By Ola Kosberg, Wenmi Liu, Alesia Tabone & Zara Tansley
We are a society full of diversity and change but when we stray too far from the social norms in place we tend to become divided and lash out at the things we are not familiar with. This project attempts to challenge the idea of sexual prejudice in society through understanding why we feel the need to victimize people for their sexual orientation.
We asked 145 people from a range of backgrounds a variety of questions in which they had to place themselves on a scale in relation to themselves and their experiences. The results produced a variety of opinions and experiences across the scale and challenged the ideas we had around the issue of sexual prejudice.
“That’s gay” is perhaps one the most overused phrases when attempting to lay insult to something amongst the youth of today. This normalisation of a seemingly harmless language is a simple example of the harmful messages effecting vulnerable and impressionable people. Imagine having a trait about yourself that you could never change and then that trait consistently being referenced as negative, undesirable and inappropriate. This is what the most simplified form of prejudice can be seen as by the victim and something so simple is usually not recognised by the perpetrator as being harmful, it merely becomes a joking matter. Bringing awareness to even small changes in everyday attitudes can affect positively on prejudice.
Sometimes in this world, there are attitudes and outcomes that don’t make much sense to a lot of people but rather than attempting to understand it and curb change, we react with judgment and assumption. You can find in daily observations and interactions that there is a low tolerance for having a prejudice opinion during a conversation which positively shows that it is less accepted but it also creates separation. This separation from discussing our ideals and opinions divides us as human beings and disconnects us from showing compassion and empathy to people who are deemed as part of the opposing team. Prejudice is an issue that is affecting our society and it is important to include the parties that cause the issue in our conversations otherwise their views may never differ and prejudice will remain a powerful tool.
In nearly every country in the world, prejudice against people who identify themselves as anything other than straight is happening every day in both private and public spaces. There are men and women living in fear of their government because their sexual orientation is criminalised. Here in Australia people are at high risk of being victimised in their own homes, schools, workplaces and in the street for being openly accepting of their own sexuality. So in their minds, it is often questioned whether it would be better to keep quiet and live each day pretending to be someone they are not. You just have to put yourself in someone else's shoes to imagine how this outcome carries burden and concerns for that person’s well-being and mental state.
Oliver – Pansexual
I feel people discriminate partly due to social circles and the social norms. When I was about 11-15 my social circle was very homophobic, and because of that I found myself pretending to be someone I’m not and furthermore were in situations where I myself felt I had to be homophobic.
People use religion as a way to best reason with their beliefs, but religion is just an excuse most religions aren’t openly discriminatory. Most people just use it to justify their own fears.
So how do we as a society create change within our own prejudices in an attempt to ease another person’s suffering? It is a common assumption that forms of prejudice stem from a hateful place and while some may there is also validity behind some prejudices. Someone could be in a stage of denial in their own sexual orientation or perhaps they had a traumatic experience with someone of a non-heterosexual nature and this led them to attach negative views to the non-heterosexual people they meet from then on. Having the strength to be understanding and compassionate in the face of hatred or disgust can begin to curb those preconceived emotions that the prejudice person has built. As a society we have the opportunity to help people challenge their own ideals through open conversation, it most likely won’t happen a first time but with continuous positive discussions around prejudice, there could be a greater shift in positive outlooks.
Prejudice can be a dangerous weapon, the damage it inflicts on the victim is invisible, it cannot be treated and healed like a physical wound and while people are silent in defence of them the emotional healing doesn’t start at all. As a contemporary society, there is a lot of discussion around the importance of mental health and the effect of verbal abuse, cyber-bullying and degrading language. While there is a growing acceptance of non-heterosexual rights and relationships the members of the LGBTIQ community are still especially vulnerable to prejudices against them due to their sexual orientation.
There are different ways in which prejudice can manifest, it can be a view that being LGBTQ is deemed abnormal within our society or it can be a superiority complex meaning that someone acts as though they are superior as a defence mechanism of their own inferiority and self-doubts. Griffith University's psychology professor Mr Michael Thai says that prejudice can come from a range of things such as religious beliefs, negative experiences or traditionalist views. He discusses a term called 'symbolic threat' which means that people have an irrational fear that something of theirs is threatened by another actions, for example they feel their marriage is affected because of another person's rights. Some people simply build from the social constructs surrounding what it is to be LGBTQ, for example, assumptions that gay people are promiscuous and therefore are more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases or mental health issues. Society has created these negative attachments to being a homosexual perhaps as a way to justify the threat of those issues.
Toby – Transgender
I feel people discriminate due to ignorance, they simply just don’t know. I also believe that a massive part of discrimination comes from a generational point of view. Older generations just weren’t as exposed to a variety of different lifestyles and now here we are. I believe with more positive representation of different parts of the community we can begin to educate them and future generations.
There are people who perceive their prejudice as simply having a joke but this is a very real form of prejudice that comes from holding negative attitudes towards people of a certain sexual orientation. People who hold prejudice tend to close off from the conversation about these social issues when labels arise around sexual prejudice such as being labeled a sexist or homophobic, both of which are unpopular opinions in modern society. We have to allow these conversations to take place and openly accept what the opposing view is trying to state in order to grow.
The topical nature of LGBTQ rights in politics and society right now is causing members of the community to focus their efforts to change the impacts of prejudice on mental and physical health. One of the ways we can combat prejudice is through contact and experiences, the more positive discussions we have both with and around non-heterosexual people the more positive memories and social attachments are built.
We currently live in a country where it is not legal for two people of the same sex to commit to each other in marriage. National polls show that the majority of the public are for the legalisation of same-sex marriage and while some may argue there are more pressing issues in current political areas, it is necessary to acknowledge the daily struggles that individuals face when confronted with the realisation that their love is viewed as less important in a society that they have every right to be a part of.
Professor Michael Thai says that the major thing that affects people's perception of LGBTQ people is interaction with them, if a prejudice person can have more positive experiences with a member of the LGBTQ community this will build a positive view towards the entire community. The more contact between groups the more understanding and learning is allowed to take place.
Allowing another person to have an equal right does not lessen the importance of our own. Creating a society where hate is not the motivator and acceptance is the first reaction can only lead to greater positive experiences for all involved. To anyone who is reading this we challenge you to question yourself and to explore the options and outcomes in life other than your own. Counteract the hate with love and acceptance and support others in challenging their own ideas in the hope that they might find something that wasn’t there before.
Here are some the people who participated in the survey. Is it all just black and white or are we made up of shades of grey?
Below are some of the subjects we interviewed identifying as a part of the community, who are often unable to present themselves to society, the way they feel most comfortable. This project was about presenting them to society the way they wanted, hence we have their favourite selfie in conjunction with a portrait and their answer to the question of why you think people discriminate.
Mick – Gay
The reason I think people discriminate is due to the liability of foreignness, if someone doesn’t understand something that is foreign to them it will make them afraid and make them distrust and generally lash out.
Kim – Pansexual/Polyamorous
I think people discriminate due to their backgrounds and a lack of understanding or willingness to understand what’s going on.