Thank you for visiting the LGBTQIA+ Education page! ISE appreciates your commitment to educating yourself on issues and topics that are important to the LGBTQIA+ community. On these pages you will find information from culture to understanding how to support a person when they come out to you.
The resources compiled here are meant to help you, but in no way are intended to provide you a complete picture of the LGBTQIA+ community and/or all you need to know! Instead, we wish to provide you with an introduction to the most important concepts you will need to either support your students and friends, or come out yourself. Also, as members of the RISD community we encourage you to continue to ask questions.
Whether you are a student, faculty, staff, curator, alumni or a parent – we welcome you to explore and learn more! Through knowledge, we can learn how to support all members of our community and ourselves to foster a sense of inclusion for all.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can one identify a homosexual person by mannerism and characteristics?
One can only identify a small percentage of homosexuals by mannerisms and characteristics. These mannerisms are generally effeminate in gay men and masculine in lesbians. In fact, a number of heterosexuals possess the same mannerism identified with homosexuals.
In gay relationships, does one partner assume a masculine role while the other assumes its feminine reciprocal?
Homosexual couples work on a basis of equality and mutual respect.
What causes homosexuality?
Many theories propose that homosexuality is “caused” by something (i.e. hormonal imbalance, social conditioning, family dynamics, or negative experiences with the opposite sex). When one asks what causes homosexuality, implicit in the question is the idea that there is something wrong with homosexuality and if one could find out what causes it, one could cure it. There is nothing wrong with being homosexual and there is no cure because it is not an illness of any sort.
Is it true that most homosexual people simply have had poor experiences with those of the opposite sex?
Homosexuals who enter into heterosexual relationships out of fear or desperation cause undue emotional strain for everyone involved. Most homosexuals would not choose to enter into sexual relationships with members of the opposite sex.
Aren’t the majority of child molesters gay?
No, according to police statistics, over ninety percent of all convicted child molesters are heterosexual males.
Does homosexuality exist in nature?
All animals – including humans – can respond to homosexual stimuli. To a certain degree, homosexuality is universal within almost every species.
Won’t gay men and lesbians try to persuade heterosexuals to become gay or lesbian?
One cannot make a person homosexual or heterosexual; it is therefore, unlikely that gay men and lesbians will attempt to change the sexual orientation of heterosexuals.
Is there a significant difference between the lifestyles of gay men and lesbians?
No inherent differences between any intimate relationships exist. Unfortunately, societal pressures cause distinct differences. Society expects all men – gay or straight to be macho or to engage in more short-term relationships than women and expects all women to believe that only long-term monogamy is right. Once society discards sex roles, every person can exist as they choose.
Is homosexuality a type of mental illness?
In 1973, the American Psychological Association determined that homosexuality is a way of life, not a mental or emotional illness. The American Psychological Association has taken the official position that it would be unethical to try to change the sexual orientation of a homosexual person.
Does a childhood homosexual experience predispose someone to choose the homosexual lifestyle as an adult?
Approximately seventy percent of all people will have at least one homosexual experience before the age of eighteen. If homosexual experiences as a child did, in fact, influence someone’s sexual orientation, far more individuals would be homosexuals.
Is homosexuality a choice?
Homosexuality is not a choice, nor is it something that the American Psychological Association deems as something that is an illness. Society and religious teachings are the only entities that have placed negative connotations in regards to homosexuality. Homosexuality occurs in nature and sexuality is most likely established at a very early age.
Glossary of Terms
Each of these terms and definitions have been compiled to equip the RISD community with the language that they should both use and be sensitive of when interacting with members of the LGBTQIA+ community. In putting these together, we have done our best to represent the most popular uses of the terms listed; however, there may be some variation in definitions.
Please note that each person who uses any or all of these terms does so in a unique way (especially those terms in reference to identity labels). If you do not understand the context in which a person is using one of these terms, it is always appropriate to ask. Part of being a successful ally is simply being aware of terminology and sensitive to their proper and acceptable usage.
Ag/Aggressive: See ‘Stud’
Agendered: Person is internally ungendered.
Ally: A person who confronts heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, heterosexual and genderstraight privilege in themselves and others; a concern for the well-being of lesbian, gay bisexual, trans, and intersex people; and a belief that heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are social justice issues.
Androgyne: A person appearing and identifying as neither man nor women; presents a gender either mixed or neutral
Asexual: A person who is not sexually attracted to anyone or does not have a sexual orientation.
Bear: The most common definition of a ‘bear’ is a man who has facial/body hair, and a cuddly body. However, the world ‘bear’ means many things to different people, even within the bear movement. Many men who do not have one or all of these characteristics define themselves as bears, making the term a very loose one. ‘Bear’ is often defined as more of an attitude and a sense of comfort with natural masculinity and bodies.
Berdache: A generic term used to refer to a third gender person (woman-living-man). The term ‘berdache’ is generally rejected as inappropriate and offensive by Native Peoples because it is a term that was assigned by European settlers to differently gendered Native Peoples. Appropriate terms vary by tribe and include: ‘one-spirit,’ ‘two-spirit’, and ‘wintke.’
Bicurious: A curiosity about having sexual relations with the same gender/sex person.
Bigendered: A person who gender identity is a combination of male/man and female/woman.
Binding: The process of flattening one’s breasts to have a more masculine or flat appearing chest.
Bisexual: A person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same and opposite sexes.
Bottom: A person who is said to take a more submissive role during sexual interactions. Sometimes referred to as a ‘pasivo’ in Latin American cultures.
Bottom Surgery: Surgery on the genitals designed to create a body in harmony with a person’s preferred gender expression.
Butch: A person who identifies themselves as masculine, whether it be physically, mentally or emotionally. “Butch’ is sometimes used as a derogatory term for lesbians, but it can also be claimed as an affirmative identity label.
Coming Out: Refers to the process by which one accepts one’s own sexuality (to come out to one’s self); refers to the process by which one shares one’s sexuality with others (to come out to others); a continuous, circular, and life-long process.
Coming Out Week: A week of pro-gay activities, often hosted on college campuses by LGBTQIA+ student groups, to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community and increase its visibility. (NCOD refers to National Coming out Day).
Cross-dresser: A heterosexual individual who enjoys dressing up as someone of the opposite sex; often for causal enjoyment, not as a lifestyle choice.
D&D: An abbreviation for drug and disease free.
Discrimination: Prejudice + power. It occurs when members of a more powerful social group behave unjustly or cruelly to members of a less powerful social group. Discrimination can take many forms, including both individual acts of hatred or injustice and institutional denials of privileges normally accorded to the other groups. Ongoing discrimination creates a climate of oppression for the affected group.
Down Low: See ‘In the Closet.’ Also referred to as ‘D/L.’
Drag: The performance of one or multiple genders theatrically.
Drag King: The common term used for lesbians who dress up as men and perform on stage.
Drag Queen: The common term used for gay men who dress up as women and perform on stage; used interchangeably with “female impersonator;” sometimes considered offensive to female impersonators.
Femme: Feminine identified person of any gender/sex.
Female Impersonator: A gay man who dresses up as a woman and performs on stage as his profession of choice.
FTM/F2M: Abbreviation for female-to-male transgender to transsexual person.
Gay: 1. A term primarily used in some cultural settings to represent males who are attracted to males in a romantic, erotic and/or emotional sense. Not all men who engage in “homosexual behavior” identify as gay, and such this label should be used with caution. 2. Term used to refer to the LGBTQI community as a whole, or as in an individual identity label for anyone who does not identify as heterosexual.
Gender Binary: The idea that there are only two genders – male/female or man/woman and that a person must be strictly gendered as either/or. (See also “Identity Sphere.’)
Gender Clues: What human beings use to attempt to tell the gender/sex of another person. Examples include hairstyle, gait, vocal inflection, body shape, facial hair, etc. Cues vary by culture.
Gender Identity: A person’s sense of being male or female.
Gender Normative: A person who by nature or by choice conforms to gender based expectations of society. (Also referred to as ‘Genderstraight’).
Gender Variant: A person who either by nature or by choice does not conform to gender-based expectations of society (e.g. transgender, transsexual, intersex, gender queer, cross-dresser, etc.).
Genderqueer: A gender variant person who gender identity is neither male nor female, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders. Often includes a political agenda to challenge gender stereotypes and the gender binary system.
Genderstraight: See ‘Gender Normative.’
Hegemony, Hegemonic: A term developed by Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci to refer to the process by which those in power secure the consent of their “subordinates” by making their position/power seem natural and normal through the use of pleasure, fascination, humor, etc. In other words, this is not a type of power that works through overt force; instead, hegemony seduces us into believes that things are the way they are because; “they’re supposed to be.” For example, the idea that men and women should only be attracted to members of the opposite gender is a hegemonic belief system
Heteronormativity: 1. Anything that goes against what is seen as mainstream and/or heterosexist 2. The assumption, in individuals or in institutions, that everyone is heterosexual, and that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality and bisexuality. This is a concept used to describe how many social institutions and social policies reinforce the belief that human beings fall into two distinct and complementary categories, male and female, and the subsequent belief that those genders ought to fulfill complementary roles – that is, among others, that sexual relationship ought to exist only between males and females. To describe a social intuition as heteronormative means that it has visible or hidden norms, some of which are viewed as normal only for males and others which are seen as normal only for females. Its purpose, as with many critical terms, is to help identify voices that have “fallen through the cracks” and who do not feel that they have an adequate means of expressing themselves within the current social worldview.
Heterosexism: Sexual orientation prejudice combined with the majority power to impose such prejudice; usually used to the advantage of the group in power; any attitude, action, or practice backed by institutional power that subordinates people because of sexual orientation.
Heterosexual: A person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex.
Heterosexual Privilege: Those benefits derived automatically by being heterosexual that are denied to homosexuals and bisexuals. Also, the benefits homosexuals and bisexuals receive as a result of claiming heterosexual identity or denying homosexual or bisexual identity.
HIV-phobia: The irrational fear or hatred of persons living with HIV/AIDS.
Homophobia: The irrational fear or hatred of homosexuals, homosexuality, or any behavior or belief that does not conform to rigid sex role stereotypes. It is this fear that enforces sexism as well as heterosexism.
Homosexual: A person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex.
Identity Sphere: The idea that gender identities and expressions do not fit on a linear scale, but rather on a sphere that allows room for all expression without weighting any one expression as better than another.
In the Closet: Refers to a homosexual, bisexual, transperson, or intersex person who will not or cannot disclose their sex, sexuality, sexual orientation or gender identity to their friends, family, co-workers, or society. An intersex person may be closeted due to ignorance about their status since standard medical practice is to “correct,” whenever possible intersex conditions early in childhood and to hide the medical history form the patient. There are varying degrees of being “in the closet”; for example, a person can be out of their social life, but in the closet at work, or with their family, Also known as “Downlow” or “D/L.”
Intergender: A person whose gender identity is between genders or a combination of genders.
Institutional Oppression: Arrangements of a society used to benefit one group at the expense of another through the use of language, media, education, religion, economics, etc.
Internalized Oppression: The process by which a member of an oppressed group comes to accept and live out the inaccurate stereotypes applied to the oppressed group.
Intersexed Person: Someone whose sex a doctor has a difficult time categorizing as either male or female. A person whose combination of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, and/or genitals differs from one of the two expected patterns.
Lesbian: The common and accepted term for homosexual females. The term lesbian is derived from the name of the Greek island of Lesbos and as such is sometimes considered a Eurocentric category that does not necessarily represent the identities of African-Americans and other non-European ethnic groups. This being said, individual female-identified people from diverse ethnic groups including African-Americans, embrace the term ‘lesbian’ as an identity label.
Lesbian Baiting: The heterosexist notion that any woman who prefers the company of woman, or who does not have a male partner, is a lesbian.
LGBTQIA+: A common abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersexed and asexual community.
Lipstick Lesbian: Usually referrers to a lesbian with a feminine gender expression. Can be used in a positive or a derogatory way, depending on who is using it. Is sometimes also used to refer to a lesbian who is seen as automatically passing for heterosexual.
Metrosexual: First used in 1994 by British journalist Mark Simpson, who coined the term to refer to an urban, heterosexual male with a strong aesthetic sense who spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance and lifestyle. This term can be perceived as derogatory because it reinforces stereotypes that all gay men are fashion-conscious and materialistic.
MTF/M2F: Abbreviation for male-to-female transgender or transsexual.
Oppression: The systematic subjugation of a group of people by another group with access to social power, the result of which benefits one group over the other is maintained by social beliefs and practices.
Outing: Telling someone a person is homosexual without that person’s permission.
Pangendered: A person whose gender identity is comprised of all or many gender expressions.
Pansexual: A person who is sexually attracted to all or many gender expressions.
Passing: Describes a person’s ability to be accepted as their preferred gender/sex or race/ethnic identity or to be seen as heterosexual.
Polyamory: Refers to having honest, usually non-possessive, relationships with multiple partners and can include: open relationships, polyfidelity (which involves multiple romantic relationships with sexual contact restricted to those), and sub-relationships (which denote distinguishing between a “primary” relationship or relationships and various “secondary” relationships.
Prejudice: A conscious or unconscious negative belief about a whole group of people and its individual members.
Queer: 1. An umbrella term which embraces a matrix of sexual preferences, orientations, and habits of the not-exclusively-heterosexual-and-monogamous majority. Queer includes lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transpeople, intersex persons, the radical sex community, and many other sexually transgressive (underworld) explores. 2. This term is sometimes used as a sexual orientation label instead of ‘bisexual’ as a way of acknowledging that there are more than two genders to be attracted to, or as a way of stating a non-heterosexual ordination without having to state who they are attracted to. 3. A reclaimed word that was formerly used solely as a slur but that has been semantically overturned by members of the maligned group, who use it as a term of defiant pride. ‘Queer’ is an example of a word undergoing this process. For decades ‘queer’ was used solely as a derogatory adjective for gays and lesbians, but in the 1980’s the term began to be used by gay and lesbian activists as a term of self-identification. Eventually, it came to be used as an umbrella term that included gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people. Nevertheless, a sizable percentage of people to who this term might apply still hold ‘queer’ to be a hateful insult, and its use by heterosexuals is often considered offensive. Similarly, other reclaimed words are usually offensive to the in-group when used by outsiders, so extreme caution must be taken concerning their use when one is not a member of the group.
Rainbow Flag, Rainbow Pride: A symbol of the LGBT community that denotes the unity and diversity that is present within it. The colors, red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple are striped across its cloth.
Same Gender Loving: A term sometimes used by members of the African American/Black community to express an alternative sexual orientation without relying on terms and symbols of European descent. The term emerged in the early 1990’s with the intention of offering Black women who love women and Black men who love men a voice, a way of identifying and being that resonated with the uniqueness of Black culture in life. (Sometimes abbreviate as ‘SGL’.)
Sex: A medical term designating a certain combination of gonads, chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex characteristics and hormonal balances. Because usually subdivided into ‘male’ and ‘female’, this category does not recognize the existence of intersexed bodies.
Sex Identity: How a person identifies physically: female, male, in between, beyond, or neither.
Sexual Orientation: The desire for intimate emotional and/or sexual relationships with people of the same gender/sex, another gender/sex, or multiple genders/sexes.
Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS): A term used by some medical professionals to refer to a group of surgical options that alter a person’s “sex”. In most states, one or multiple surgeries are required to achieve legal recognition of gender variance.
Sexuality: A person’s exploration of sexual acts, sexual orientation, sexual pleasure, and desire.
Stealth: This term refers to when a person chooses to be secretive in the public sphere about their gender history, either after transitioning or while successful passing. (Also referred to as ‘going stealth’ or ‘living in stealth mode’).
Stereotype: A preconceived or oversimplified generalization about an entire group of people without regard for their individual differences. Though often negative, can also be complimentary. Even positive stereotypes can have a negative impact; however, simply because they involved broad generalizations that ignore individual realities.
Stone Butch/Femme: A person who may or may not desire sexual penetration and/or contact with the genitals or breasts. (See also ‘Butch’ or ‘Femme’).
Straight: Another term for heterosexual.
Straight-Acting: A term usually applied to gay men who readily pass as heterosexual. The term implies that there is a certain way that gay men should act that is significantly different from heterosexual men. Straight-acting gay men are often looked down upon in the GLBTQ community for seemingly accessing heterosexual privilege.
Stud: An African-American and/or Latina masculine lesbian. Also known as ‘butch’ or ‘aggressive’.
Switch: A person who is both a ‘Top’ and a ‘Bottom’, there may or may not be a preference for one or the other.
Top: A person who said to take a more dominant role during sexual interactions. May also be known as ‘Pitcher.’
Top Surgery: This term usually refers to surgery for the construction of male-type chest, but may also refer to breast augmentation.
Trans: An abbreviation that is sometimes used to refer to a gender variant person. This use allows a person to state a gender variant identity without having to disclose hormonal or surgical status/intentions. This term is sometimes used to refer to the gender variant community as a whole.
Transactivism: The political and social movement to create equality for gender variant persons.
Transgender: A person living as the gender opposite to his or her anatomical sex.
Transgendered (Trans)Community: A loose category of people who transcend gender norms in a wide variety of ways. The central ethnic of this community is unconditional acceptance of individual exercise of freedoms including gender and sexual identity and orientation.
Transhate: the irrational hatred of those who are gender variant, usually expressed through violent and often deadly means.
Transition: Term primarily used to refer to the process a gender variant person undergoes when changing their bodily appearance either to be more congruent with the gender/sex they feel themsevl3s to be and/or to be in harmony with their proffered gender expression.
Transman: An identity label sometimes adopted by female-to-male transsexuals to signify that they are men while still affirming their history as females. Also referred to as ‘transguy(s).’
Transphobia: The irrational fear of those who are gender variant and/or the inability to deal with gender ambiguity.
Transsexual: A person who identifies him or herself as the gender opposite to his or her assignment at birth; has undergone surgery to change his or her gender.
Transvestite: Someone who dresses in clothing generally identified with the opposite gender/sex. While the terms ‘homosexual’ and ‘transvestite’ have been used synonymously, they in fact signify two different groups. The majority of transvestites are heterosexual males who derive pleasure from dressing in “women’s clothing.” (The preferred term is ‘cross-dresser,’ but the term ‘transvestite’ is still used in a positive sense in England.)
Transwoman: An identity label sometimes adopted by male-to-female transsexuals to signify that they are women while still affirming their history as males.
Two-Spirited: Native persons who have attributes of both gender, have distinct gender and social roles in their tribes, and are often involved with mystical rituals (shamans). Their dress is usually mixture of male and female articles and they are seen as a separate or third gender. The term ‘two-spirit’ is usually considered specific to the Zuni tribe. Similar identity labels vary by tribe and include ‘one-spirit’ and ‘wintke’.
Ze/Hir: Alternate pronouns that are gender neutral and proffered by some gender variant persons. Pronounced /zee/ and /here,/ they replace “he”/”she” and “his”/”hers” respectively.
*This terminology was compiled by Christopher Lauth at Canisius College. Some select explanations within the definitions were created by Eli R. Green and Eric N. Peterson at the LGBT Resource Center at UC Riverside ® 2003-2004. Used, altered, and reprinted with permission.
Oppression: LGBTQIA+ Experience
A Self-Perpetuating Cycle
Stereotype: A preconceived or oversimplified generalization about an entire group of people without regard for individual differences.
Prejudice: A conscious or unconscious negative belief about a whole group of people and its individual members.
Discrimination: Prejudice plus power. Acts of discrimination built up over time – perpetuated against a relatively less powerful social group by a more powerful social group – lead to a group’s being in a state of systematic oppression.
Systematic Oppression: Arrangements of a society used to benefit one group at the expense of another by language, media, education, religious, economics, etc.
Internalized Oppression: The process by which a member of an oppressed group comes to accept and live out the inaccurate stereotypes applied by the oppressed group.
Homophobia & You
Adapted from the University of Central Florida Allies Program Manual (2002)
Originated from Blumenfeld, Warren (1992) Homophobia: How we all pay the price. Beacon Press, Boston.
One does not have to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender – or know someone who is – to experience homophobia’s negative effects. Although homophobia actively oppresses gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individual, it also hurts heterosexuals. Below, one is able to see the harmful repercussions of homophobia.
Inhibits the ability of heterosexuals to form close, intimate relationship with members of their own sex, for fear of being perceived as LGBTQIA+.
Locks people into rigid gender-based roles that hinder creativity and self expression.
Compromises human integrity by pressuring people to treat other inadequately.
Results in the invisibility or absence of LGBTQIA+ lives and sexuality in school-based sexual education, keeping vital information from students.
Causes premature sexual involvement, increasing the change of teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Adds to the pressure to marry, placing undue stress on heterosexual spouses and children.
Hinders diversity, making it unsafe for any person to express characteristics not conserved mainstream or dominant
By challenging homophobia, people are not only fighting oppression for specific groups of people, but are also striving for a society that accepts and celebrates the differences in everyone.
Adapted from the Texas A&M Allies Resource Manual (1984)
As a heterosexual, I am privileged to hold my girlfriend or boyfriend’s hand without fear while walking across campus.
As a heterosexual, I am privileged to join the ROTC without fear of persecution or the loss of my scholarship and career plans.
As a heterosexual, I am privileged to rush a fraternity or sorority without fear of rejection based on my sexual identity.
As a heterosexual, I am privileged to talk freely about my “relationships” with roommates, friends, and family.
As a heterosexual, I am privileged to play varsity sports without fear of removal based on my sexual identity.
As a heterosexual, I am privileged to walk into a bar or dance with my partner without fear of verbal of physical abuse.
As a heterosexual, I am privileged to interview for jobs and be able to discuss my plans for marriage without fear of discrimination.
As a heterosexual, I am privileged to run for a student leadership position without a focus only on my sexual identity.
As a heterosexual, I am privileged to walk through campus without fear of physical or verbal harm based solely on my sexual identity.
As a heterosexual, I am privileged to be a member of the dominant culture, and I may choose to be an Ally for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students.
The Riddle Homophobia Scale
Taken from: Wall, V. (1995) Beyond Tolerance: Gays, lesbians, and bisexuals on campus. A handbook of structured experiences and exercises for training and development. American College Personnel Association.
Just as LGBTQIA+ people go through different stages of coming out, heterosexual people also experience changes in attitudes toward sexual minorities. Some may start at the very beginning or enter at a later stage. Some may reach the final stage, while other may never be quite able to reach that far. Where are you in the process of becoming an Ally? Take a moment to think of where your friends and family members may fall on this scale.
Stage 1: Repulsion
Homosexuality is seen as a crime against nature. Gays/lesbians are sick, crazy, immoral, sinful, wicked, etc. anything is justified to change them: prison, hospitalization, negative behavior therapy, violence, etc.
Stage 2: Pity
Heterosexual chauvinism. Heterosexuality is more mature and certainly to be preferred. Any possibility of becoming “straight” should be reinforced, and those who seem to be born that way should be pitied.
Stage 3: Tolerance
Homosexuality is just a phase of adolescent development that many people go through and most people grow out of. Thus, gays/lesbians are less mature than heterosexuals and should be treated with the protectiveness and indulgence one uses with a child. Gays and lesbians should not be given positions of authority because they are still working through their adolescent behavior.
Stage 4: Acceptance
Still implies there is something to accept. Characterized by such statements as “you’re not a lesbian, you’re a person” or “what you do is your own business” or “it’s fine with me, just don’t flaunt it”.
Stage 5: Support*
Work to safeguard the rights of lesbians and gays. People at this level may be uncomfortable themselves but they are aware of the homophobic climate and irrational unfairness.
Stage 6: Admiration
Acknowledges that being gay/lesbian in our society takes strength. People at this level are willing to truly examine their homophobic attitudes, values, and behaviors.
Stage 7: Appreciation
Value the diversity of people and see gays/lesbians as a valid part of that diversity. These people are willing to combat homophobia in themselves and others.
Stage 8: Nurture
Assumes that gay/lesbian people are indispensable in our society. They view gays/lesbians with genuine affection and delight, and are willing to be allies and advocates.
*First stage entering the positive levels of attitude.
Fighting Homophobia and Heterosexism On Campus
Read, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender literature and history
Read newspapers or journals that feature LGBTQIA+ news/issues
Go through a whole day imagining yourself to be LGBTQIA+
Attend LGBTQIA+ speakers, films, workshops, cultural events
Attend a meeting of a group such as PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians & Gays)
Listen to and learn from LGBTQIA+ people
Model Non-heterosexist or Non-homophobic behavior and Attitudes
Take pride in your same sex friendships
Use inclusive language like partner or date rather than boyfriend/girlfriend and wife/husband
Make friends with and get close to LGBTQIA+ people
Don’t make assumptions about others’ sexual orientations or genders
Don’t assume that being gay or lesbian is just about being sexual
Don’t assume gays or lesbians don’t have, like, or want children
Keep confidential information you have about others’ sexual orientation or gender presentation
Use the same standards for same gender affection in public that you use for opposite gender affection
Create and Inclusive Culture and a Welcome Environment
Assume that people in your residence hall, classes, groups, and/or campus are LGBTQIA+
Assume that closeted LGBTQ people in your residence hall, classes, groups, campus are wondering how safe the environment is for them; provide safety by making it clear you accept and support all people
Put up bulletin board displays that include same sex couples or references to LGBTQIA+ lives
Post flyers announcing events of interest to LGBTQIA+ people. Remember, there is a heterosexual assumption so actively advertise LGBTQIA+ people are welcome especially at parties or dances
Find out about and share resources and information on gay-affirmative service provides, events, bookstores, bars, etc.
Say the words gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender out loud, be aware that there are potentially people around you that are LGBTQIA+ even if none are out.
Sponsor a workshop on homophobia
Sponsor a LGBTQIA+ speakers bureau program
Sponsor films like Pink Triangles, Times of Harvey Milk, Before Stonewall, Personal Best, Parting Glances, Desert Hearts, etc.
Set up bulletin board displays on LGBTQIA+ issues/culture/people
Have informal discussions where you live, go to school, work, groups, and friends
Offer alternatives, accurate information, etc. when you hear homophobic sterotypes or myths
Write articles for a newspaper on LGBTQIA+ issues, write letters to the editor
Confront Overt Incidents
Interrupt heterosexist/gender jokes, slurs, comments, or assumptions
Actively react to anonymous anti-gay graffiti
Get support for yourself when confronting incidents
Make clear to all who are involved both relevant policies and your own feelings
Provide support to the victim/target of the attack
Critically review local media for heterosexual bias and call/write editors with complaints/suggestions
Take a Public Stand
Wear a button such as “I support gay rights” or “How dare you presume I’m heterosexual”
Attend rally or march supporting LGBTQIA+ people; write a letter to the school paper
Sign a petition supporting gay rights
Promote LGBTQIA+ nondiscrimination policies
Campaign to pass gay rights bill
Join an organization that promotes gay rights
Form a support/activist groups for heterosexual allies
Organize to get more resources on your campus: an office for LGBTQIA+ Concerns; lesbian and gay studies courses/program; pro-lesbian/gay counselors; LGBTQIA+ speakers, cultural events, etc.
Adapted from Wall, V. (1995). Beyond Tolerance: Gays, lesbians and bisexuals on campus. A handbook of structured experiences and exercises for training and development. American College Personnel Administration.Taken from the University of Central Florida Allies Program (2004).
Suicide & Substance Abuse
Correlations between Suicide, Substance Abuse, and Gay/Lesbian/Transgender Conflict
Gay and lesbian youth are two to six times more likely than other youth to attempt suicide.
School systems and the media ignore the relationship between homosexuality and teen suicide even after clinicians in the gay and lesbian community have publicly acknowledged the trend.
Taboos surround the free and open discussion of homosexuality. Consequently, the suicide prevention programs in schools fail because teens feel constrained in revealing their true sentiments.
Statistics indicate that lesbians and gay men are at much greater risk than the general population for substance abuse, and substance abuse has been consistently linked to increased risk of suicide.
Reasons cited for substance abuse are: dealing with grief or loss; dealing with depression, reducing anxiety, escaping pressure or reality; reducing inhibitions; feeling more free. The role of bars and social meeting places also contribute to the problem.
Society’s traditional substance abuse recovery networks remain closed to the LGBTQ community; supportive groups like family, school, or the church alienate and reject LGBTQIA+ individuals.
Worried about a student or another member of the RISD community who is struggling with their sexual orientation/gender identity? Please contact RISD Public Safety, or our office at 401.277.4908.
What is Bisexuality?
Bisexuality is the potential to feel attracted (sexually, romantically, emotionally) to and to engage in sensual or sexual relationships with people of either sex. A bisexual person may not be equally attracted to both sexes, and the degree of attraction may vary over time.
Self-perception is the key to a bisexual identity. Many people engage in sexual activity with people of both sexes, yet do not identify as bisexual. Likewise, other people engage in sexual relations only with people of one sex, or do not engage in sexual activity at all, yet consider themselves bisexual. There is no behavioral “test” to determine whether or not one is bisexual.
Some people believe that a person is born heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual (for instance due to prenatal hormonal influences), and that their identity is inherent and unchangeable. Others believe that sexual orientation is due to socialization (for example either imitating or rejecting parental models) or conscious choice (for example, choosing lesbianism as part of a political feminist identity). Others believe that these factors interact. Because biological, social, and cultural factors are different for each person, everyone’s sexuality is highly individual, whether they are bisexual, gay, or lesbian, heterosexual, or asexual. The “value” placed on sexual identity should not depend on its origin. Many people assume that bisexuality is just a phase people go through. In fact, any sexual orientation can be a phase; however, just not for the reason of purely choice as some wrongfully try to argue.
Humans are diverse, and individual sexual feelings and behavior change over time. The creation and consolidation of a sexual identity is an ongoing process. Since we are generally socialized as heterosexual, bisexuality is a stage that many people experience as part of the process of acknowledging their homosexuality. Many others come to identify as bisexuals after a considerable period of identify as either gay men or lesbians.
A recent study by Ron Fox of more than 900 bisexual individuals found that 1/3 had previously identified as lesbian or gay. An orientation that may not be permanent is still valid for the period of time it is experienced. Bisexuality, like homosexuality and heterosexuality, may be either a transitional step in the process of sexual discover, or a stable, long-term identity.
How Common Is Bisexuality?
It is not easy to say how common bisexuality is since little research has been done on this subject; most studies on sexuality have focused on heterosexuals or homosexuals. Based on research done by Kinsey in the 1940’s and 1950’s, as many as 15-25% or women and 33-46% of men may be bisexual, based on their activities or attractions. Bisexuals are in many ways a hidden population. In our culture, it is generally assumed that a person is either heterosexual (the default assumption) or homosexual (based on appearance or behavioral clues.) Because bisexuality does not fit into these standard categories, it is often denied or ignored.
When it is recognized, bisexuality is often viewed as being ‘part heterosexual and part homosexual,” rather than being a unique identity. Bisexuality threatens the accepted way of looking at the world by calling into question the validity of rigid sexual categories, and encourages acknowledgement of the existence of a diverse range of sexuality. Since there is not a stereotypical bisexual appearance or way of acting, bisexuals are usually assumed to be either heterosexual or homosexual. In order to increase awareness, bisexuals have begun to create their own visible communities.
Bisexuals, like all people, have a wide variety of relationship styles. Contrary to common myth, a bisexual person does not need to be sexually involved with both a man and a woman simultaneously. In fact, some people who identify as bisexual never engage in sexual activity with one or the other (or either) gender. As is the case for heterosexuals and gay men and lesbian, attraction does not involve acting on every desire. Like heterosexuals and gay people, many bisexuals choose to be sexually active with one partner only, and have long-term, monogamous relationships. Other bisexuals may have open marriages that allow for relationships with same-sex partners, three-way relationships, or a number of partners of the same or other gender (singly or simultaneously). It is important to have the freedom to choose the type of sexual and affectionate relationships that are right for the people involved, whatever their orientation.
Bisexual women and men cannot be defined by their partner or potential partner, so are rendered invisible within the either/or heterosexist framework. This invisibility (biphobia) is one of the most challenging aspects of a bisexual identity. Living in a society that is based and thrives on opposition, on the reassurances and “balanced” polarities of dichotomy, affects how we see the world, and how we negotiate our own and other people lives to fit “reality.”
Most people are unaware of their homosexual or heterosexual assumptions until a bisexual speaks up/comes out and challenges the assumption. Very often bisexuals are then dismissed, and told they are “confused” and “simply have to make up their mind and choose.” For bisexuality identified people to maintain their integrity in a homo-hating heterosexist society, they must have a strong sense of self, and the courage and conviction to live their lives in defiance of what passes for “normal.”
What does Biphobia Look Like?
Assuming that everyone you meet is either heterosexual or homosexual.
Supporting and understanding a bisexual identity for young people because you identified “that way” before you came to your “real” lesbian/gay/heterosexual identity.
Expecting a bisexual to identify as heterosexual when couple with the “opposite” gender/sex.
Believing bisexual men spread AIDS/HIB and other STDs to heterosexuals.
Thinking bisexual people haven’t made up their minds.
Assuming a bisexual person would want to fulfill your sexual fantasies or curiosities.
Assuming bisexuals would be willing to “pass” as anything other than bisexual.
Feeling that bisexual people are too outspoken and pushy about their visibility and rights.
Automatically assuming romantic couplings of two women are lesbian, or two men are gay, or a man and a woman are heterosexual.
Expecting bisexual people to get services, information and education from heterosexual service agencies for their “heterosexual side” and then go to gay and/or lesbian service agencies for their “homosexual side” (sic).
Feeling bisexuals just want to have their cake and eat it too.
Believing that bisexual women spread AIDS/HIV and other STDs to lesbians.
Using the terms “phase” or “stage” or “confused” or “fence-sitter” or “bisexual” or “AC/DC” or switchhitter” as slurs or in an accusatory way.
Thinking bisexuals only have committed relationships with “opposite” sex/gender partners.
Looking at a bisexual person and automatically thinking their sexuality rather than seeing them as a whole, complete person.
Believing bisexuals are confused about their sexuality.
Assuming that bisexuals, if given the choice, would prefer to be within and “opposite” gender/sex coupling to reap the social benefits of a “heterosexual” pairing.
Not confronting a biphobic remark or joke for fear of being identified as bisexual.
Assuming bisexual means “available.”
Thinking that bisexual people will have their rights when lesbian and gay people win theirs.
Being gay or lesbian and asking your bisexual friend about their lover only when that lover is the same sex/gender.
Feeling that you can’t trust a bisexual because they aren’t really gay or lesbian, or aren’t really heterosexual.
Thinking that people identify as bisexual because it’s “trendy.”
Expecting a bisexual to identify as gay or lesbian when coupled with the “same” sex/gender.
Expecting bisexual activists and organizers to minimize bisexual issues (i.e. HIV/AIDS, violence, basic civil rights, fighting the Right, military, same sex marriage, child custody, adoption etc.) and to prioritize the visibility of “lesbian and/or gay issues.
Avoid mentioning to friends that you are involved with a bisexual or working with a bisexual group because you are afraid they will think you are a bisexual.
Using Gender Pronouns
First names and pronouns
When might an individual wish to use a different first name and/or pronoun?
An individual may wish to use a different first name and pronoun for many reasons. There are times when a nickname or middle name may be used as a first name rather than a legal first name. There are also occasions in which an individual may wish to use a first name due to gender identity or gender expression. Pronouns are often a representation of an individual’s gender identity or wish to express a neutral gender identity.
What are gender-neutral pronouns?
Gender-neutral pronouns are pronouns that do not associate a gender with an individual.
Why might an individual wish to use a gender-neutral pronoun?
Some languages, such as English, have no truly gender-neutral third person pronoun available or commonly used, thus gender-neutral pronouns are created in the interest of greater gender equity. In addition to being able to use them to refer to an individual whose gender is unknown at the moment of conversation, gender-neutral pronouns can be an option for an individual within the transgender, genderqueer, and gender-neutral communities.
Isn’t ‘it’ gender-neutral?
“It” is used to denote objects, and thus is considered offensive in reference to an individual. Some transgender and gender nonconforming individuals report “it” being used in reference to them in demeaning, disgusted, and threatening ways.
What are some examples of gender-neutral pronouns?
The most commonly used gender-neutral pronouns are listed below, along with their pronunciations and the gendered pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’ for easy reference.
She, Her, Her, Hers, Herself
He, Him, His, His, Himself
They, Them, Their, Theirs, Themself
Ze /zee/ Hir /here/ Hir /here/ Hirs /heres/ Hirself /herself/
E /ee/ Em /em/ Eir /air/ Eirs /airs/ Emself /emself/
Examples of how to use these pronouns:
She went to her bedroom. I am her sister. She smiles to herself.
He went to his bedroom. I am his sister. He smiles to himself.
Ze went to hir bedroom. I am hir sister. Ze smiles to hirself.
They went to their bedroom. I am their sister. They smiles to themself.
E went to eir bedroom. I am eir sister. E smiles at emself.
Isn’t this difficult to adjust to and doesn’t this sound awkward?
Integrating a gender-neutral pronoun into an already existing language can prove difficult, but not impossible. It can be achieved through intentional practice, and can really help someone feel included and respected. Also, knowledge about and usage of gender- neutral pronouns are often a good way to communicate allyship to transgender and gender variant individuals
Thank you to the following for creating the above terminology for pronoun education: Eli R. Green (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Eric N. Peterson at the LGBT Resource Center at UC Riverside ® 2003-2004. Other parts are adapted from various sources including wiseGEEK, Aether Lumina, trans@MIT (Massachussets Institute of Technology), Vanderbilt University, and the University of Missouri.