As I have written about before, the atheist community certainly has a sexism problem. However, atheists are generally quite supportive of gay rights. It’s extremely rare to meet an atheist that is openly against gay marriage, but you might see one on the internet every now and then. But again, sexism is rather common in atheist spaces (especially online spaces). How can one group be so enthusiastic about gay rights, while ignoring much of the systemic sexism in our society?
Well, I think a part of it stems from how people see themselves in reference to their social group (or their social identity). Being against homosexuality is sometimes a main part of the teachings of one’s religious group. The Bible says homosexuality is an “abomination” and being against gay marriage are pretty explicit attacks on gay rights. Sexism in our society can also be more subtle than not wanting gay people to get married or providing them service. So being against gay rights can be an explicit part of one’s social identity if you are religious, where sexism may be more implicit and permeates throughout society. It might be easy to drop the explicitly anti-gay part once you leave your church, but the sexism (either from the church or elsewhere) might stick.
These were my thoughts on the matter and then I asked a partially rhetorical question on Facebook. I found some of the replies to my question rather insightful so I’d like to share a couple of them with you.
Heina Dadabhoy was spot on in her assessment in how gay men are much less threatening to the white cis male status quo that still dominates atheism:
However, Parker Bush also had an interesting point in how libertarian politics (which many atheists subscribe too) can justify male privilege, thereby perpetuating sexism.
I’d also like to note that while there was general agreement that sexism is more common in atheist circles, there are certainly still some anti-gay comments as Alex Gabriel points out. The more subtle homophobia may be caught by those who are gay themselves.
I think these points illustrate how our social groups can facilitate the kind of biases we have. I hope that more atheists (and more people) come to see many of their cognitive blindspots and biases are products of their social environment. If we can support one marginalized group, we should be able to support all of them.