Homosexuality: A U.S. Persepective for International Students

Produced with support from the Office of the Dean of Students and the Counseling Center University of Oregon

Every culture has its own attitudes and beliefs about homosexuality. Now that you are attending school in the United States, you may find it useful to have a better understanding of how Americans view homosexuality.

One of the strongest values in U.S. culture is individualism. In the U.S., a dominant belief is that each person has the right to live as he or she wants, as long as it does no interfere with the rights of others. In addition, often Americans think that it is best to speak openly about disagreements, and that this is a good way to find a solution to a conflict. These and other cultural values contribute to U.S. views on homosexuality.

The purpose of this brochure is to provide factual answers to questions which are often asked about homosexuality in the United States. In addition, the brochures gives resources for students who want more information.

What is a homosexual?
A “homosexual” is a woman or man who has a sexual and/or romantic interest in a person of the same gender. The word “lesbian” refers to women and the word “gay” refers to men.

What is a heterosexual?
A “heterosexual” is a woman or man who has a sexual and/or romantic interest in a person of the opposite gender.

What is a bisexual?
A “bisexual” is a person who has a sexual and/or romantic interest in people of both genders. However, a bisexual woman or man does not necessarily have lovers of both genders at the same time.

Can you tell if someone is gay, lesbian or bisexual?
It is impossible to tell people’s sexual orientation by their appearance. Stereotypes can be misleading.

How many lesbians and gay men are there in the United States?
No one knows how many lesbians and gay men there are in the U.S. It is estimated that 2% to 10% of the U.S. population is lesbian or gay.

What causes homosexuality?
This is a common question. Different cultures have different theories and beliefs. In the U.S., there is no agreement on the answer to this question.

Is being gay, lesbian or bisexual normal?
Homosexuality has existed throughout history and around the world. Some famous lesbians and gay men include Aristotle, Michelangelo, Virginia Woolf, Rudolf Nureyev, Yukio Mishima, and Martina Navratilova. There are lesbians, gays, and bisexuals of every age, race, educational level, and socioeconomic class.

Is being gay, lesbian or bisexual healthy?
All people who are sexually active risk being exposed to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including AIDS, regardless of their sexual orientation. Information on safer sex is available at the Student Health Center. In addition, the American Psychological Association does not consider homosexuality to be a mental illness.

Are homosexuals discriminated against?
In the U.S., some organizations and individuals discriminate against homosexuals. For example, school teachers can lose their jobs if someone thinks they are homosexual. Homosexuals can be refused housing or be evicted from their homes. In addition, they are sometimes physically attacked. Homophobia and discrimination against homosexuals exist everywhere in the U.S., including Eugene and the University of Oregon. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are often harassed on campus.

What is homophobia?
“Homophobia” is the irrational fear and hatred of homosexuals. People who are homophobic are often afraid to get to know lesbians and gays. They are sometimes afraid that other people will think they are gay or lesbian. Or, they worry that a gay or lesbian person may be attracted to them. If they do not know gays or lesbians, they don’t realize that these fears are not necessary.

Homophobia can lead to physical or emotional violence against homosexuals.

Why are gays, lesbians and bisexuals so public about their sexuality? Isn’t this a private matter?
Some people in the U.S. think that homosexuals and bisexuals talk too much about their lives. In the U.S., heterosexual couples often hold hands and even kiss in public. They commonly talk about boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives. However, lesbians and gays cannot talk about their social lives without revealing their homosexuality and risking discrimination. Therefore, gays, lesbians and bisexuals only want the same freedom of expression that heterosexuals enjoy.

Why does the issue of homosexuality get so much attention in the U.S.?
Historically, there have been many social movements for equal rights in the U.S. For example, there have been movements to gain civil rights for women, black people and people of different religions. The homosexual rights movement is another example of people in the U.S. working together for civil rights. Homosexual rights laws would help protect lesbians and gays from discrimination.

Not everyone agrees that homosexuals and bisexuals need legal protection from discrimination. There are some organizations in the U.S. and in Oregon that are working to pass laws against homosexual rights.

Movements for civil rights require legal reform. This process creates a lot of debate and gets media attention. Therefore, the homosexual rights movement is now getting a lot of attention.

How do issues of homosexual rights and discrimination affect me if I’m heterosexual?
As a university student in the U.S., you may meet lesbians, gays, and bisexuals. They may be your classmates, your instructors, and possibly your friends. You will often read or hear about the issues of homosexual rights and discrimination against homosexuals. If you know about these issues, you will be better able to understand the lesbian, gay, and bisexual people you meet.

What if I am homosexual or bisexual?
Maybe you would like to talk with someone, read a book, or make a friend. Check the resource below.

“Many international students who some to the U.S. seem amazed by how many homosexuals there are here. Rather than making a quick judgment, try getting to know someone who’s gay, lesbian or bisexual.” Douglas

“I’m a French major, currently writing my thesis on street art. Having lived in other countries – the Soviet Union, France, and Israel – I think that you can enrich your experiences by trying to see things as natives see them.” Davina

“I was born in Korea. The gay community here has not judged me by my race. I have found the support I need as a gay minority.” Amy

“I’m president of my dorm, and I enjoy swimming, poetry and piano. As a Mexican, I have felt comfortable coming out as a gay man in the U.S., even though there’s still a lot of homophobia here.” Enrique



  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Alliance (LGBA) (541) 346-3360
  • Women’s Center (downstairs EMU) (541) 346-4095
  • Student Health Center (541) 346-4441
  • Counseling Center (541) 346-3227
  • Educational/Support Services (541) 346-1142
  • GLB Coffee Hour
  • GLB Youth Group


  • The Lavender Network
  • Just Out
  • The Alternative Connection

For more information, check The Lavender Network, available at these bookstores:

  • Mother Kali’s, 2001 Franklin Blvd.
  • Hungry Heat, 1241 Willamette
  • Peralandra, 1016 Willamette


University of Oregon Policy Statement on Affirmative Action & Equal Opportunity
The University of Oregon affirms and actively promotes the rights of all individuals to equal opportunity in education and employment at this institution without regard to race, color, sex, national origin, age, religion, marital status, handicap, veteran status, sexual orientation, or any other extraneous consideration not directly and substantively related to effective performance.