Study Finds Link Between Homophobia And Mental Illness

Though homophobia is not itself a mental illness, a new study finds that people who are prejudiced against gays and lesbians often do have mental disorders. But it's unclear what we're supposed to do with this insight.

At the Toulouse pride parade
At the Toulouse pride parade
Anna Kröning

BERLIN â€" Having a general antipathy towards homosexuals is often linked to a mental disorder. Psychotic symptoms such as alienation and an irrational imagination are most likely to come with a general homophobic attitude. These are the findings of a study conducted by several Italian universities, which has been published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

People with immature defense mechanisms, meaning they haven’t learned how to solve problems like adults, are more prone to negative feelings towards gay people than steady personalities.

The same phenomenon has been observed with people who have experienced some sort of insecure or fearful attachment behavior. "This may lead to mistrust and anxiety towards other people, or even fear of homosexuals," explains Emmanuele Jannini, a professor of sexual medicine in Rome.

Researchers have analyzed what psychological problems most often arise in combination with an animosity towards homosexuals. Further, they discovered that depressive and neurotic people are less likely to develop a negative attitude towards same-sex love.

Researchers see an enormous need for further explanation about the connection between mental illness and homophobia. They hope for a new approach in fighting it. "These are important aspects for successful prevention work," the researchers findings read.

But there are some critical voices too. Other researchers warn of linking homophobia to mental illness, fearing that homophobia itself would begin being considered an illness. Homophobia is not an anxiety disorder, clinically speaking, even if the word "phobia" suggests it. Instead, it is considered to be a "group-focused enmity" just like racism, sexism or xenophobia.

Taking mental problems into consideration can only be part of the solution, says Volker Heins, professor at the Cultural Science Institute in Essen. "Anything else would mean that those people could actually be treated or simply given some medicine," when instead we need to be dealing politically with homophobia, he says.

Heins supposes that "tremendous cultural processes" create a climate of hostility towards homosexuals. This has further been confirmed by a video filmed in Moscow capturing how activists portraying a young homosexual couple were harassed in public. Heins claims that the demonization of a certain sexual orientation often happens based on politic ideology.

Social psychologist Ulrich Klocke joins Heins in refusing to "pathologize" people who judge same-sex love. "The problem would only be shifted on to a group of people we feel disconnected from," the researcher says.

It seems comprehensible that people with mental illness may feel persecuted and therefore hostile to certain groups of people such as homosexuals. But the main reason for homophobia is something else entirely. "It is linked to a lack of communication and ignorance," Klocke explains. Moreover, it often comes with a rigid conception of gender roles and religious fundamentalism.

In Europe, tolerance towards homosexuals varies significantly from one country to another. An American study has shown that liberal countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands are considerably more tolerant than the countries of the former Soviet Union.

The Netherlands count only 2.2% of their population as homophobic and 7% for Denmark. Germany clearly drops away in the European comparison, as 26.6% manifest a homophobic attitude. In Russia, the number is a staggering 78%, but it's even higher in Romania (86%) and Latvia (87.5%).

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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