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Religious Discrimination: Belief and a thing called Love

by Taniya Dutta

Standfirst:

To say that sexual and gender minorities receive a lot of undeserved hate is an understatement, but where does this animosity come from, and is it connected to fundamental religious beliefs?

Content

The notion of conflict between one’s freedom of religion and the rights of sexual minorities is founded on the premise that the latter is incompatible with the former, which admittedly has been the case for much of human history (Endsjø, 2020). There is no universal religious doctrine against sexual and gender minorities (Endsjø, 2020). Nevertheless, a study by Hans (2012) found that practically every respondent with a negative opinion towards homosexuality cited religion as a basis of its perceived immorality. Only a few positive respondents cited religious views to explain their attitudes towards homosexuality, claiming that all people, regardless of their orientation, had a right to exist according to God (Hans, 2012). This suggests a correlation between adherence to religious beliefs and bias against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community (Hans, 2012). This is, of course, not to claim that all religious individuals are intolerant of sexual and gender minorities, but rather that the underlying possible reasons for such a correlation should be examined.

Religiosity is the degree to which one accepts and practises the beliefs of a specific recognised denomination and/or church (Finlay & Walther, 2003). It can also be understood as the way one defines ‘God’ and their corresponding personal relationship to their spirituality. People who actively visit religious institutions regularly and interpret the religious texts in their literal meaning typically have negative attitudes towards people identifying as a member of a sexual or gender minority (Roggemans, 2015). Religious doctrinal or fundamental teaching can be a significant factor in condition stigma or negative perceptions against sexual and gender minority individuals, both for cisgender/heterosexual followers and LGBTQ+ members themselves. Non-affirming religious contexts may continue to create and sustain internalised homophobia or transphobia if the LGBTQ+ person continues to attend. Therefore, it is likely that LGBTQ+ people are less likely to actively participate in their religion as compared to heterosexual individuals (Hudson-Sharp & Metcalf, 2016).

Internalised homophobia is when a sexual minority person adapts society's negative views and opinions about homosexuality and directs these attitudes against oneself (Bernes & Meyer, 2012). This can also occur for transgender individuals who experience internalised transphobia (Bockting et al., 2020), directed towards their gender identity rather than homosexuality. Individuals may experience both depending on their orientation and identity. Internalised homophobia and transphobia are particularly troubling stressors because most anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs are developed through normal socialisation in our society. As a result, avoiding these socialised attitudes can be extraordinarily difficult. According to the minority stress theory, people belonging to the LGBTQ+ community are susceptible to greater stress and consequently poorer mental health because of the exposure to stigma and prejudice as compared to heterosexual individuals (Meyer, 2003).

As mentioned before, there are many other factors that affect how one forms an opinion about homosexuality and the transgender community. Education is one such vital contributing factor. With acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, highly educated individuals are more welcoming than those who have not received the same level of education (La Roi & Mandemakers, 2018). Campbell & Horowitz (2016) propose this results from a greater willingness to pursue and accept new knowledge, alongside interactions with diverse students and peers at higher education institutions.

Another significant factor that determines whether one accepts LGBTQ+ people is their place of origin. Research conducted in 2020 by Jacob Poushter and Nicholas Kent and published on Pew Research Center shows that although there have been major changes in norms and laws on the rights of LGBTQ+ people and same-sex marriage, public opinion regarding the acceptance of homosexuality is largely determined by economic development, region, and country of origin (Poushter & Kent, 2020). Countries and regions with diverse cultures, such as the United States, among others, have public opinions that are more accommodating of LGBTQ+ people than cultures that are relatively homogenous.


Religion undeniably has a powerful impact on the prevailing social attitudes towards sexual and gender minorities—largely negative—but those who identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community still coexist with and follow religious practices. It is important to recognise that religious traditions cannot be interpreted as static and explicitly hetero-normative, as evidenced by the existence of LGBTQ+ embracing religious communities. For example, Sikhism has indicated a willingness to accept LGBTQ+ practitioners (Singh, 2021). LGBTQ+ people can find peace in their religion. There are no universal religious decrees concerning sexual identity and expression. While adherents may interpret a significant number of religious texts as a criticism of modern conceptions of homosexuality, isolating LGBTQ+ people is against the common religious duty to love and respect all persons. There are beneficial connections between religious practice and psychological well-being in the general population, according to the research (Hamblin, 2014). Findings demonstrate that practising religion during times of illness or other stressful life events is linked to improved physical and mental health (Hamblin, 2014). This is not conclusive as to a direct correlation, of course, demonstrates there is something unique in the social groups, support, and belief that is central to many religions. Understanding these texts by only their literal meaning, without taking into consideration the common and most integral message of all faiths—to be respectful towards all humans—is imprudent.

Social research into attitudes surrounding LGBTQ+ individuals also suggests that support for authoritarianism and gender traditionalism are both linked to homophobic and transphobic views, in part because of their historic connection with religion. Right-wing authoritarianism is a socio-political feature characterised by a willingness to follow authority figures to an extreme extent, a firm commitment to traditional values, and hostility towards groups perceived to be breaching these principles. It is linked to a variety of prejudices, including negative attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people (Wilkinson, 2004). Hence, people who only act under the instructions given by the authority figures (in this case, non-affirmative religious beliefs), would have more negative attitudes towards people with different sexual identities (Roggemans, 2015). Traditionalism is frequently cited as a mediating component in the explanation of the link between religion and anti-homosexual views. Homosexuality violates the customary division of roles between men and women, which is a vital value in any traditional religious system (Duck & Hunsberger, 1999). Correspondingly, people who believe in traditional gender roles are less accepting of the LGBTQ+ community (Roggemans, 2015).

In conclusion, several factors contribute to how religion can affect an individual’s attitudes toward LGBTQ+. These include gender belief systems and traditionalism, religiosity, one’s commitment to following authority figures, and exposure to anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs during childhood. However, with increasing modernisation and education, there is growing acceptance of sexual and gender minorities in society, though there is still a long way to go. Nevertheless, at times when stigma and prejudice seem to take over self-expression of sexual identity, it may be helpful to seek solace in one’s religion, provided, of course, that it is affirming.

References

Barnes, D. M., & Meyer, I. H. (2012). Religious affiliation, internalized homophobia, and mental health in lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. The American journal of orthopsychiatry, 82(4), 505–515. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1939-0025.2012.01185.x

Bockting, W. O., Miner, M. H., Swinburne Romine, R. E., Dolezal, C., Robinson, B., Rosser, B., & Coleman, E. (2020). The Transgender Identity Survey: A Measure of Internalized Transphobia. LGBT health, 7(1), 15–27. https://doi.org/10.1089/lgbt.2018.0265

Endsjø, D. Ø. (2020). The other way around? How freedom of religion may protect LGBTQ+ rights. The International Journal of Human Rights, 24(10), 1681-1700.

Hamblin, R. J., & Gross, A. M. (2014). Religious faith, homosexuality, and psychological well-being: A theoretical and empirical review. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, 18(1), 67-82.

Hans, Jason D., Megan Kersey and Claire Kimberly. (2012). Self-Perceived Origins of Attitudes toward Homosexuality. Journal of Homosexuality, 59(1): 4-17.

Hudson-Sharp, N., & Metcalf, H. (2016). Inequality among lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender groups in the UK: a review of evidence. London: National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

Kuptsevych, A. (2014). The influence of religiosity on the attitudes towards homosexuality among college students. Minnesota State University, Mankato.

La Roi, C., & Mandemakers, J. J. (2018). Acceptance of homosexuality through education? Investigating the role of education, family background and individual characteristics in the United Kingdom. Social Science Research, 71, 109-128.

Meyer, I. H. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological bulletin, 129(5), 674.

Poushter, J., & Kent, N. (2020). The global divide on homosexuality persists. Pew Research Center, 25.

Roggemans, L., Spruyt, B., Droogenbroeck, F. V., & Keppens, G. (2015). Religion and negative attitudes towards homosexuals: An analysis of urban young people and their attitudes towards homosexuality. Young, 23(3), 254-276.

Singh, S. (2021). Sukhdeep Singh: “I Want To Assure Other Young Queer Sikhs That One Could Be Gay and Sikh”. Salzburgglobal.org. Retrieved 20 August 2022, from https://www.salzburgglobal.org/news/latest-news/article/sukhdeep-singh-i-want-to-assure-other-young-queer-sikhs-that-one-could-be-gay-and-sikh.

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