How To Respond When Someone Tells You A Homophobic Or Transphobic Joke - Exclusive

Even though attitudes toward LGBTQ+ lifestyles are more accepting than they were in the past, homophobic and transphobic jokes are still unfortunately quite common. If you need evidence, look no further than recent headlines: Presidential candidate Nikki Haley disparaged transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney as "a guy dressed up like a girl," British prime minister Rishi Sunak was caught mocking trans women; and comedian Dave Chappelle once again made explicit and offensive jokes about trans women's bodies.

Many people who make these comments often defend them as harmless fun since they allegedly come from a place of humor. However, regardless of the intention, it's important to recognize that statements targeting the LGBTQ+ community are a form of homophobia – one that has real consequences. One study from back in 2007 found heterosexual people were more likely to exhibit negative feelings about gay individuals after hearing homophobic slurs used. Per The National Institute of Health, young people who experience joking or bullying about their sexuality are more likely to experience mental health problems like depression and substance abuse.

As Pride comes to a close, it's important to remember one of the most impactful ways to be an ally and support the LGBTQIA+ community year-round is to call out homophobia as you see it. However, the process isn't always easy. "Someone who is uneducated regarding the community can hold a lot of fear in their ignorance," Kollyn Conrad (he/him), founder and executive director of Publicly Private, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the LGBTQIA+ community, exclusively tells "This can make the situation dangerous and more hostile," he continues. However, if you come prepared, there are ways to take a stand.

Unpack the joke and open a dialogue

Conrad exclusively tells Women that it's important to assess the level of threat before making the confrontation. "Before addressing the homophobia, transphobia, or biphobia, ensure your safety," he says. This can come in the form of a temperature check of the room – How is that person's mood? Do you know them well enough to where you can know for sure they won't retaliate in a violent manner? Is there a safe place to exit if things go wrong? These are all important things to look out for.

Once you feel safe and comfortable enough, it is crucial to let the person know that you found their joke or statement offensive as soon as possible. Being direct is often the most effective way to guard your boundary. Phrases like "Wow, that's not cool," "I don't agree," "I find that offensive," and "What you just said makes me feel uncomfortable," can work to quickly shut down someone who has started making the jokes before they go further.

A less confrontational and more educational approach, The Inclusion Solution suggests, is to ask the joke teller to explain the joke. Tell them, "I don't get it. Can you explain it?" or "Why is this funny? I don't understand." This strategy can be extremely useful in a less contentious interaction, as it encourages the person to look inward and unpack their own negative bias and discriminatory stereotypes. In other words, you are helping the person realize how and why the joke is inappropriate, which could be a productive learning experience for both sides.

Correct rather than confront

According to Conrad, it's important for your own safety to anticipate the joke teller's potential negative reactions to your statement, which can include denial, justification, and self-defense. "This is most likely because they feel awkward being confronted," he tells exclusively. "Standing your ground here and repeating that you do not agree or find it offensive is key. You're retaining a negative behavior and holding them accountable for their actions."

To minimize the chances of an argument, Planned Parenthood Toronto recommends using "I" statements to emphasize your own feelings so that the listener understands their behavior is what's problematic, not them. An example phrase could be, "I feel hurt and sad when you say those things about gay people." This demonstrates empathy and a willingness to build a bridge with the person, rather than coming off like you want to correct them. If you're the one who is being targeted, sharing your personal story and the impact of the remark can move the conversation forward as well.

However, as difficult as it may be, it's important to not push for confrontation, no matter how much defensiveness you're met with. "Unfortunately, even though you were the one insulted, it becomes difficult for a point to be heard if led with anger," says Conrad. "To keep the situation from escalating, it is imperative to remain calm" they add. Walking away is always an option if you do not feel safe in that moment. You can always come back to it later, or communicate with the person over text if that is a more comfortable option.

Keep that energy even when someone isn't speaking to you directly

It's also important to remember that supporting the LGBTQ+ community goes beyond just fighting back against offensive jokes. In fact, one of the best ways you can show true allyship and challenge homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in public spaces is by letting LGBTQ+ folks in the room know you are a safe space. "If you witness an incident of discrimination, you can address the phobia by displaying alliance or simply lending a shoulder in a time of need," Conrad tells "This can also simply mean greeting someone with a warm smile. Visibility is critical to creating a supportive environment."

This can also come in the form of refusing to engage with or support events or art that promotes harmful jokes or anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. Remember, every time you reject being complicit with intolerance, you are shaking up the norm and helping the world move toward a more accepting and a safer space for everyone.