Friday, November 29, 2013

Confessional and sexual minorities

Attitudes towards confessional and sexual minorities in the discourse of the media in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from a historical perspective

The term sexual minorities refers to: 1) gay men, lesbian women, bisexual persons, asexual persons, 2) transgender/transsexual persons, and intersexual persons. Labels listed under 1) apply to sexual identities (commonly called orientations) while those listed under 2) apply to gender identities (I apply here the distinction between sex as a biological/physiological category and gender as a social category).
In public discourse, the term sexual minorities “is used in order to underline the normative aspects of homosexuality (being inferior to heterosexuality), but in the academic literature this concept also has a sociological sense according to which a minority is a group which tends to be more vulnerable to social exclusion as in the cases of ethnic, religious and other minorities” (Reingarde & Zdanevičius 2007: 50). 
In this project, sexual minority is considered a socially constructed category, an identity imposed on those who defy the hegemony of heteronormativity:
“If homosexuality still has a strong identity constructing capacity in a society, it can suggest that the given society is dominated by exclusive monolithic homosexual and heterosexual identity patterns which can threaten the successful social integration of people. (…) The (potentially unifying) concept and the practical realisation of homosexual identity can be seen as the product of social stigmatisation and discrimination: the greater the proportion of signs of rejecting individual difference, the more widespread personal and group identities are organised by and around these differences. This type of stigmatisation can be interpreted in general as a social symptom reflecting the rejection of the right to be different” (Takács 2007: 185). In other words, homosexuality (and other sexual minority identities) has high topicality in a society that sees democracy as the right of majority to demand that everyone follow the same patterns. Sexual minority identities are, from the perspective of the majority, problematized, excluded, stigmatized, and as such deemed sufficient to group people coming from different cultures, countries, speaking different languages, having different religious affiliations, political views, professions, hobbies, interests and lifestyles into a conflated Other.
The situation of religious minorities is different, because some of their members are at the same time ethnic and linguistic minorities in the countries where they live. It may thus be assumed that they belong to different cultures, too. On the other hand, those belonging to the majority culture and a minority religion usually consciously choose the latter, which, in a way, makes them “outsiders by choice”. 

Sexual and religious minorities are usually invoked with regard to, or in the context of, human rights. In fact, “it was religious minorities [understood as cultural minorities] who spearheaded minority rights concerns onto the regional and, later, international level. It was the effort to protect religious minorities that led to the aborted attempt for recognition of minority rights at the League of Nations and that later slowly percolated through to United Nations (UN) human rights norms and mechanisms” (Ghanea 2012: 1).
“Migration has had religious overtones throughout history, with the very emergence and spread of religion—and the subsequent linkages related to that religious civilization—leading to minority demands and concerns in many lands” (p. 1). The protection of religious minorities “has a record dating back to the mid to late 1500s, when successive treaties sought to provide protection for religious minorities” (p. 2).
While religious minorities are associated with the beginning of human rights movement, the attitudes towards sexual minorities today are a “litmus-paper test” for tolerance, openness and inclusiveness of societies (Gruszczyńska 2007).
To a certain extent, religious minorities may appear to fare a bit better – at least in the case of Abrahamic religions in the European context – due to the fact that they share a certain core of universal moral principles which all religions may be abstracted to (Downes 2011: 236). But atheists, as well as sexual minorities, seem to defy these principles, and thus “deserve” to be “subordinated, marginalized, stigmatized and excluded” (extending somewhat the reference of the formulation by Reingarde & Zdanevičius 2007: 50).
Still, the discrimination towards confessional minorities must not be taken less seriously, as “each individual has the right to enjoy a full life, irrespective of the way in which that individual is different from others” (Locmelis 2002: 27-28). 

In either case, religious and sexual minorities are discourse minorities, in the sense that they are underrepresented in public discourse as producers of texts. They constitute issues talked about [note how it is possible to say "I am against homosexuality" the way people say "I am against progressive tax", as if its very existence as a social reality were subject to public discussion], but rarely contribute their side of the story. Sexual minorities are silenced by the social taboo imposed by heteronormativity. If they speak out, it is always from the defensive position.
Religious minorities that also are linguistic minorities face restrictions in access to discourse also in the recipient role. They are rarely able to speak out even to defend themselves. Due to different cultural common ground, immigrant religious minorities may also fail to recognize discourses that are harmful to them.

In terms of concepts introduced in the previous posts, we may consider sexual and religious minorities as out-groups. Attitudes of the majority in-group towards these out-groups may vary significantly: they may be just identified as different – alien, foreign, and so on; common grounds shared with them may be recognized (universal moral values, being a believer, being in love…); or the principle of polarization may be employed to construct them as bad, evil, wrong. Sexual minorities are especially vulnerable to polarization, because they break with the “universal, everlasting” classification of gender identities and gender roles, which, as noted above, is polarized itself. “There is extensive evidence to suggest that gender is a crucial component of people's social world; many people really do find it vital to be able to pigeonhole others into the normative, binary set of female-male, and they find linguistic or social behaviors which threaten the apparent stability of this "essential" distinction extremely disturbing. Thus, they censure women (overtly or indirectly) for behavior that is typically associated with males, they beat up transvestites, they pathologize or murder homosexuals” (Holmes & Meyerhoff 2003: 9).
[Such a statement is of course a bit extreme, but it matches an Introduction to a long book – it is controversial and attention-catching. It also justifies the claims made earlier. Sexual minorities are an “issue” due to the perseverance of binary opposition of genders and gender roles. I am not claiming we should do away with the category of gender at all, but do we really need it to be so significant? Does it really need to define us in such rigid ways? The same applies to categorization in general – we cannot stop categorizing, but we could try to stop putting so much (evaluative) weight on the differences between categories, and to stop perceiving what is different as what is worse.]
Interestingly enough, extremely hostile and prejudiced attitudes about sexual and religious minorities do not necessarily originate in disgust and fear towards what is different, but in fear of what may be hiding and lurking in us ourselves. Homophobic men may despise homosexuality because it means that they may be “reduced” to the female role of the penetrated; it reminds them that their bodies are penetrable, and thus perishable (Kowalski 2009: 37, quoting Nussbaum 2004).
In turn, coming in contact with another religion produces “genuine doubt and a threat not only to the authority of particular traditions but also the general authority of religion” (Downes 2011: 217).

Other relevant terms:
Discrimination takes place when one treats another person in a different way, usually worse/less favourably, from the way they would treat different people in the same situation, only because he or she perceives this person (justly or unjustly) to belong to a certain social group. The treatment of a person less favourably because one considers them to be bisexual or homosexual, constituates [sic] discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation” (Glossary in Abramowicz (ed.) 2007).

Homophobia consists of the dislike of as well as negative emotions expressed towards bi-and homosexual persons; sweeping generalizations about usually negative features that are allegedly characteristic for all representatives of this group. Furthermore, homophobia is manifested through behaviours that consists of different, usually less favourable treatment of persons perceived as belonging to this group. This different treatment can have a verbal form (for instance, expressing false and/or negative beliefs, verbal aggression) or physical (for instance, avoiding contact, condescending treatment, provocation, physical aggression, violence, refusal or impeding access to the same goods, services or privileges that the persons perceived as heterosexual have access to). Worse treatment takes also on the form of written and unwritten social rules and legal and formal regulations, which exclude bi- and homosexual persons from access to goods, services and privileges that are accessible to heterosexual persons” (Glossary in Abramowicz (ed.) 2007).
“Homophobia is an irrational fear of homosexual people which often translates into negative attitudes towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people (LGBT)” (Tereškinas 2007: 3).
“The term homophobia is used to describe fear of, discrimination against or hostility towards lesbians, gay men or bisexual people” (Bortnik 2007: 367, footnote 12).

Hate crime: “A working definition of hate crime is given by OSCE/ODIHR. It takes national differences into account, such as differences in legislation, resources, approach, and needs. A hate crime can be defined as any criminal offence, including offences against persons or property, where the victim, premises, or target of the offence are selected because of their real or perceived connection, attachment, affiliation, support, or membership of a group, which may be based upon a characteristic common to its members, such as real or perceived race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or other similar factors (OSCE/ODIHR 2005, 12)” (Bortnik 2007: 367, footnote 12).

“The term “hate speech” shall be understood as covering all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including: intolerance expressed by aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against minorities, migrants and people of immigrant origin” (Council of Europe, Committee of Ministers, Recommendation no. R (97) 20).
Hate speech – “regarded as speech which is particularly harmful because it contributes to a climate of hatred and violence towards marginalised and disempowered sectors of the community. It violates the basic human dignity of its victims” (Gelber 2002: 1).

Effects of hate speech (Matsuda 1993, Gelber 2002):
1)   limiting the victim’s personal liberty – hate speech denies the feeling of personal security and the liberty to pursue the victim’s daily life due to fear of hate crime; it limits the victim’s ability to maintain broad support networks and personal relationships;
2)   internalization of discriminatory messages – hearers begin to believe that the claims are true;
3)   perpetuation of further acts of subordination;
4)   silencing.

Hate speech silences its victims via three mechanisms:
1)   actual and potential victims fail to speak due to intimidation or a belief that no one will take them seriously;

2)   actual and potential victims do speak, but their speech-act does not achieve its desired effect (and this failure is directly related to their position of relative powerlessness as hearer); and/or

3)   actual and potential victims do not possess the authority in the relevant domain, vis a vis the speaker of the hate-speech-act, to be able to utter a meaningful response (Gelber 2002: 86).

No comments: