Homophobia is a common problem because many struggle to sympathize with minority issues, Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said during a speech in McShain Lounge yesterday afternoon.

Keisling, a transsexual herself, focused largely on transgender issues, defining the word as “an umbrella term for people who face discrimination because of their gender identity or gender expression.” She said that she has “faced a lot of fear” since openly identifying herself as a transsexual in 2000.

Keisling said that many people say that they are open-minded toward those in the LGBTQ community, but that most are afraid of what others may think if they associate with LGBTQ individuals. She summarized this point by saying that some may feel: “`I don’t get it and I don’t want to be associated with it, because I think people will think it’s me and I know people hate it.'”

Keisling noted that homophobia may be partially due to the fact that it is difficult for many to understand the common minority issues.

“[As a member of the majority] you are the default identity, you are the best thing there is to be, [so] you don’t have to think about identity” she said.

Keisling said that most people learn certain gender roles at a young age, and that homophobia results from an inability to accept that these traditional roles may not apply to everyone. She cited “boys do certain things and look certain ways,”boys like girls and girls like boys” and “boys should stay boys and girls should stay girls” as examples of such stereotypical teachings.

Keisling also discussed violence against members of the LGBTQ community, noting that one transgendered person is murdered in the United States each month.

Keisling discussed a number of possible steps toward diminishing homophobia and “transphobia.” The first suggestion she had to offer was to “listen and learn.” She encouraged heterosexuals to “listen to what the LGTBQ people you know are worried about.”

She also recommended a focus on inclusion.

“The problem is exclusivity and the answer is inclusion,” she said. “Be inclusive, think of everything in terms of inclusion.”

She also encouraged people to thoroughly analyze their prejudices and biases – rather than to practice denial – in order to understand their causes and work to eradicate them.

“Embrace your homophobia and transphobia and think about why you think certain things about me and why you dismiss me.”

The speech was sponsored by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action.

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