Is Heterosexism Different?

Since we have launched the new site, I have been receiving dozens of questions every day. Unfortunately, I am not able to answer all of them personally, but I do appreciate your interest in the abolitionist approach.

There are, however, some questions that I feel compelled to respond to because they go so directly to the philosophy that I am trying to promote.

Last week, someone wrote the following:

I understand that speciesism is problematic because it is like racism and sexism because it attaches a negative value to species in the same way that racism attaches a negative value to race or sexism attaches a negative value to the status of being a woman. But you also often liken speciesism to heterosexism and I think that there is a difference here because unlike race or sex, which have no inherent moral value, sexual relations between members of the same sex may be considered as immoral because such conduct is not natural.

This is not the first time that I have heard this position expressed and I want to address it and explain why I think that heterosexism cannot be distinguished from racism or sexism.

First, those who defend racism or sexism do maintain that there are “natural” differences between whites and people of color, or between men and women, that justify differential and discriminatory treatment and that make equality between the races or sexes “unnatural.”

That is, racists and sexists do not regard their views as arbitrary; rather, they see their views as preserving a “natural” order, based on the supposedly empirical superiority of whites or the superiority of men.

Second, heterosexism is similar to racism and sexism in that it excludes gays and lesbians from full membership in the moral community based on sexual orientation that is considered as “unnatural” by heterosexuals, who see heterosexuality as representing a superior orientation.

There are some who claim that being gay or lesbian is “unnatural” because such relationships cannot result in the production of children. There are many ways for gay or lesbian couples to become parents. Similarly there are many heterosexual couples who use reproductive technologies, adoption or surrogacy to become parents. Moreover, there are many heterosexuals who cannot have children or choose not to have children. Is there anything “unnatural” about their having relationships despite this limitation or choice?

Remarkably, even today, we hear that old “recruitment” chestnut being argued—the claim that gays and lesbians are more inclined to impose their orientation on others, particularly children. This claim is without any empirical foundation; indeed the opposite is true. As a high school student, I cannot recall ever hearing of an instance of a gay or lesbian teacher “hitting on” a student, but I recall plenty of instances in which straight male teachers engaged in thoroughly unacceptable conduct with female students. In many ways, the argument that gays and lesbians will “recruit” young people is on a par with the argument, advanced in the not-too-distant past, that men of color really “covet” white women and will take them all if we do not enforce segregation.

Finally, there are those who see the gay/lesbian orientation as “unnatural” for religious reasons. The problem with this view is that slavery, the oppression of women, and just about every other form of discrimination, is supported by various religious doctrines or, at least, particular interpretations of those doctrines. Remember, that the Bible was used as a primary source for the justification of human slavery.

Therefore, I stand by my view that species discrimination is no different from racism, sexism, or heterosexism, but I am reminded just how much work remains to be done to dismantle the pervasive structures of prejudice in our society.

Gary L. Francione
© 2007 Gary L. Francione