In a culture of homophobia (an irrational fear of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender [GLBT] people), GLBT people often face a heightened risk of violence and violence specific to their sexual identities. Media representations of GLBT people have contributed to this culture of homophobia and elevated risk of violence. Historically, GLBT people have been made invisible, marginalized, demonized, or portrayed as unrealistic stereotypes by the media. These depictions have contributed to a culture that considers GLBT people to be deviant, abnormal, and/or pathological, and normalize the violence perpetrated against GLBT people. Homophobia also is internalized by GLBT people themselves and encourages self-hatred and shame. These feelings can be used by abusers against GLBT victims to control and further isolate them from the rest of society and their support systems.
From the 1890s to the 1930s, GLBT people and representations of them were rarely present in the media. When present, GLBT characters or themes were the object of ridicule and laughter. The characters’ no heterosexual identities were rarely named explicitly by their portrayers and only were hinted at through negative and degrading stereotypes. Following the 1930s, the media industry came under the scrutiny of the U.S. government, resulting in strict censorship guidelines that included a ban on overtly homosexual characters. In the 1960s and 1970s, the GLBT and feminist movements gained momentum and challenged dominant perceptions of gender and sexuality. GLBT people became more visible in mainstream media, but with this added visibility came the increased risk of violence. During the 1980s, news media finally began to cover the GLBT stories that should reach the level of national attention. However, many of the television, film, and news portrayals of GLBT people continued to represent the population as dangerous, psychotic, and violent.
In recent years, there has been an increase in the presence of GLBT people and characters in the media. This includes an increase in news coverage of violent crimes, also known as hate crimes, committed against people based on their GLBT identity or perceived GLBT identity. In 2004, there were over 1,400 reported incidents of hate crimes based on sexual orientation. Some GLBT critics continue to criticize mainstream media for their distillation of GLBT people and culture. This muted coverage continues to perpetuate homophobic perceptions of GLBT people as unnatural and amoral. Such coverage contributes to a larger homophobic culture that serves to rationalize a dislike for GLBT people and the acts of violence committed against them.
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- Gross, L. (2002). Up from invisibility: Lesbians, gay men, and the media in America. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Leventhal, B., & Lundy, S. (Eds.). (1999). Same-sex domestic violence: Strategies for change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Russo, V. (1987). The celluloid closet: Homosexuality in the movies. New York: HarperCollins.
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