Myths That Stigmatize LGBTQ People
Negative ideas about LGBTQ individuals are often rooted in myths, stereotypes, and misinformation. Consider how your views might have been shaped by the myths below.
Myth 1: Homosexuality is a choice.
Reality: Sexual orientation is caused by factors such as genetics and the biology of brain development.
Parenting, peer pressure, and religious struggles are not causes of homosexuality or heterosexuality.
Homosexuality is no more a choice or decision than being straight. Asking a gay person, “When did you decide to be gay?” is similar to asking a heterosexual person, “When did you decide to be attracted to people of the opposite sex?”
Scientific data indicate that sexual orientation (homosexuality or heterosexuality, i.e. gay or straight) is biologically based.1 While there is more to learn, studies suggest that what leads to a person being gay or straight lies within our genetics (i.e. DNA), epigenetics (i.e. how factors affect our genes), and what occurs in the developing brain before birth.2
Myth 2: Homosexuality can be “cured.”
Reality: Therapy cannot change sexual orientation, and “reparative” therapy can be harmful.
Therapies that claim to change lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons into heterosexuals (e.g. “conversion” and “reparative” therapy) have been discredited. A task force within the American Psychological Association that reviewed years of research on therapeutic efforts determined that it is highly unlikely sexual orientation can be changed. In addition, the leading mental health and counseling organizations recommend against the use of conversion or reparative therapies (see below).
Exodus International, the largest North American reparative therapy organization, shut down in 2013 after 37 years of failure. At the press conference announcing this closure, the president, Alan Chambers, apologized for “…years of undue judgment by the organization and the Christian Church as a whole…We’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical…From a Judeo-Christian perspective, gay, straight, or otherwise, we’re all prodigal sons and daughters. Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom.”
These organizations that recommend against the use of conversion therapy and reparative therapy include:
- American Medical Association
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- American Psychiatric Association
- American College of Physicians
- Pan American Health Organization
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (PAHO): Regional Office of the World Health Organization
- American Psychological Association
- American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry
- American Counseling Association
- American Psychoanalytic Association
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
- American School Counselor Association
- American School Health Association
- National Association of Social Workers
Myth 3: The parents did something wrong.
Reality: Nothing you did caused your child to be gay. However, the way you respond will have a huge impact on your child’s well-being.
Self-blame is often the initial response of parents who learn that their child is lesbian, gay, or bisexual. This is not true. A child’s sexual orientation is not learned from anyone, including parents. Just as a parent cannot cause a child to be heterosexual, or straight, a parent cannot cause a child to be gay. (See Myth #1)
However, parent responses after a child comes out can contribute to the way life turns out for that child, now and into adulthood. You have the chance to protect your child from homelessness, depression, and suicide,4 as well as high-risk, self-destructive behaviors that result in drug use and sexually-transmitted disease. How? See “Parent Actions that Help.”
Myth 4: My child might turn other children gay, either in the family or community.
Reality: Sexual orientation is not learned from peers.
Although children and adolescents may imitate or influence each other, sexual orientation is not something that is learned from peers. Others might come out to your child, not because they are “recruited,” but because they recognize a common bond.
Myth 5: An LGBTQ person is a danger to children.
Reality: LGBTQ people are no more likely to molest children than anyone else.
This slur is untrue. LGBTQ people have the same protective instincts for children as heterosexuals. Sexual attraction to children is not homosexuality but Pedophilia, a psychiatric disorder.
This claim is often pointed at gay men in particular but research shows gay men are no more likely than straight men to sexually abuse children.5 In fact, the Child Molestation Research & Prevention Institute notes that 90% of child molesters target children in their network of family and friends, and the majority are men married to women.5 A review of research by Dr. Gary Herek found no evidence that gay men molest children at higher rates than heterosexual men.6
A major promoter of this myth, discredited psychologist Paul Cameron, is the most ubiquitous purveyor of anti-gay junk science. Though his claims have been debunked repeatedly and very publicly, Cameron’s work is still widely relied upon by anti-gay organizations.5
Myth 6: The Bible condemns homosexuality.
Reality: The Bible is most concerned about proper treatment of others and opposes cruelty, exploitation, and abuse among all people—heterosexual and homosexual alike.
Jesus was silent on the subject of homosexuality. His ministry was one of welcome and acceptance, not condemnation. In addition, many Christians hold the Great Commandment in Mt. 22:36-40 as their overarching guide: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
There are only seven verses out of more than 31,000 that are used to support the assertion that the Bible condemns homosexuality. When taken in their historical contexts, and in tracing translations to the original text, the modern interpretation of an anti-homosexuality content is not supported. The word ‘homosexual’ does not occur in the Bible; no text or manuscript, Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, or Aramaic, contains such a word.8
(For a detailed discussion of the seven passages commonly used as “proof,” please see UnClobber by Colby Martin.)
For a more positive Biblical view, see “LGBTQ-Affirming Scripture“. These Bible references were gathered by members of St. Hugh of Lincoln Episcopal Church in Elgin, Illinois “to highlight the many messages of love and inclusion that are in the Bible.”
Myth 7: Homosexuality is abnormal.
Reality: LGBTQ individuals are as mentally healthy as anyone else.
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics issued this joint statement:
“Homosexuality is not an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable. Gender differences are normal expressions of human relationships.”
At that time, homosexuality was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the official list of mental disorders and is no longer considered a mental illness.
LGBTQ individuals are as mentally healthy as anyone else. However, it is true that stigma, prejudice, and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals create a hostile and stressful social environment that cause mental health problems6 as well as raise the likelihood of suicide attempts and other self-harming behaviors.
Myth 8: Marriage is between a man and a woman.
Reality: LGBTQ relationships can be as monogamous, strong and valid as heterosexual relationships.
Marriage between same-sex partners is legal in the United States and in an increasing number of countries worldwide. Mutual love and respect, not the gender of the marriage partners, are what make unions strong and valid. Fidelity in committed same-sex relationships can be as welcomed and blessed by families, communities, and the church as a heterosexual marriage.
Myth 9: If we allow LGBTQ marriage, anyone wanting to be married can have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage.
Reality: Marriage will always be between two consenting adults.
This is the “slippery slope” argument. By definition, marriage must be between two consenting adults. This prevents marrying a child, marrying a pet, and other extreme examples used in comparison to same-sex marriage. None of these cases include two adults who give consent.
Myth 10: Homosexual “practice” is a sin.
Reality: Sexuality is a normal expression of human connection in any loving relationship, gay or straight.
Another view is that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is morally neutral. And yet, regarding LGBTQ people, an unfair distinction is often made: “It’s okay to be gay. Just don’t act gay or have sexual relations.” This is an unreasonable and unjust demand which is not made of heterosexuals.
It is dissonant and wounding to require LGBTQ people to separate the truth of who they are from the truth they live. The concept of a committed relationship, whatever the sexual identity of the partners, should be equally respected.
Some LGBTQ people may choose to be celibate, just as some heterosexual people may. However, that is a choice, in some cases even a calling, and not something to be imposed on a person.
Myth 11: Opposing homosexuality is “Christian.”
Reality: As followers of Jesus and recipients of God’s grace, Christians believe their primary role as disciples is to extend God’s love to others.
Many Christians have a long-cherished tradition of tolerance and honoring a variety of beliefs, expressions of faith, and biblical interpretations. Using God and faith to empower fear, discomfort, or narrow-mindedness is never Christian. People of good faith can—and do—embrace LGBTQ people as beloved children of God.
An increasing number of pastors are changing their views as they know and understand more and see the children in their congregation come to them fearing they will be cut off from their church homes.
Myth 12: Accepting homosexuals will ruin the church.
Reality: Many faith communities experience revitalization when they welcome LGBTQ members.
Churches that are condemning or rejecting of LGBTQ Christians are losing members. These losses include LGBTQ family members who feel they must keep silent about their loved one and hide from judgment in their church. Unable to be open about their family, afraid of wounding their family member, and dreading the condemnation in their church, many families begin a withdrawal from church life that often becomes complete. Alternately they may turn to an accepting congregation.
Accepting churches draw new seekers as well because those churches are seen as being able to “walk the talk.” Churches can make a positive choice to put the Golden Rule in action, lead with kindness and acceptance, and focus on a more accurate and profound understanding of the Bible.
- Healy, Melissa.“Scientists find DNA differences between gay men and their straight twin brothers”. Los Angeles Times. (Oct. 8, 2015)
- Pepper, Michael and Beverley Kramer. “Here’s What We Know About the Science of Sexual Orientation“ Slate Magazine.
- “The Lies and Dangers of Efforts to Change Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity” Human Rights Campaign website.
- Caitlin Ryan, David Huebner, Rafael M. Diaz and Jorge Sanchez. “Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Young Adults” Pediatrics. January 2009, VOLUME 123 / ISSUE 1; 123;346
- Schlatter, Evelyn and Robert Steinback. “10 Anti-Gay Myths Debunked” Southern Poverty Law Center. Intelligence Report, 2010 Winter Issue. February 27, 2011.
- Herek, Gregory M., Ph.D. “Facts About Homosexuality and Child Molestation” Univ. of California, Davis
- 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), 674–697.
- John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (University of Chicago Press, Paperback edition, p. 92).