Has Social Media Made Homophobia Worse?

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Four or five years ago I saw a study float by on the Internet about how two groups were using the web to connect better than most: Gays and Religious Fanatics. I made a note of it (somewhere) and surfed on. It made sense in those last few months before Facebook and the social networking phenomenon took over our lives.

Since the mid-’90s, groups of people that were far-flung and marginalized for very different reasons had been connecting through message boards and chat rooms, finding solidarity on websites, making opinions perhaps best shared in radical circles or confessionals public with this new self-publishing tool called a “blog.”

It was inevitable these two groups would seize the social network scene quickly. How many Facebook friends do you have with the middle name “Equality”? How easy has it been to get to know your enemy by joining a group like National Organization for Marriage? With a quick click you’re in…or out. It’s pretty hard to keep anything secret if you get hooked on social networking. Closet doors of all kinds have been flung open.

You’re married to…well, I’ll be damned, another woman!

You identify yourself as…holy smokes, “an evangelical traditionalist who gave my life’s savings to ban gay marriage in a state I don’t even live in”.

It was only a matter of time until such admissions and advances in social media and technologies collided. An obscure city councilmember thinks his microphone is turned off and calls a colleague a “faggot” and smartphone video is loaded onto YouTube and linked to Facebook in 15 minutes.

The National Organization for Marriage spends millions to produce an ad warning us that the sky will fall if gay people are allowed to marry and within hours the first homemade parodies using a webcam and some (semi)-talented friends start filling the newsfeeds. Amusing or annoying as these clips and their links and where they lead us may be, what they have both advertently and inadvertently fueled is more homophobia.

The best intentioned YouTube clips and blog posts denouncing discrimination and advocating for equal rights have done a great job preaching to the choir, and at the same time enlightened many. These many were the types who do not hate in general, go to church sometimes on Easter and for the most part never really thought about gay rights until they saw “that really cool YouTube clip with Jack Black” a couple of years ago.

Now that we’ve mentioned it, hey, yeah – gays getting married, serving in the military, getting to visit their partner in the hospital – no problemo. And that’s a good thing, especially if that attitude translates into these people going out to vote next month and making sure simple homophobic candidates like Carl Paladino, Christine O’Donnell, Carly Fiorina and a slew of others are never heard from again.

On the other hand, social networking, media and the technologies that keep making all this faster and more possible seem to have fostered a rise in homophobia, something many of us thought was on the way out (like dial-up connections and Tower Records).

It makes us ask, has homophobia never really gone away? Or have YouTube clips and links to radical right-wing publications that show and quote people in prominent positions being not only openly homophobic but unbelievably so, led to others using these tools to video roommates having same-sex sex or carry out a virtual beating on someone’s Facebook wall?

For every light a candle, wear purple or It Gets Better app, group or video one side puts out there it undoubtedly changes a heart or mind. It’s just not always a given it’s in the direction originally intended.

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