Bil Browning

A reader question: What's the difference?

Filed By Bil Browning | November 28, 2010 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: reader question, Salvation Army

My post about why you shouldn't give to the Salvation Army this holiday season was very popular. It's been shared over 5,000 times on whatthedif.gifFacebook and almost 300 times on Twitter.

Several of the visitors to that post are new to Bilerico Project and I'm guessing that the bulk of them aren't part of the LGBT community since they've come via StumbleUpon, Google, or other social networking sites. Many commenters have left their own experiences with the Salvation Army in the comments section, but one recent writer asked a question so good it deserves to be lifted up for more conversation. Pat asks:

Please, kindly clarify for me the difference between homophobic behavior and disapproving behavior. Emphasis on kindly, please.

I'll be jumping in the comments section later with my answer, but I'm curious what other Projectors will have to say. If you need context, check out the comments section of the original post.


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I'm not sure I even understand the question.

Is it asking to differentiate discriminator behavior out of hate and discriminatory behavior out of ignorance?

Check the comments section of the previous post, Matt.

The discussion has turned to the fact that the Salvation Army is an evangelical church who's religious teaches that gay sex is sinful. They disapprove of it.

Now, how does that translate into real life? If you're a celibate gay you can join their church (but not be a minister). If you're gay and go to their homeless shelter, they're supposed to shelter you - no matter what your sexual orientation.

But what if you show up with your partner and ask for help with the rent? Should they help you based on their beliefs that center around whether or not sex is happening? If they turn you down, is that homophobic behavior or disapproving behavior?

The line between "disapproving" of homosexuality and the flip side of active homophobia is unclear to our reader.

From previous comments in the thread and how they arrived at the post, I'm assuming that they're asking a sincere question - and more than likely "disapprove" of being gay due to their religious beliefs but don't want to actively discriminate/participate in homophobic behavior.

I'm not sure of the distinction being made between homophobic behavior and disapproving behavior. The person who made the comment didn't explain their own view on the matter.

I know some Christian conservatives object to the word "homophobic" being applied to them because they view the word in its meaning of 30-40 years ago. At that time, the word referred to a person who expresses anger and revulsion towards gays and lesbians because he (or she) is uncomfortable with their own homosexual feelings. This discomfort, combined with a rigid rejection of homosexuality, was believed to cause a cognitive dissonance which was expressed in anger towards homosexuals... because that person feared being gay themself, and hated themself for it.

I'm not sure that is what commenter meant when he or she made that distinction. But perhaps it is?
I think Christian conservatives want to separate between what they see as discriminatory practices versus unjustified discrimination. My sense, and I may be wrong, is that such conservatives want to reserve the word "homophobic" for attitudes which result in acts of violence.

ohmygosh... I goofed. I left out a crucial word in one of my sentences. It should have read:

"I think Christian conservatives want to separate between what they see as legitimate discriminatory practices versus unjustified discrimination."

There is no difference. Disapproval necessitates a moral judgment, and that makes it homophobia. Disapproving of homosexuality is like disapproving of snow. You can disapprove all you want, but there it is. You can't argue with those people because there is no other side to argue. Homosexuality is just a natural, morally neutral fact. They're just ignorant and wrong.

"Disapproving of homosexuality is like disapproving of snow. You can disapprove all you want, but there it is."

ROFL! That is awesome Steven! I love that!

"homophobic behavior" is a wider category that "disapproving" is a part of, as well as anti-LGB legislation, violent hate crimes, and so forth.

If that's still difficult for anyone to understand, consider applying the same question to other areas of oppression. What is the difference between disapproving of socializing with the lower races and being racist? What's the difference between of women having jobs outside the home and sexism? What's the difference between disapproving of those who don't believe in your one true god and religious discrimination?

One could argue that there are worse forms of bigotry than voicing disapproval, but that doesn't mean it isn't a form of bigotry.

In a context the born-again crowd might understand, albeit (perhaps) not concur:

Homophobic behavior hates the sinner AND the sin.

Disapproving behavior is likely only one shade less offensive.

Kinda like the phrases "ugly" and "uglier." If you're the subject of either one, it's pretty, uh...ugly.

If your questioner is sincere, I ask this question of him/her:

Why does it matter? Each word involves judging someone. In God's eyes, judging is not our venue. Period.

And God had that whole "love thy neighbor" thing goin, too.

Too many religious "leaders," of all stripes, split hairs with definitions in contexts such as this. How about we get back to the baseline issue:

Why are we hating, judging, disliking...anyone who's different, if their behavior isn't harming anyone, and, in this case, involves loving someone else?

I'm not advocating that we turn the other cheek when someone threatens harm or carries out foul acts. I'm not that Christian--yet.

Rodney King's question, whatever the circumstance in which it was asked, is pertinent.

Disapproving behavior is politely and respectively disagreeing without trying to force your opinion either physically or by law. Homophobic behavior is using unjustified, unproven or volatile speech or physical action to deprive another human being their inalienable right to "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

By making that distinction, you allow this ridiculous discussion to continue. How does one "disagree" with homosexuality? Homosexuality is a natural phenomenon. There's no option of disagreeing with it. It just is.

One can disagree with homosexuality on religious grounds.Just like your snow example homosexuality is in the bible you can disagree all you want but there it is.Like it or not people have the right to religious freedom the way I described disapproving behavior allows them that without allowing their belief to be applied to us.

Yes, it's true they're allowed to hate us all they want on religious grounds as long as they keep it to themselves. But it's still homophobia.

Here's a link to a short story that I wrote in 2008 expressing how I view a religious right parent and a friend talking about her child's suicide. http://bigclosetr.us/topshelf/fiction/7570/it-worked-out-best Warning if you are disturbed by suicide and religious and parental ignorance don't read it! For those who do I wouldn't be surprised if you see them reacting the same way, if only the religious conservatives could also but I suppose hell would freeze over first.

"Disapproving" of homosexuality or any behaviors/lifestyles associated with same-sex sexual orientation is only made possible by underlying homophobic attitudes.

As Steven has said, it's ridiculous to disapprove of homosexuality itself because it's a morally neutral fact. As Steven has also said, "disapproving" of homosexuality or "homosexual behaviors" involves a moral judgment. In order to make a moral judgment about something morally neutral, you have to hold the belief that that morally neutral thing is actually immoral or less valid than what you view as normal or morally good.

To say this in less abstract terms, saying "Homosexuality is immoral" is a reflection of underlying homophobic beliefs in the inferiority of homosexuality and people who are/identify as homosexuals.

There isn't a difference. If you disapprove of someone because they have the terrible presumption to exist, then you are a bigot.

And with most marginalised group we wouldn't hesitate to say this. If someone said they disapproved of women or people of colour or jews then we wouldn't hesitate to call them the bigoted fool they are.

If they said things like "I disapprove of women wearing trousers" or "I disapprove of women working outside the home" or "I disapprove of black people being promoted over white people" or "I disapprove of jews celebrating hanukkah rather than christmas" we would leap on them so fast their feet wouldn't touch the floor - and rightly so!

But when they disapprove of gay people, of homosexuality, of gay relationships? Oh it's only an opinion then! It's just disapproval! Not prejudice, not bigotry, oh no!

But what if your saying you disapprove of Christians practicing their religion. Isn't that bigoted at some level.I can let them them practice their beliefs but I shouldn't be forced to live by them.Religious beliefs are and should be personal because each person interprets their belief or non belief in their own way.

But religious is not and should not be legitimate grounds for infringing on the rights of others, especially in a multicultural nation like the United States with a constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.

For example, the Christian Bible says that homosexuals should be killed. However, it is still illegal to kill homosexuals in this country (as it should be). Your religion may say that homosexuality is a sin, but your personal religion does not give you the right to infringe on the rights of others who may not subscribe to your personal religion.

I would also like to make the point that just because a view is enshrined in your religion does not mean it is not bigoted or homophobic. The Christian Bible says that homosexuality (and people who have same-sex sex, particularly men who have sex with men) is an abomination. That is a moral judgment that claims homosexuality is inferior to heterosexuality. That is bigoted and homophobic, meaning either your omnibenevolent God is homophobic and bigoted, or the Bible is not the word of your omnibenevolent God and was instead written by homophobic men.

I am not Christian identified and if you reread everything I posted you should see I basically said and agreed with everything you wrote. If you follow the link to my story you will see I am very much in the LGBT corner on this.I see how damaging religion can be because I've suffered from it.

If Christians practicing their religion means condemning ME then YES I disapprove of it.

If they want to live their own lives according to their holy tenets then that's their business - but they don't have the right to judge mine and if they do so they are bigots

But they have no right to judge my life or my marriage - and I do not have to respect their "disapproval" of my life, their judgement or their prejudice.

Bigotry is not suddenly cured of being bigotry just because a holy book is involved. Christianity has been used to justify misogyny, racism and homophobia. The fact that you wave a bible while being a hateful bigot doesn't make you any less of a hateful bigot


It doesn't matter if homophobic opinions are shaped by religion, by aithority figures or because the cat always hisses at gay people and you really trust little fee-fee's judge of character - it's still a homophobic opinion to treat us as less, regard us as less or respect us less than straight people

"...but you must tolerate bigotry! or you'll be bigoted yourself!"

Somehow I don't expect any member of an oppressed class to particularly care about the sacred right of the bigoted to be bigoted towards them. Perhaps we can have that conversation once we're on even footing.

No. We are not disapproving of people practicing their religion. We are saying they are legally, scientifically, and morally wrong and wrong to act in such a way when science has disproven the fiction of a particular religious tenet (such as believing the sun goes around a flat earth). One does not take a religious tenet and apply it to people who don't believe in that particular person's religion. That's just ignorant. We don't live in a Christian theocracy, and until we do, religious tenets are not law.

I could disapprove of heterosex, but that doesn't make it right for me to go around riling up the masses to legislate against it, causing young people to commit suicide and other people to bash and lynch straight people.

People can practice their religion all they want, as long as it doesn't deprive me of my Constitutional rights to life, liberty and the persuit of happiness and equality under the law. If their religious beliefs are imposed on others, then that's immoral when legislated and illegal according to our Constitution and recent law, no matter what the majority says. That is why we have a balance of powers, to ensure that the tyranny of the majority is checked.

As kindly as I can put it. Homophobic people believe gay people should be miserable. People who disapprove of homosexuality don't think gay people should be happy, or at least they don't deserve to be as happy as heterosexuals.

The latter is in the same vein as believing certain people carry the mark of Cain, or women are cursed because of Eve, or Jews are cursed. Gays are essentially cursed by their homosexuality and as such do not deserve to be happy (read: equal) due to their curse.

It may very well be unconscious because a lot of people don't follow their beliefs to their logical conclusion. Sexuality and the bonds of romantic intimacy clearly brings happiness to heterosexuals. If you disapprove of homosexuality then the intent is to discourage gay people from even having a sexuality or a partner, thus discouraging them from having same joy that heterosexuals are allowed to enjoy. Insert your reason here, because the only thing I can come up with is they just don't think gay people deserve to be as happy as heterosexuals.

I know there's some people who still believe that homosexuality is a choice. But those who are saying gay people should just be celibate have obviously accepted the fact that gay people can't be straight, but haven't yet accepted that gay people can be happy even though they're "cursed" with the gay.

This one's easy, Bil. Disapproving behavior is when I do it, homophobic behavior is when some other, nasty, worse, and possibly imaginary person does it.

The distinction between "disapproving" and "homophobic" is razor thin - they are both very personal.

In essence, what's being said is "I disapprove of YOU."

Whether its religious based or not, it is still a personal opinion about another person's being. It's a personal affront, and repugnant any way you slice it - just as disapproving of short (or fill in the blank) people would be.

It's hetero-superiority at its finest and no different than white superiority was when it also was backed up by specious bible verses, and thus justification to discriminate, treat as less-than, and in some cases actually harm and kill.

The "snow" analogy was cute and accurate, but I think our very existence on the planet, our right to enjoy life, liberty and pursue happiness is little more pressing than crystalized water.

Don't diss snow. There's not much, if anything, on earth that's more important than water.

I think the question can lead to a more fundamental issue of thinking critically for oneself. What I am hearing is the attempt of some to reconcile their personal values of fairness against religious teachings that tell them to "disapprove" of gays. There is no reconciliation other than to drop the ideas that you do not personally agree with. Begin to question where these ideas came from (hint: they came from other human beings). Think for yourself!

california panda | November 29, 2010 2:09 PM

I may be off base here but here's my take on it.

Upon discovery or suspicion of a behavior in another of which the observer disapproves, several actions are possible:

1. The observer may decline to engage the offender in any meaningful way -- this is called "shunning".

2. The observer may attempt to disadvantage the offender through the withholding of goods or services, or withholding affection, companionship, etc. for the adoption of the offending behavior.

3. The observer may attempt to punish or "correct" the offending behavior through various means including isolation, public humiliation, insult, physical violence, brutality, degradation, or other means calculated to dissuade the offending behavior in the future.

These acts may also attempt, through a very public display to send a "message" to others in the "offending" class that they too are not acceptable and are likely to receive the same treatment at some future time if discovered.

The difference between homophobic and other types of disapproval (i.e racial disapproval, religious disapproval, sect disapproval, political disapproval, etc) is that the acts of disapproval are targeted toward individuals whom the observer believes, knows, or suspects to be homosexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, queer, or otherwise non-heteronormative, or gender non-conforming. In other words, it is an attempt to enforce a rigid social view of sex and gender beliefs by the observer on the observed.

I may have left out a few points, and missed a few actions but I think this gets the point across.

How is "racial disapproval" different from the homophobic "disapproval" of homosexuality? It seems to me "racial disapproval" is just another bigoted way of justifying negativity towards a morally neutral feature of another human being.

california panda | November 30, 2010 3:21 AM

In the U.S. race, creed, color, religion, sex, etc. are normally categories protected by law. Discrimination based on those disapprovals are commonly referred to authorities for judicial or legal action. Unfortunately, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, trans status, or other non-heteronormative behavior is not often protected. The actions taken by the discriminator should still be considered bigotry, however. It's just that the individuals being targeted by bigoted behavior are left pretty much legally defenseless. I didn't want to bring up any "moral" basis of discrimination, or disapproval because it opens a whole new can of worms on the sources of disapproval. To the victim the effect of the bigotry is generally given more importance than the source of it. To the perpetrator, the source is usually given more weight to justify the actions. When we get into "Morality" vs "Immorality" we just get into the various smokescreens set up to obscure the very personal nature of the acts against the victims.

Perspective! "You Suck!" is Different than "You Suck?" Same words different perspective!