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White Privilege, Heterosexual Privilege, and Liberal Guilt

Heterosexual privilege is a term I have only recently become familiar with. A good female friend of mine usually dates women. Recently though, she started dating a man. While I saw this as a decision that was completely up to her, some of her gay friends gave her a hard time about it. They said that she was giving in to society and heterosexual privilege.

This angered my friend. She thought that she should be able to date whoever she wanted without input from anyone else. When she told me about this, I agreed with her. However, I did need some clarification on heterosexual privilege.

Apparently, heterosexual privilege is the privilege to not give much thought to your sexuality. It’s the freedom to publicly express your sexuality without any feeling of repercussion. I gave this some thought, then decided to discuss it with some of my gay friends.

The friends I discussed heterosexual privilege with said that yes, it is a real thing. However, they added the footnote that if you live in certain places, it is not something you can complain about. They said that in Boston or New York it’s not particularly relevant because these are open-minded places. Having not verified this with every homosexual in these cities, I can’t confirm or deny this.

Because I like to look things up on the Internet, I decided to Google heterosexual privilege. On a Queers United blog, I found the “Heterosexual Privilege” Checklist. It certainly makes some good points. The checklist reads as follows:

On a daily basis as a straight person…

  • I can be pretty sure that my roommate, hallmates and classmates will be comfortable with my sexual orientation.
  • If I pick up a magazine, watch TV, or play music, I can be certain my sexual orientation will be represented.
  • When I talk about my heterosexuality (such as in a joke or talking about my relationships), I will not be accused of pushing my sexual orientation onto others.
  • I do not have to fear that if my family or friends find out about my sexual orientation there will be economic, emotional, physical or psychological consequences.
  • I did not grow up with games that attack my sexual orientation (i.e. fag tag or smear the queer).
  • I am not accused of being abused, warped or psychologically confused because of my sexual orientation.
  • I can go home from most meetings, classes, and conversations without feeling excluded, fearful, attacked, isolated, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, stereotyped or feared because of my sexual orientation.
  • I am never asked to speak for everyone who is heterosexual.
  • I can be sure that my classes will require curricular materials that testify to the existence of people with my sexual orientation.
  • People don’t ask why I made my choice of sexual orientation.
  • People don’t ask why I made my choice to be public about my sexual orientation.
  • I do not have to fear revealing my sexual orientation to friends or family. It’s assumed.
  • My sexual orientation was never associated with a closet.
  • People of my gender do not try to convince me to change my sexual orientation.
  • I don’t have to defend my heterosexuality.
  • I can easily find a religious community that will not exclude me for being heterosexual.
  • I can count on finding a therapist or doctor willing and able to talk about my sexuality.
  • I am guaranteed to find sex education literature for couples with my sexual orientation.
  • Because of my sexual orientation, I do not need to worry that people will harass me.
  • I have no need to qualify my straight identity.
  • My masculinity/femininity is not challenged because of my sexual orientation.
  • I am not identified by my sexual orientation.
  • I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help my sexual orientation will not work against me.
  • If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has sexual orientation overtones.
  • Whether I rent or I go to a theater, Blockbuster, an EFS or TOFS movie, I can be sure I will not have trouble finding my sexual orientation represented.
  • I am guaranteed to find people of my sexual orientation represented in my workplace.
  • I can walk in public with my significant other and not have people double-take or stare.
  • I can choose to not think politically about my sexual orientation.
  • I do not have to worry about telling my roommate about my sexuality. It is assumed I am a heterosexual.
  • I can remain oblivious of the language and culture of LGBTQ folk without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
  • I can go for months without being called straight.
  • I’m not grouped because of my sexual orientation.
  • My individual behavior does not reflect on people who identify as heterosexual.
  • In everyday conversation, the language my friends and I use generally assumes my sexual orientation. For example, sex inappropriately referring to only heterosexual sex or family meaning heterosexual relationships with kids.
  • People do not assume I am experienced in sex (or that I even have it!) merely because of my sexual orientation.
  • I can kiss a person of the opposite gender on the heart or in the cafeteria without being watched and stared at.
  • Nobody calls me straight with maliciousness.
  • People can use terms that describe my sexual orientation and mean positive things.
  • I am not asked to think about why I am straight.
  • I can be open about my sexual orientation without worrying about my job.

Like the Wikipedia definition of white privilege, this checklist made me feel crappy about enjoying the heterosexual privilege I was unaware I had. But again, is this a form of liberal guilt I should feel bad about? I’m just not sure. The answer is the same as I found for myself with white privilege. I can help by treating everyone the same regardless of their sexuality. White, African-American, Hispanic, Asian, gay, straight, whatever, people are people who should be treated equally.

White Privilege, Heterosexual Privilege, and Liberal Guilt

Stacey Goldstein

APA Reference
Goldstein, S. (2018). White Privilege, Heterosexual Privilege, and Liberal Guilt. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 6, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.