Why does homosexuality scare so many people?

The gay healers

Status: 04/05/2014 3:15 p.m. | archive
On May 6, 1999, Reinhard and Felix seal their "marriage" with a kiss. You gave your yes-word at the registry office in Hamburg-Eimsb├╝ttel.

In May 1999 the first lesbian and gay couples signed the "Hamburg marriage". And today, 15 years later? Are gays and lesbians now treated equally? NDR.de spoke about it with the Kiel psychologist Anne Bachmann. She says the level of discrimination is still appalling.

Bachmann works as a psychologist at the University of Kiel and has led a comprehensive research project on the experiences of discrimination among gay and bisexual men. In a recently published study, she reports on the effects on the quality of life of those affected. According to this, the discrimination has health-endangering consequences for those affected.

NDR.de: In the past few years, homosexuals have been granted many rights. Is the issue of discrimination still relevant at all?

Anne Bachmann: Structural discrimination - by the state - has actually been largely reduced, although there are still individual areas in which homosexuals are discriminated against, for example in adoption.

"What came to light in our study shocked me," says Kiel psychologist Anne Bachmann.

It is worse when it comes to social discrimination. More than two thirds of the respondents reported discrimination - that they were insulted, verbally abused or harassed. Or that they are excluded from activities because of their sexual orientation, for example. Most often this happens among friends or at work. However, around a third of those surveyed also experienced physical violence - that is, they were slapped, choked, kicked or sexually abused.

I wasn't at all aware of that before we did this study. What came to light there, what people described, shocked me. That was also shocking because in recent years we have repeatedly described the dire consequences of discrimination for those affected in psychological research.

What are the consequences of discrimination?

Bachmann: First of all, the quality of life falls, the satisfaction with life. And that can have consequences for mental health: Experiences of discrimination significantly increase the likelihood of mental illness. They can lead to depression or social withdrawal. Those affected have less of a feeling of being recognized and respected by society. They often feel like second class people. Often the gay or lesbian communities - associations or the local scene - then serve as a shelter. The more discrimination is experienced, the more popular they are.

At the same time, fear and insecurity grow through experiences of discrimination. Many say that they are actually quite happy that the situation for homosexuals has improved. But discrimination gives rise to fears that this can change again quickly, that the social environment for gays and lesbians will deteriorate again. And this uncertainty is also detrimental to the psyche.

Are there people who are particularly hard hit by discrimination?

Bachmann: Our study found that those who have a low net income or who are unemployed are particularly vulnerable to discrimination. We don't know exactly why that is. One possible explanation could be that a high income may protect against discrimination. In addition, homosexuality seems to be more accepted in big cities. In our survey we saw a clear urban-rural divide: the bigger the place, the more they feel accepted to lesbians and gays. This is one of the reasons why many emigrate from small towns.

But we have also found that people experience discrimination more often and worse if they do not have a positive relationship with themselves, or a healthy relationship to their sexual orientation. Those who have not developed a positive self-image have often been taught by their family or social environment that they are "not normal" or even "sick".

Why is it that discrimination against homosexuals is still so widespread?

Bachmann: Often, discrimination is based on processes of identity development. It is a deeply human process to categorize yourself into groups and to set your group apart from others. The others are then often perceived as a threat. This is why it is so difficult to change prejudices - especially when the other group - as with homosexuals - is a minority. If you no longer see others as strangers, prejudices and discrimination disappear. And that works best through education or by experiencing for yourself that they are not so strange at all.

This means that gays and lesbians should be as open as possible about their sexuality - no hiding, no retreat. This increases acceptance. If you have people in your neighborhood who are openly gay, or if lesbians and gays go hand in hand and kiss in public, it becomes more normal. And then prejudice and discrimination will also disappear. We have to get there.

The interview was conducted by Christian Baars, NDR.de.

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Panorama - the reporters | 05/06/2014 | 9:15 pm