I feel confident in saying that the reaction elicited by a new study purporting to offer empirical data to support the hypothesis that homophobic people are often repressing their own same sex attractions, in progressive circles at least, was a resounding “well, duh.”
A team of researchers from the University of Rochester, the University of Essex, England, and the University of California in Santa Barbara will publish the result of their study on the role parenting and sexual orientation play in homophobic attitudes, hostility toward homosexuals, and the endorsement of anti-gay policies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Essentially what they found, through a series of psychological tests, is people who hold same sex attractions, though they self identify as heterosexual, and grew up in households with controlling parents that frowned upon homosexuality are more inclined to be resentful or bigoted towards gay and lesbian people.
As the lead author of the study, Netta Weinstein of University of Essex, explained to Science Daily, “Individuals who identify as straight but in psychological tests show a strong attraction to the same sex may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves.” It’s a form of self-hate projected on others.
This comes as no surprise to those attuned to the struggle for equal rights in the LBGT community. Over the years, a number of notable anti-gay activists and politicians have been caught in scandals that pushed them to confront the hypocrisy between their public and private lives.
Ted Haggard is perhaps the most famous example. The evangelical pastor and founder of New Life Church in Colorado was well known for his opposition to marriage equality for same-sex couples. In 2006, Haggard became infamous when an escort named Mike Jones claimed that in addition to using meth, Haggard had paid Jones for sex for three years. Despite this, Haggard maintains that he is heterosexual.
In 2010, Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta found himself reeling after several young men who were members of his church filed suit against him, alleging he had leveraged his position as pastor to coerce them into sexual relationships. Before this, Long had been known for leading protest in support of a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages, as well as promoting “sexual reorientation” or a program to “cure” people of their homosexuality.
And who can forget former Republican senator from Idaho Larry Craig being arrested soliciting sex in a men’s airport bathroom? The trend holds: vocal anti-gay spokespersons time and again are found to be hiding their sexual orientation.
It’s easy to ridicule these folks, and they are deserving of some level of harsh criticism for their vicious assaults on the rights of gay and lesbian folks. But it also helps to understand that part of the reason they repress their sexual orientation is due to lack of cultural support. They are replicating the sort of hatred and hostility they see from the rest of society in order to find acceptance.
If we want to stop producing self-hating homophobes, we have to work on building a more open and accepting society that allows for the free expression of all people of all sexual orientations. We appear to be inching closer to such a place, but as with any progress that has to do with human rights it never feels quick enough. But we must keep trying.