that homosexuality is a sin. Regarding anything as a sin or defect does seem to entail a certain kind of “phobia.”
But here’s the thing-believing that homosexuality is not a part of God’s original intent for humanity or isn’t what is best for a particular person doesn’t require fear or hatred. Yes, it can. Oh it definitely can. But it doesn’t have to.
There are many people who concede to the taboos incorporated into the religious doctrine they find most appealing or convincing without then adopting aggression toward or disgust with whatever the taboo is on. I know many evangelical Christians who know many people who don’t identify as heterosexual and who treat those people like normal people.
There are parents who are heart broken by their child’s sexual identity but love them no less and treat them no differently. There are friends who “don’t agree” with other friends’ sexuality but talk, laugh, and fight with them just like the rest of the people they hang out with. And there are perfect strangers who might not have voted in support of homosexual marriage but would never treat other strangers disrespectfully or even feel it appropriate to discuss their objections when seeing said strangers with their partners at work, the mall, or wherever.
I’m not saying that it doesn’t suck that many people see LGBT+ folks as different, influenced by the sinful nature, or anything else or than ordinary people just being people. And I’m not saying that homophobia doesn’t exist.
On the contrary....what I’m saying is that because homophobia DOES exist and has very real consequences on multiple levels and all over the world, we should diagnose it correctly that we may treat it effectively. Trying to force people into changing their beliefs by insulting them doesn’t work and directing aggression at people who haven’t directed it at us won’t help them see through our eyes.
As someone who identifies as bisexual, I don’t want to force anyone to believe what I believe. Of course I would like it if they did. And of course I will attempt to communicate the reasons behind my worldview in the hopes that others will consider it. I would love to live in a world where no one thinks anything is “wrong” with me because I’m not straight. But I also want to live in a world where everyone is free to think what they think as long as they treat other human beings like human beings.
I guess in the end my request is not that we stop using the word. But like I said, it is a weighty one with a sharp edge. Thus, my request is simply this: watch where you point that thing.