12.11 Understanding homophobia

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Hate Crimes

Gay Rights Around the World

Given that homosexual behavior is so widespread, and given the evidence in support of homosexuality as an adaptation, why is homophobia so common?

Does homophobia exist in non-human animals?

We were unable to find any clear evidence of homophobia in other animals, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. However, what would homophobia look like, in, for example, penguins? As a side note, please let us know if you find any compelling evidence of homophobia beyond humans!

Could homophobia be adaptive?

The question of whether or not homophobia is adaptive is one that has been scarcely addressed in the scientific literature.  In this Scientific American blog post, author Jesse Bering discusses several papers published in the mid 1980’s through the mid 1990’s, in which two authors present conflicting ideas about whether a child’s sexual orientation is malleable (can be influenced by environment, early sexual experiences, or interpersonal connections), and if such malleability could influence the adaptability of homophobia.  Gordon Gallop argues that if homophobia were adaptive, you would predict to see it expressed most as it concerns contact of homosexual individuals with children.  Likewise, if parental influence can affect sexual decision making, one could argue that the parent who does not express acceptance for homosexuality may influence their offspring to have more heterosexual sex, resulting in more descendants.  Interestingly, as Bering points out, there has not been much follow-up research to further address the question of the adaptive nature of homophobia.  Furthermore, it is important to remember that just because something might be adaptive does not inform any moral stance for that issue (being adaptive does not make it “right”).

  Consider the following questions

  1. What makes some individuals homophobic, and others not?
  2. What is the cost to the individual, if any, of being homophobic?
  3. Is homophobia genetic?
  4. Finally, is it possible that homophobia is an adaptation?



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The Evolution and Biology of Sex Copyright © 2020 by Sehoya Cotner and Deena Wassenberg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.