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Homophobic comments, slurs, & jokes: What can i do to intervene?

The Anti-Racism Response Training (A.R.T.) program, developed by Dr. I. Ishiyama, is focused on the options for action available to anyone who witnesses a discriminatory event.  While his work is focused on racism, the model can be applied to any type of expression of bias or prejudice.

If you want to be an active witness - that is - to actively intervene when you witness homophobic comments, slurs or jokes, your intervention can address:

  • The “victim” of the homophobia or heterosexism
  • The “offender”, the person whose actions or words were homophobic or heterosexist
  • Other witnesses or bystanders.

Dr. Ishiyama has identified eleven different active witnessing response types that can be used, often in combination, to address a situation.  They are:

  • Interrupt, assertively interject – “Stop it.”  “Wait a moment.”
  • Express upset feelings – “I can’t believe you are saying this!”  “I’m surprised to hear you say such a thing”
  • Call it discrimination, or homophobia – “That’s homophobic”, “That is a discriminatory comment”, “What you just said sounds very homophobic”.
  • Disagree – “I disagree with what you just said.”  “I don’t think that is true.”
  • Question validity of statement – “Always?” “Everybody?”
  • Point out how it offends and hurts people – “That’s a hurtful comment.”  “Ouch! That hurts.”
  • Put the “offender” on the spot – “What?” “Could you repeat what you just said?”
  • Help the “offender” to self reflect – “Did you really mean to say that?  That’s a very hurtful comment.” “You sound really annoyed.  What’s going on?”
  • Approaching and supporting the “victim” – “I heard what was just said.  Are you OK?”
  • Approaching other witnesses – “Did you hear what I just heard?”
  • Asking others for involvement and assistance –to use when you feel official action should be taken.  Bring the issue to the attention of your instructor (if a student), the Human Rights and Respectful Workplace Office, the Dean of the faculty or other university representative.

Remember that you do not need to always address the “offender”. 

There may be circumstances where it would feel unsafe to address him or her or useless (if the person is intoxicated, for example).  Supporting the victim and encouraging other witnesses to support the victim is as important and effective as intervening with the “offender” if you want to take a stand and be an ally to LGBT people.