BY: Madi Tortora, Staff Writer
When you think of a romance movie, which is the first to come to mind? The Notebook? Titanic? Without even realizing it, our society has become accustomed to romance existing only between a man and a woman.
Heteronormativity, according to the Gender and Education Association, is a term used by social theorists to discuss the way in which gender and sexuality have been separated into hierarchically organized categories. This idea implies that men and women are set into certain roles in society, and those roles are supposed to be joined in a consensual, heterosexual-specific relationship.
The concept of heteronormativity can be extremely limiting. The focus on heteronormative programming marginalizes and outcasts many gay and lesbian individuals, which causes unnecessary stress for individuals struggling to define their sexual identity.
Our society today identifies as heteronormative, although it is understood that heterosexual-specific relationships are not the only relationships that exist. More and more attention is being drawn to the LGBTQA+ community through celebrities who have come out openly as gay or bisexual, like Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen DeGeneres, but the divide still exists in many outlets of media.
Television series like Modern Family and The Fosters are just a preview of what modern programming can look like if society continues to be open-minded. But even with this progress, heterosexual men and women are still being hired to play gay and lesbian characters, which leaves the door open for stereotypes to be upheld. A remake of the movie Stonewall, focusing on the Stonewall riot that sparked the birth of the mainstream gay rights movement, was an example of this. The focus on all of the white, straight roles in the movie called for critics to label it a “whitewash”, and boycott the movie.
Celebrities are attempting to draw attention to the lack of both openly gay and lesbian and black nominees at awards shows like the Oscars. Jada Pinkett Smith, a well known actress and wife of Will Smith, swore off the Oscars this year because of the lack of black nominees. Ian McKellen, a british actor known for the Lord of the Rings movies, commented on the lack of gay and lesbian nominees at the Oscars, expressing that “they were being ill treated and underestimated.”
No openly gay man has ever won the Oscar,” McKellen said to The Guardian. “I wonder if that is prejudice or chance.”
Of course, this issue extends far beyond media and enters our daily lives, whether subconsciously or consciously.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 4 in 10 LGBT youth say that the community they live in is not accepting of LGBT people. Along with that, LGBT youth are twice as likely as their peers to say that they have been physically assaulted, kicked, or shoved at school.
Before attempting to completely expel heteronormativity in media, society must begin to focus on making members of the LGBT community feel safe in their own homes and neighborhoods. With approximately 9 million Americans identifying as a part of the LGBT community, our society as a whole should be doing more to represent them in both media and everyday life.