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  • Writer's pictureRMTC Team

The Negative Impacts of Homophobia on Mental Health

Pink Shirt Day Against Homophobic Bullying

Today is Pink Shirt Day, a day when folks around the country wear pink to show their support for anti-homophobic bullying initiatives and to declare themselves as allies to the 2SLBTQIA+ community. For Pink Shirt Day, we at RMTC want to take the opportunity to discuss why it’s important for our mental health (whether 2SLGBTQIA+ or not), to stand up against homophobia and heterosexism.  


What are homophobia and heterosexism and how do they operate?  


Homophobia can be defined as “negative attitudes and prejudice towards homosexual people and homosexuality which may be manifested in discrimination, hostile behaviour, or hate crimes.” (Oxford). 


Heterosexism (sometimes called heteronormativity) is the system of oppression (analogous with racism) which privileges heterosexuals and heterosexuality to the detriment of all others (homosexuals, bisexuals, asexuals, etc.) Homophobia exists within heterosexist cultures as a means of maintaining it.  


Homophobia exists at systemic, institutional, and interpersonal levels. At the systemic and institutional levels, homophobia manifests as discriminatory laws, policies and procedures, and the invisibility and erasure of 2SLGBTQIA+ people in media. At the interpersonal level, homophobia manifests as microaggressions, harassment, and at its extreme, physical, and sexual violence.  


How does homophobia and heterosexism impact the mental health of 2SLGBTQIA+ youth? 


Homophobia and heterosexism negatively impact social determinants of health such as social acceptance, freedom from discrimination and violence, and financial stability. This is why days like Pink Shirt Day, which bring attention to homophobic bullying and how we can fight against it are so important. 


2SLGBTQIA+ youth make up 20 to 40 per cent of the homeless youth population across North America due to family disownment and violence.  They are also twice as likely as their peers to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Additionally, 2SLGBTQIA+ youth face approximately 14 times the risk of suicide and substance abuse than their heterosexual peers. These risks are not due to their sexual or gender identities, but to the stigma, discrimination, and violence they face because of them.  


2SLGBTQIA+ youth also face additional barriers to accessing mental health care that includes homophobia and heterosexism within healthcare institutions. It wasn’t until 1973 that homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder in the DSM. This deep-rooted history of pathologizing homosexuality continues to dissuade 2SLGBTQIA+ clients from seeking treatment for fear of being stigmatized by their therapist. Additionally, not all therapists and health care professionals have experience working with 2SLGBTQIA+ clients, making it difficult for them to find a clinician they feel comfortable seeking care from.  


What can I do as a parent to support my 2SLGBTQIA+ child?  


Accept them for who they are. Having supportive family and friends is one of the most important things for 2SLGBTQIA+ children and youth. If your child comes out to you, let them know you love them no matter what. Help them to combat internalized homophobia by supporting them to connect with other 2SLGBTQIA+ children and youth. If your child needs someone to talk to, consider finding a 2SLGBTQIA+ therapist or a counsellor with experience treating members of queer and trans communities.  


If you need support as a parent, you can also join your local PFLAG group.  




While the overwhelming victims of heterosexism and homophobia are 2SLGBTQIA+ people (particularly 2SLGBTQIA+ youth and people of colour), heterosexism and homophobia also impact straight people, in particular, straight men.  


Because even being perceived as gay is still for a large majority of society, considered undesirable, straight men often pressured to act and dress in certain ways. The stereotype of gay men as ‘feminine’ and ‘flamboyant’ creates a cultural distrust of men who engage with anything perceived to be ‘feminine’ (including talking about their feelings, enjoying certain foods or activities, dressing in certain ways, etc.).  


Thus, to be perceived as ‘feminine’ as a man is to be perceived as potentially gay, and thus open to ridicule and harassment by your peers. How many times have you heard “don’t be gay”, “that’s so gay,” or other statements that use homosexuality as an insult or a way to discourage behaviour amongst male friend groups?   


Heterosexism is a foundation of hyper-masculinity. Our culture tells us that the “ideal man” is someone who provides for their family (always a wife and children), is always a protector, and is strong and doesn’t show emotion. This ideal of ‘hyper-masculinity’ is unattainable, and thus men suffer when they inevitably fail to live up to it.  


For straight men, heterosexism punishes them for talking about their emotions and maintains a culture in which men don’t feel free to open up to each other or show each other friendly and platonic affection. In our society, men are three times more likely to commit suicide compared to women.  


It’s in EVERYONE’S best interest to fight against homophobia and heterosexism.  


Resources for 2SLGBTQIA+ youth and adults in Waterloo Region  









Heterosexism and homophobia are detriments to mental health. Putting an end to homophobic bullying is a key to creating a future where everyone feels safe to express themselves and love who they love without the fear of violence or shame. To learn more about how you can stand up against homophobic bullying check out the Human Rights Campaign’s guide to better LGBTQ+ Allyship and other similar resources. 

If you are looking to book an appointment with any one of the therapists here at Relationship Matters you may contact us via email at, or by phone at (226) 894-4112.   


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