The difficulties of *isms in an professional environment

At my current job, there are many racist people. There are many sexist people. Homophobia is almost ubiquitous. These are people who have been at the company for 20 years and those that started 6 months ago. They say things like “Stupid girls”, “dumb bitches” or “East asian males are all slobby, inconsiderate, and ignorant.” They make fun of foreign names and men who are slightly feminine in their demeanor. Unfortunately, they are all people who I have to work with if I wish to stay employed.

I’d like to think that HR would do something about it if I brought it to their attention, but the sad truth is that they are there to protect the company from lawsuits not to protect the employees from harassment. In reality, the perpetrator would probably end up with a reprimand in their permanent file and I’d end up with a note about being a trouble-maker in mine and, come lay-off time, we’d both probably be among the first out the door. In the meanwhile, however, I’d still have to try to do my job with the whole department less willing to speak to me or work with me.

So how should I deal with this as a low-level wage slave with no support from anyone in power? I am ashamed to admit I was terrified the first few times I encountered these attitudes and just froze in shock. But, since I’m me, I can’t be happy just listening to this dross and not fighting back. I can’t go through official channels without risking becoming homeless, so what do I do?

I’m not sure how wise it is, but I’ve been trying out sarcasm and mockery along with gentle reproach depending on the situation. A couple of weeks ago, I walked into a rant about how stupid women were and spent the rest of the day pretending I was really stupid to annoy the ranter. He’d say something to me about X and I’d just say “What? What’s X?” When he got really angry at me, I said “Well you already think all women are stupid, so what’s the point of trying to be intelligent when you’re around?” I don’t know how effective it was, but I haven’t heard him ranting since.

If I overhear someone unfairly complaining about someone not fitting into some mold that they are unfairly trying to shove someone into, I usually just say “He’s a good engineer and I like him.” The response is usually along the lines of “Well yes, but he’s so effeminate” Then I can say “So what? He’s a good engineer and a good person.” I live in such a backward place that this usually means they’ve never thought up a response to this and don’t say any more on the subject.

Does anyone else have any other ideas?