June is Gay Pride Month, and revelers in the various pride celebrations throughout the world are asked to celebrate pride heritage. This means celebrating all those things that make being gay a joyous state rather than a painful condition.
Unfortunately, despite the advances gays and lesbians have experienced, there remain many barriers to full acceptance by society and pressures that continue to exacerbate self-loathing among many in the gay communities.
There are two central issues related to homophobia in the entertainment industry: societal homophobia and internalized homophobia.
In a 1999 article in the Advocate, entitled “Cracking the Classical Closet: Gay Classical Musicians,” K. Robert Schwarz writes that because classical music occupies such a small part of the music industry’s recording sales “one might assume it would be safe for gay and lesbian performers to reveal their sexuality…but it turns out that for most of classical music’s virtuosos, the closet door is still tightly shut.”
One reason cited is that classic music audiences are generally very conservative and for this audience “instrumental music is traditionally revered as the truest form of expression. Precious notes must remain unsullied by mundane, everyday concerns,” — that is, the artists’ sexual orientation.
Further on in his article he states that this desire to keep the music “unsullied” by the artists’ personal life “has been applied retroactively, as generations of musical historians have deliberately obscured the sexuality of the masters.”
For instance, when it was indicated that Franz Schubert “was a part of a thriving Viennese [gay] subculture, the outrage provoked showed that many still feel they must protect the Germanic canon from such posthumous slander.”
To “protect the canon” strikes at the very center of the meaning of homophobia — that is, a fear of or contempt for gay and lesbians. As if there is something about being gay or lesbian that threatens the integrity of the artist — in this case, Schubert.
Many members of the entertainment industry continue to hide their sexuality from their colleagues in order to remain employable. However, others have come out and had positive experiences that help them personally and professionally.
In another Advocate article from 1997 entitled “Two for the Road: Gay Jazz Singers Ian Shaw and Steven Kowalczyk,” James Ireland Baker writes:
“It wasn’t until the 90’s that two respected jazz musicians — vibraphonist Gary Burton and pianist Fred Hersch — went unabashedly public with their homosexuality. Far from causing harm, says Hersch, coming out helped his career. ‘If you waste energy being in the closet, you have less for music.’” Hersch indicates the drain on creativity that being closeted poses.
In another piece entitled “Ask Not For Whom Homophobia Tolls,” Warren J. Blumenfeld seems to echo Hersch’s assertion about being closeted and the restriction on creativity it poses. Blumenfeld writes, “Homophobia locks all people into rigid gender-based roles that inhibit creativity and self expression” by stigmatizing a group or silencing them.
Another dynamic that influences the way the world ought to be is what is valued by a culture, in this case Western heterosexual culture. This tendency to perceive events from a straight or heterosexual point of view is called heterocentrism.
What seems important to remember about heterocentrism is that we’re all carriers of a bias towards a straight worldview, a heterosexual lifestyle if you will. We need to be mindful that we inhabit a pluralistic society whose strength is drawn on synthesizing our collective differences into more inclusive ways of being.
I’d like to leave you with Warren Blumenfeld’s words:
“With all the truly important issues facing the world, homophobia diverts energy and attention from more constructive endeavors. It also prevents heterosexuals from accepting the benefits and gifts offered by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, including theoretical insights, social and spiritual visions and options, contributions to the arts and culture, to religion, to education, to family life — indeed, to all facets of society.”
Rick Martinez, LCSW, is a social worker at the Actors’ Fund, working in the AIDS Initiative.