Heterosexism refers to an often-institutionalized assumption held by society that everyone is, or should be, heterosexual.  Heterosexuality is seen as inherently superior and preferable to all other sexual orientations.  Heterosexism, which can be subtle as well as blatant, serves to silence and erase the lives of those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, so that positive images of 2SLGBTQ+ culture become difficult to find, if not invisible.  Living in a climate where one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is consistently devalued or maligned serves to further isolate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

What is Heterosexual Privilege? 

Living without ever having to think twice, face, confront, engage, or cope with anything on this page.  Heterosexuals can address these phenomena but social/political forces do not require them to do so.

Not questioning your normalcy; sexually and culturally

  • Having role models of your gender and sexual orientation
  • Learning about romance and relationships from fiction, movies and television
  • Having positive media images of people with whom you can identify

Validation from the culture in which you live

  • Living with your partner and doing so openly
  • Talking about your relationships, or what projects, vacations, and family plans you and your lover/partner are creating
  • Expressing pain when a relationship ends from death or separation, and having other people notice and tend to your pain
  • Receiving social acceptance by neighbours, colleagues, and good friends
  • Not having to hide and lie about women/men-only activities
  • Dating the person of your desire in your teen years
  • Working without always being identified by your sexual orientation (e.g., you get to be a farmer, bricklayer, artist, etc., without being labeled the heterosexual farmer, etc.)

Institutional acceptance

  • Receiving validation from your religious community, being able to be a member of the clergy
  • Being accepted and included at work, not having your sexual orientation used against you in any way
  • Being employed as a teacher in pre-school through to high school without fear of being fired any day because you are assumed to corrupt children
  • Raising children without threats of state intervention, without children having to be worried which of their friends might reject them because of their parent’s sexual orientation

While GLBT people now have the right to marry, same sex marriages often do not receive the same level of community support that heterosexual marriages do.

For example:

  • Co-workers and family may not provide recognition and support
    (e.g., receiving cards or phone calls celebrating your commitment to another person).
  • Many religious faiths will not unite same sex couples in marriage
  • Service providers for the wedding need to be selected carefully (flowers, photographer, caterers, facility bookings) to ensure they and their employees will be supportive and act appropriately

Did You Know?

Iceland Leads the Way

Johanna Sigurdardottir just might be the first openly lesbian politician to serve as a country’s political leader (we don’t always know the sexual orientation of our political leaders!).  She was sworn in as prime minister of Iceland on February 1, 2009.  Her sexual orientation appears to be a non issue in the country, even though her partner is listed on the parliament’s website.  At the time she became prime minister she was the most popular politician in the country, enjoying a 73% approval rating.