Why do some cultures develop prejudice toward LGBT individuals?
February 15, 2016 9:07 AM   Subscribe

Some cultures foster majority-held, strongly anti-LGBT beliefs, and some do not, and religion doesn't seem to be the source of these attitudes, just a justification for them. Considering all this, what cultural forces account for anti-LGBT attitudes? What are the origins of these beliefs?

Historically, it seems as though some cultures have had no problem with LGBT individuals or same-sex sexual acts, while others harbored (and still harbor) a majority-held prejudice toward homosexuality to the point of state-sanctioned violence.

As with norms around slavery, religion doesn't seem to be the source of these attitudes, but is instead a justification for them. For example, as attitudes changed about slavery, people who had previously used the Bible to justify their beliefs later re-interpreted their religious texts and began to use the same book to denounce the people who didn't do the same. The norms, in other words, didn't come from the Bible; it was just a tool to enforce them.

If not religion, what cultural forces account for anti-LGBT attitudes? What are the origins of these beliefs? How do beliefs like those survive cultural selection?

Any links to sources would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
posted by Lownotes to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I feel like there's no overarching answer for all cultures. It would be individual for each one.. which means that religion can be the guiding force behind the prejudice.

I would start with how open a culture is about sexuality in general. The more open a culture is, the more accepting non-reproductive sex would be.

Don't forget that culture is fluid and changes. Cultures may have started out feeling blase about homosexual coupling, but I think it's disingenuous to say that religions like Christianity couldn't have changed that.

If not religion, what cultural forces account for anti-LGBT attitudes?

The only ones I can think of is disease.. and the ability to travel/technology. Either of these have major impacts on any aspect of culture.
posted by INFJ at 9:20 AM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mostly religion, but I mean, people are afraid of and tend to fear things that are different. Racism and homophobia are mostly alike in that regard.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:21 AM on February 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Colonialism and the export of Christian fundamentalism, especially in Africa.

In India, the Victorian mores that came with the British Raj somehow found their way into our Constitution and we've had a hell of a time getting them out.

No links bc I'm on my phone; I'll try and dig some up for you later when I'm home.
posted by Tamanna at 9:21 AM on February 15, 2016 [14 favorites]

You can't really say "if not religion," because religion and culture are intertwined, of course, and many religions are centered on, or significantly interrelated with, concepts of fertility, and control of fertility and sexuality. So, to come back to your angle, you could say there was a desire or environmental pressure to control fertility, which morphed into a culture and then a religion, or vice versa.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:27 AM on February 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

Best answer: So some cultures are more socially harmonious. Some may call this collectivistic. In such environments, family needs trump individual needs. This is in part due to the fact that resources are hard to aquire without relying on connections. So you need your family network to Daisy chain with other family networks to aquire resources (jobs, enrollment in school, etc.)
This impacts all sorts of things - strong monitoring and controlling of network members' (family) behavior is central to this.
So in such a system, you really need your family members to be good network members and 'being good' means not deviating from societal norms and discouraging and punishing those that deviate. Imagine it as... Daughter, your deviant political views are making you a less valuable network member! You're not helping us access resources!
So imagine an adult child is gay, deviating from societal norms. He won't be accepted by some people in society. He will have a harder time finding a job. He may bring gossip. That child isn't able to link into those network and thus isn't helping the family get ahead.

I hope I explained this clearly. This is my research area, although I generally focus on political deviance but the process is the same. I'm happy to send you some articles where I elaborate on this. It is hard for those us of that grew up in a culture where individual needs usually trump family needs to understand how this system takes over the brains of those who live in it. Imagine every choice you make and your internal cost/benefit analysis also having to factor in the impact on your family. It is unsurprising that people in such systems are very reluctant to take risks. My own research focuses on the circumstances under which people in such systems WILL take risks. And I will tell you, it takes incredible bravery to deviate - whether it be dissenting politically or being openly gay. Everything and everyone is telling you not to and punishes you when you do. And then you're alone. Your family shuns you. And remember, you need these people to access resources, so you're doubly screwed.
posted by k8t at 9:55 AM on February 15, 2016 [25 favorites]

I would challenge the initial assumption that "some do not". Even cultures that literally have an accepted "third gender" tradition tend to take poor care of/kill those people at really high rates. There are some countries and regions that, in the most recent 20-50 years or so, have set themselves a high enough standard for human rights that discrimination is expressly prevented by good and functioning regulation (regulation that is required every day to prevent it, it's not an extinct behavior), but you will still find higher rates of violent crime and public protest against them by some parts of the population (see: Scandinavia).

The answer for the actual discrimination is "othering." If 10% of the population is gay (I think this is a pretty random number, but probably works okay-ish in a "in some way known to the rest of the population" estimate), that's 90% of the people going "how come you're not doing things my way, huh? what's wrong with you? why can't you be like the rest of us? why can't you conform so I can be comfortable? why are you making me feel wrong by doing something differently than me?"

It's not much different from a large percentage of the population being a certain color (or, you know, coming from a tradition where they consider themselves majority even when they're not by actual numbers, and also having guns and diseases to make sure they maintain their position) and looking at the other and going, "nope, must be something wrong with you lot." People with disabilities, people who don't dress the same, people who adhere to a minority religion, speak a different language, or are just simply not like "us" in some way.

I've always assumed it was a vestigial predator-prey neurobiological thing, something we ought to have moved far beyond as a society but that pattern recognition circuit identifies something different and many people assume that means "cheetah" and that action needs to be taken. Being evolved enough to know that it doesn't is still optional.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:18 AM on February 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Well, at least from the Judeo-Christian perspective it's not the homosexuality that's the sin, so much as the non-peocreative sex. (Even in the story of Onan, his sin wasn't 'spilling his seed' per se, but failing to conceive a posthumous heir for his deceased brother with said brother's widow because he pulled out. ) In the context of the time, when the Hebrews were a wandering band trying desperately to increase their numbers, but not being too keen on 'outsiders', having lots of babies was top priorty. Love or enjoyment didn't enter into the equation. The rules were kept by subsequent religious generations and offshoots while the context was lost. Perhaps in societies where there wasn't much need for high fertility rates, it didn't matter if Adam and Steve paired off and we're never fruitful. (For the record I'm an atheist, but I went to a Jesuit university and have taken many courses in theology /philosophy /history).

Also, a lot of people aren't. .. evolved?...mature? Enough to separate their personal preferences from what they think should be legal. So, if they think two dudes having anal sex is yucky, they will try to make it so no one can do it, and that's it. It's the same kids who were tripping other kids in the school hallways because they weren't wearing cool sneakers. Except now they're running for president.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:23 AM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd say religion doesn't answer the question so much as defer it. If religions are heteronormative, then there are two results: 1. God is heteronormative; or 2. The further question of why the culture developed a heteronormative religion, which puts us squarely back to the original question.

Or: the issue of religion strikes me as something of a distraction from the question.
posted by jpe at 10:53 AM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Remembering as I write - I think anthropologists of the middle of the last century might have looked at responses to individual people, phenomena, and events that don't easily fit rigidly binary classification systems (e.g. male/female gender roles, in many times and places, or heterosexuality and homosexuality).

Mary Douglas, talking initially about food, in Purity and Danger, suggested that anyone or thing that falls between categories in a binary system might be considered "taboo" or "unclean", because (in part) it is experienced as threatening to upset the social order. (Which might be in place for other than symbolic reasons.) In Douglas' theory, in a culture structured by a binary system, individuals or experiences are experienced by a norm-conforming majority as needing to be controlled. Notions of purity invested in those categorizations and rigid norms, through religious and other cultural discourses, might inject the flavour of disgust into the emotional responses of explicit norm-conformers to "taboo" experiences or individuals (whether conformers are personally and secretly be at odds with those norms or not.)

A more contemporary take; more comprehensive background around these ideas on p 665 of Theory in Social and Cultural Anthropology: An Encyclopedia (can't link to Google Books for some reason, but you might be able to read a bit there if you can find it).
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:53 AM on February 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Human sexuality is a huge taboo for most cultures, and the majority of cultural norms in most places has been shaped by one or another religion and their mutilated, distorted concept of sexual behavior. Not surprisingly, it goes hand in hand with misogyny, the places that are the most intolerant towards homosexuality are also very misogynistic. I think that homosexuality is seen as a huge threat to their status quo by patriarchal societies, and most societies today , or at least those are that very homophobic, are very patriarchal (Ancient Greece included, no other concept is more misunderstood and twisted than homosexuality in ancient Greece).

Works of feminist authors might provide you with unexpected insight in the matter I think. But I don't think you can understand this issue without considering religion, religion has always been a tool of prescribing and controlling sexual behavior.
posted by ariadne_88 at 11:09 AM on February 15, 2016

Best answer: Hating Gays: An Overview of Scientific Studies
posted by andoatnp at 11:14 AM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Misogyny. Hatred of the female. I heard this reasoning in the documentary "For the Bible Tells Me So" and I have to say it made a lot of sense.
posted by pjsky at 11:30 AM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Google the phrase "Buck Breaking". During slavery, some white male overseers publicly raped black male slaves, in order to force compliance and instil fear in the other enslaved people who were made to watch. It's not implausible that distaste for MsM sexual acts might linger as an after-effect of this kind of treatment.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:33 PM on February 15, 2016

Colonialism and the export of Christian fundamentalism, especially in Africa.

Yes, great answer.

The British colonial origins of anti-gay laws (Washington Post link)

See also: Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code

The anti-gay church in Uganda:

Kampya John Kaoma researches sexuality and religion. He says Uganda’s anti-gay law started after some meetings in Uganda in 2009, organised by US Christian conservatives eg. Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, Rick Warren and Lou Engel. Kaoma went to some of the meetings. He says they inspired other US Christian rightwing groups, like the American Center for Law and Justice (started by televangelist Pat Robertson) and Family Watch International (led by Mormons) to grow in Africa.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:47 PM on February 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

"Historically, it seems as though some cultures have had no problem with LGBT individuals or same-sex sexual acts"

I am not aware of any such culture unless you are going to define culture very, very narrowly, like as specific social strata in specific cities at specific times. If that's what you mean it seems like "subculture" might be a better word.

"Considering all this, what cultural forces account for anti-LGBT attitudes? What are the origins of these beliefs?"

The persecution of LGBT people is just a specific case of the general rule that humans are very good at sorting each other into ingroup/outgroup and that nearly every ingroup contains a substantial number of people willing to terrorize and/or destroy outgroup members. Identifiable GLBT persons in all cultures are outgroup members, at least along this particular axis. And so everywhere, one sees anti-LGBT persecution to varying extents.

Also, what Lyn Never said.
posted by great_radio at 3:49 PM on February 15, 2016

I think it boils down to "we hate anyone different from us." Same goes for pretty much anything: women, different colored skin, disability, double jointed thumbs, anything that makes you stand out from the herd. It takes a pretty evolved society to not be all "It's different, that threatens me, let's kill it!" People have to get comfortable with "weird" and "different" before they can get out of their first reflex of ATTACK.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:21 PM on February 15, 2016

Best answer: If not religion, what cultural forces account for anti-LGBT attitudes? What are the origins of these beliefs? How do beliefs like those survive cultural selection?

Because patriarchy? Controlling access to sex is a way to control the individual, and when a person violates any sexual norm it's a reason to crack down on them. And this process self-perpetuates, reinforcing status hierarchies and reinforcing cultural norms.

This nytimes essay, The Sexual Misery of the Arab World, is a good picture of how it works although it doesn't address LGBT.

A temple was worth a dozen barracks; a militia man carrying a gun could control a small unarmed crowd only for as long as he was present; however, a single priest could put a policeman inside the head of every one of their flock, for ever.

From Matter by Iain M Banks

posted by sebastienbailard at 8:01 PM on February 15, 2016

I'd be careful of completely blaming this on colonialism. Here in Malaysia the attitude is that LGBTQness is a colonial invention and to truly decolonize is to get rid of us.

The collectivism stuff k8t talks about is super true.
posted by divabat at 5:57 AM on February 16, 2016

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