How do I handle homophobia?
Homophobia can be anywhere – it can be in your city where you live, it can be within your family unit, in your friendship circle, at work, etc. Unfortunately, homophobia can be anywhere and it will never go away completely. While we can't control other people and the hate that is within them, we can control how we react and deal with this hate.
First, I want you to know that your struggles with dealing with homophobia are valid. You are brave and resilient and strong for going through these experiences. Since homophobia can be present in your life in a number of different ways, I will break it down into a few categories. Remember, not everyone experiences homophobia in the same way!
Homophobia within family
This is tough, as you cannot choose your family. You can however choose how you deal with the difficult situation. The number one most important thing is your safety. If you are living at home and are in an unsafe living situation because you either just came out or they are still not accepting who you are, your safety is crucial. If you are feeling unsafe because they are physically or emotionally hurting you, or if you have been kicked out, please reach out to another family member or a friend you trust and see if you can stay with them. Getting out of immediate danger is the first priority. You can also report abuse to your local authorities as there are laws in place to help that are on your side.
If you are experiencing homophobia but aren’t in immediate danger, there are a number of ways to work through this kind of hate:
Remain calm and drudge up all the patience you've ever had: remember that yelling and screaming at them isn't going to make them understand. If you are calm and respectful in your delivery, you will get your point across more strongly than you will by yelling.
Speak with "I" statements and express yourself from your heart: Speaking from your heart with "I" statements will be better received than "you" statements. If you say "I am feeling frustrated that I am not being heard", this will be better received than "you never listen to me, you don't care".
Know that this is a process for your family: just like it was a process for you to come to terms with yourself, your family is going through their own process. Let them take their time.
If they are actively saying hurtful things: sometimes it's best to just walk away. Engaging in a fight isn't going to make them understand, so sometimes it’s best to take a breather. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't correct them or stand up for yourself if you feel like you are able to, but give them space to process.
Work through your frustrations with a professional: speaking to someone like a counselor is a wonderful resource and very helpful for dealing with homophobic family members. Especially an LGBTQ+ counselor – dealing with these types of issues is their specialty, and they can recommend resources and safe places to stay if you are in immediate danger.
Make your friends your family: you can't choose your family but you can choose your friends, and that is a beautiful thing.
Homophobia from friends
The beautiful thing about friendships is that we are in total control of who we allow into our life as friends. If a friend is making homophobic remarks and doesn't respect you, they don't deserve you. I suggest distancing yourself from them, removing yourself from the friendship, and investing in friends that show you understanding and kindness.
Homophobia at work
If a co-worker or boss is making homophobic comments, report them. Many companies have HR policies to protect you against this type of discrimination. If you are working for a company that doesn't protect the LGBTQ+ community at work, consider working for a company that values the LGBTQ+ community and protects them. This is so important – you spend most of your time during the week working hard and investing your time and talents into your career. Your company at the very least should be investing in your safety. I personally have always worked for companies that were LGBTQ+ supportive and inclusive. Because of this, I feel safe and protected should a co-worker or boss ever say anything inappropriate. I know changing jobs is never easy and I validate how difficult it is, but as a member of this beautiful community, we all deserve to feel safe and protected at work.
Homophobia from strangers
When handling homophobic comments from strangers or passersby, it’s best to just not engage with them. Getting into a heated debate doesn't help anyone, and unfortunately they are not going to change their views and opinions in the moment. The best way to handle hateful comments is to simply walk away. If you are feeling safe and want to try to educate them, that is admirable and brave. But if you are feeling unsafe and think they could hurt you, get away from the situation as fast as you can.
A few years ago, my now wife and I were in Salem, MA for Halloween and were having the best time with our friends. In an open public part of the city, a group of men were chanting about gays and hell and saying the cruelest of things. They weren't physically hurting anyone, just chanting ridiculous hateful things with a PA system while holding up signs thinking they were making a difference (I don't understand why people even do that! Just let people live their life and be happy!). Kris and I felt safe, so without a second thought we stood right in front of them and kissed and everyone watching was cheering for us. It was such an incredible empowering moment for us as a lesbian couple. We handle homophobia in situations where we feel safe by simply being proud of who we are. I say the word ‘safe’ a lot because it's so important to understand your surroundings in a homophobic situation. It's always better to be safe than sorry.
Lastly, please know that people who make homophobic comments are typically afraid of the unknown and show hate towards what they don't understand. It is a cowardly act to make themselves feel powerful. It is always easier said than done, but please try not to take the hateful comments to heart. In the end, you will always be above the hate because you are living your truth and being happy, and no one can ever take that away from you.
Follow Ilana on Instagram @ilanasilver!