Safe Zone Privilege

Heterosexual Privilege

These are the rights and privileges one receives, accepts, and tends to promote as a hetero-sexual person. Often these are the "little things" that heterosexuals take for granted, while these same "little things" are frequently denied to transgendered people, gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals.

Examples of Heterosexual privilege:
You can speak openly and comfortably about your romantic partner, social interests, and personal preferences.
Your "normalcy" or "naturalness" is never questioned.
You can hold your partner's hand, kiss them, and tell them "I love you" in front of others, without fear of being discounted, harassed, or even attacked.
You can display pictures of your partner, or you and your partner, out in public view.
You can bring your partner to any social, school, work, or religious event without giving it a second thought.
You can have, foster, or adopt children, without people or social institutions questioning or condemning your fitness as a parent.
Your employment security is never in jeopardy because of your sexual orientation.
You can visit, care for, or grieve for your sick partner, without someone questioning or challenging your right to do so.
You can buy greeting cards, turn on the media, read books, and engage in countless other endeavors that acknowledge your opposite sex partnerships.
You have the right to legally marry.

Now try to imagine what it would be like not having any of these privileges. Then try to imagine what it would be like to be labeled "sick", "perverted" or "disgusting" if you did try to exercise these "privileges."


Source: Adapted from the Northern Illinois University Safe Zone Program Ally Handbook; and Homophobia vs. Heterosexism. Retrieved online from on 1/10/03.



Heterosexism is the "systemic oppression" of LGBTQI people, meaning it manifests itself in both personal behavior and social institutions. Unlike homophobia (i.e. the irrational fear of homosexuals), the prevalence of heterosexism in social institutions can be much more of a menace to LGBTQI people.
These are the components of heterosexism:
The assumption that everyone is heterosexual.
Heterosexuality is the only normal sexual orientation. This assumption also suggests that being heterosexual is preferable to all other sexual orientations, and that prejudice, discrimination, and harassment of LGBTQI people is condoned.
Heterosexism is apparent in social institutions, laws, and public policies that exclude the acknowledgement of other sexual orientations, or that deny the extension of Constitutional rights to LGBTQI individuals.


Examples of Heterosexism:
Assuming everyone's partner is of the opposite sex
Assuming that all parents are heterosexual
Using language that presumes heterosexuality, such as "husband" or "wife."
Denying equal employment or health benefits to same-sex partners.
Omitting any discussion or reference of same-sex partners during class lectures, class examples, presentation of material, and assignments.

Source: Adapted from the Northern Illinois University Safe Zone Program Ally Handbook; and Homophobia vs. Heterosexism. Retrieved online from on 1/10/03.

Homophobia and its Impact

Homophobia is the irrational fear and intolerance of people who are homosexual or of homosexual feelings within one's self. This assumes that heterosexuality is superior. Homophobia may be viewed as a fear of closeness and intimacy with others of your gender that manifests itself in hatred, revulsion, disgust, and culturally sanctioned prejudice and violence.

Heterosexism is so deeply ingrained in our society we often hardly notice it. The questions below are helpful for heterosexual audiences or to help lesbians/gay men look at internalized homophobia.

Ask yourself the following questions:
Do you laugh at jokes whose humor depends upon stereotypes (usually negatively) of homosexuals?
Do you use dehumanizing slang: for example, queers, homos, fags, pansies, dykes, and lezzies?
Do you assume that, because someone speaks in support of homosexuality, that person is homosexual?
Do you identify yourself as heterosexual (or let yourself be assumed so) when homosexuality is a topic of discussion or when confronting people about derogatory remarks?
Do you still believe that all women need a man to be complete?
Do you assume that the person you are speaking to is heterosexual?
When looking at a gay/lesbian person, do you automatically think of their sexuality rather than seeing him/her as a whole, complex person?
Do you assume that a gay/lesbian relationship is just about sex, and not like a loving heterosexual relationship?
Do you use phrases like "gay lifestyle" or "sexual preference" to dismiss or marginalize gay/lesbian persons?
Do you treat gay/lesbian persons as if they made a choice to be gay/lesbian, rather than a choice to live honestly with their sexual orientation?
Do you think that if a gay/lesbian person touches you, he/she is making sexual advances?
Do you feel that gay people are too outspoken about gay rights?
Do you avoid mentioning to friends that you are involved with a gay rights organization because you are afraid that they will think that you are gay?


Information adapted from Abilock, T. (2001). USF Safe Zone Ally Manual, unpublished document.


Examples of Homophobia
Making negative assumptions about a person's sexual identity based on dress, behavior, or personality.
Feeling repulsed by displays of affection between same-sex couples, but accepting affectionate displays between heterosexual couples.
Thinking of LGBTQI persons only in terms of their sexuality, and neglecting the whole person.
Being afraid of social or physical interaction with LGBTQI people.
Avoiding social situations or activities where you fear being perceived as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
Feelings that LGBTQI persons should not discuss or display their sexual orientation openly while heterosexuals may do so freely.
Assuming that LGBTQI persons will be attracted to everyone of the same sex.



Examples of Biphobia
Assuming that bisexuals are confused about their sexuality.
Assuming that bisexuals are promiscuous or cannot live monogamously.
Assuming that bisexuals are in denial about their homosexuality.
Believing that people who are bisexual spread AIDS.



How Homophobia Hurts Everyone
Homophobia results in prejudice and discrimination, creating a culture in which LGBTQI individuals live with the fear of being rejected by family or friends, losing their job, or being physically assaulted.
Homophobia causes LGBTQI people to struggle to achieve self-acceptance and maintain self-esteem.
Homophobia discourages emotional closeness and intimate relationships among same-sex friends.
Homophobia discourages individuals from taking part in certain social activities. Heterosexuals are discouraged from participating in LGBTQI identified activities for fear of being labeled. LGBTQI individuals are discouraged from participating in many heterosexually-dominated activities for fear of encountering hostility or discrimination.
Homophobia can restrict communication, create trauma, or result in estrangement among families when one family member is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or intersex.
Homophobia supports stereotypes, giving us all a distorted and inaccurate view of reality.

Homophobia pressures LGBTQI individuals to hide their sexual orientation, thereby denying positive role models to other LGBTQI individuals, as well as denying positive examples of homosexuality and bisexuality to heterosexuals.
Homophobia results in 'lesbian-baiting' (an accusatory charge of lesbianism made toward women) being used to control women's autonomy and question their femininity.
Homophobia reinforces rigid gender roles and limits the range of acceptable behavior for all women and men by defining "appropriate" behavior for males and females.
Homophobia pushes heterosexual males to constantly prove their masculinity and thus their heterosexuality.
Homophobia can condition and pressure heterosexual people to treat others badly and commit actions contrary to their basic humanity.
Homophobia pressures some LGBTQI persons to deny their sexual orientation and fulfill heterosexual ideals, such as getting married and having a family. These relationships result in stress and emotional trauma for those individuals, their spouses, and children.
Homophobia pressures young people to become heterosexually active to prove to themselves and others that they are "normal." This premature sexual involvement can result in emotional damage, as well as increasing chances of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Homophobia can restrict education about sexuality and sexual behavior, resulting in incomplete sex education. Such a lack of information can contribute to the spread of AIDS.
Homophobia can be used to stigmatize, silence, and target people who are perceived as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, but who are in fact heterosexual.
Homophobia prevents heterosexuals from being exposed to, accepting, and benefiting from the experiences, insights, and contributions of LGBTQI individuals.
Homophobia inhibits a unified and effective governmental and societal response to AIDS.
Homophobia diverts attention from more pressing and serious societal concerns, and diverts energy from the search for solutions to those concerns


Adapted from Blumenfeld, W. J. (1992). Homophobia, how we all pay the price. Boston: Beacon Press.


Things non-transgender people take for granted
My validity as a man/woman/human is not based upon how much surgery I've had or how well I "pass" as a non-trans person.

I don't have to hear "so have you had THE surgery?" or "Oh, so you're REALLY a [incorrect sex or gender]?" each time I come out to someone.
Strangers do not ask me what my "real name" (birth name) is and then assume they have a right to call me by that name.
People do not disrespect me by using incorrect pronouns even after they've been corrected.
I do not have to worry about whether I will be able to find a bathroom to use or whether I will be safe changing in a locker room.
When I go to the gym or a public pool, I can use the showers.
I do not have to defend my right to be a part of "Queer," and gays and lesbians will not try to exclude me from OUR movement in order to gain political legitimacy for themselves.
Strangers don't assume they can ask me what my genitals look like and how I have sex.
If I end up in the emergency room, I do not have to worry that my gender will keep me from receiving appropriate treatment, nor will all of my medical issues be seen as a product of my gender.
My health insurance provider (or public health system) does not specifically exclude me from receiving benefits or treatments available to others because of my gender.
When I express my internal identities in my daily life, I am not considered "mentally ill" by the medical establishment.
I am not required to undergo extensive psychological evaluation in order to receive basic medical care.
The medical establishment does not serve as a "gatekeeper" which disallows self-determination of what happens to my body.

Adapted from on Jan. 22, 2003.


Information adapted from Abilock, T. (2001). USF Safe Zone Ally Manual, unpublished document.