Quite a few former students have shared with me that one of the hardest things in this course for them to wrap their minds around was the idea of privilege. Privilege, whether it be white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, gender identity privilege, able-bodied privilege, etc. is any unearned benefit or advantage a person receives in society simply by belonging to a particular identity group. People with privilege may not recognize that they may be treated differently than others who don’t belong to the same social group. This is why privilege is often described as “invisible” to those receiving it.
The term heterosexism is used to describe the belief that heterosexuality is the norm or superior. Heterosexual privilege gives unearned and unchallenged advantages and rewards to heterosexuals because of their sexual orientation. These same benefits are not automatically granted to lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
Heterosexism is manifested in both personal behavior and social institutions. Unlike homophobia (i.e. the irrational fear of homosexuals), the prevalence of heterosexism in social institutions can result in the denial of services, resources and civil rights.
The following are the components of heterosexism:
1. The assumption that everyone is heterosexual.
2. Heterosexuality is the only normal sexual orientation.
3. Heterosexism is apparent in social institutions, laws, and public policies that exclude the acknowledgment of other sexual orientations, or that deny the extension of rights to lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals.