- Sexual orientation refers to a person’s preference for sexual relationships with individuals of the other sex, one’s own sex, or both sexes. The term also increasingly refers to transgender individuals, whose behavior, appearance, and/or gender identity departs from conventional norms.
- According to national survey evidence, almost 4 percent of American adults identify as LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender), a figure equivalent to 9 million adults. Almost 20 million have engaged in same-sex relations.
- Male homosexuality in ancient Greece and Rome seems to have been accepted and rather common, but Europe, the Americas, and other areas influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition have long viewed homosexuality very negatively. In many societies studied by anthropologists, homosexuality is rather common and considered a normal form of sexuality.
- Scholars continue to debate whether sexual orientation is more the result of biological factors or social and cultural factors. Related to this debate, the public is fairly split over the issue of whether sexual orientation is a choice or something over which people have no control.
- Heterosexism in the United States is higher among men than among women, among older people than younger people, among the less educated than among the more highly educated, among Southerners than among non-Southerners, and among more religious people than among less religious people. Levels of heterosexism have declined markedly since a generation ago.
- Sexual orientation is a significant source of inequality. LGBT individuals experience bullying, taunting, and violence; they may experience employment discrimination; and they are not allowed to marry in most states. Because of the stress of living as LGBT, they are at greater risk than heterosexuals for several types of physical and mental health problems.
Using What You Know
You’re working in a medium-sized office and generally like your coworkers. However, occasionally you hear them make jokes about gays and lesbians. You never laugh at these jokes, but neither have you ever said anything critical about them. Your conscience is bothering you, but you also know that if you tell your supervisor or coworkers that their joking makes you feel uncomfortable, they may get angry with you and even stop talking to you. What do you decide to do?
What You Can Do
To help reduce inequality based on sexual orientation, you may wish to do any of the following:
- Start or join an LGBT advocacy group on your campus.
- Write a letter to the editor in favor of same-sex marriage.
- Urge your US Senators and Representative to pass legislation prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
- Work for a social service agency in your local community that focuses on the needs of LGBT teens.