Attitudes toward Homosexuality among U.S. Residents of Mexican Descent
Herek, Gregory M., Gonzalez-Rivera, Milagritos, The Journal of Sex Research
Many authors have noted that homosexuality is stigmatized among U.S. residents of Mexican descent and, more generally, in Latino communities in the United States (Ayala & Dfaz, 2001; Diaz, 1998; Diaz, Ayala, Bein, Henne, & Marin, 2001; Flaskerud, Uman, Lara, Romero, & Otherset, 1996; Gonzalez & Espin, 1996; Marin, 2003; Morales, 1990). However, relatively little empirical research has directly examined attitudes toward homosexuality among Latinos or Hispanics. Of the research that has been published in this area, most studies have focused mainly on comparing the direction and intensity of those attitudes to other groups (e.g., Latinos' attitudes versus those of non-Hispanic Whites or African Americans).
For example, Crawford and Robinson (1990) found that Latinos in an ethnically-diverse convenience sample of male high school students were significantly less antigay than their non-Hispanic White counterparts. Bonilla and Porter (1990), using data from the General Social Survey, found that Hispanics did not differ from Whites but were more tolerant than Blacks in their moral judgments about homosexual behavior (although a majority of all three groups judged homosexual behavior to be "always wrong"). Compared to the other groups, however, Hispanics were less supportive of free speech rights and civil liberties for homosexuals. Bonilla and Porter found no differences in attitudes between Mexican-Americans and other Hispanics.
Other studies have failed to find substantial intergroup differences in attitudes. Using a 9-item scale that tapped opinions about civil rights and civil liberties for gay men and lesbians (e.g., equal rights in employment, adoption, and marriage), Sherrod and Nardi (1998) found that gender was more important than ethnicity in predicting attitudes: Latino and non-Hispanic White males expressed more antigay attitudes compared to Latino and non-Hispanic White females and all African Americans. Moreover, the magnitude of the intergroup differences in this sizable convenience sample (N = 3,542) was small--less than 2 points on a 27-point scale--suggesting that they may have had little substantive significance (see also Alcalay, Sniderman, Mitchell, & Griffin, 1989-1990).
The psychological components of attitudes toward homosexuality and toward gay people among adults of Mexican ancestry in the United States remain largely unexamined. Only the previously mentioned study by Sherrod and Nardi (1998) examined the correlates of such attitudes in depth and, like most other published research in this area, it did not differentiate among cultural subgroups of Latinos. In that study, higher levels of sexual prejudice in Latinos were associated with having few lesbian or gay close friends and with describing one's own political ideology as conservative. In addition, Latinos' anti-gay attitudes were associated with agreeing that religious beliefs are always important in guiding their daily decisions.
Sherrod and Nardi's (1998) exploratory study provides a useful starting point for a social psychological analysis of Latinos' attitudes toward homosexuality, although it has important limitations, It did not use a validated attitude measure with known psychometric properties and did not differentiate attitudes toward lesbians from attitudes toward gay men. Furthermore, the study did not examine how cultural variables might affect attitudes within the portion of the sample identified as Hispanic. Indeed, the reported analyses did not differentiate among cultural groupings of Latinos. Finally, the questionnaire apparently was administered only in English, thereby excluding respondents whose preferred reading language was Spanish.
Empirical research is needed that describes the direction, intensity, and correlates of attitudes toward lesbians and gay men within specific U.S. cultural groups of Latinos. Moreover, such research should address the cultural context of these attitudes by examining how individual Latinos' attitudes toward homosexuality are related to their personal ethnic identity and feelings about Latino and U.S. culture. This study reports such data from a convenience sample of Mexican-American adults in northern California. Attitudes toward homosexuality were operationalized using a bilingual version of a previously validated measure, the Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gay Men (ATLG) scale (Herek, 1994), which yields separate scores for attitudes toward male and female homosexuality.
The study is based on the premise that the social construction of sexuality affects not only how individuals understand and structure their own sexual feelings and behaviors, but also how they think about various types of sexual conduct, the individuals who practice it, and the social categories to which the latter are assigned. Ethnic minority individuals' personal understandings of sexuality are shaped both by their own culture and by the dominant culture. When these two constructions of sexuality diverge, the relative influence of each is affected by the extent to which an individual's personal identity and daily life experiences are embedded mainly within one culture or the other.
Given the different ways in which homosexuality is regarded in U.S. and Mexican culture (Diaz, 1998; Gonzalez & Espin, 1996; Manalansan, 1996), it is possible that U.S. residents of Mexican descent will differ in their views depending on their primary cultural identification. Compared to those whose lives are more embedded in Mexican culture, for example, those who strongly identify with U.S. culture may have a greater internalization of the heterosexual-homosexual dichotomy that predominates in the United States. This may result in a more clearly delineated cognitive category for the construct of homosexual. Having such an internalized dichotomy might foster more favorable attitudes toward gay people because they are perceived as a cultural outgroup that, like one's own ethnic group, experiences discrimination. Alternatively, gay people might be perceived as an outgroup that is distinct not only from the larger society, but from Latino culture as well. In either case, the relationship between attitudes toward homosexuality and cultural identity warrants examination.
Based on these considerations, this study's goals were (a) to describe the direction and intensity of attitudes toward homosexuality in a community-based convenience sample of U.S. residents of Mexican descent; (b) to examine the associations between those attitudes and theoretically relevant demographic, social, and psychological variables; and (c) to explore how various facets of cultural identity might affect those associations. For the first goal, we used the ATLG scale. Given the relative absence of data on the attitudes of U.S. residents of Mexican descent (or, more broadly, on the attitudes of Latino Americans in general), hypotheses relevant to the second goal were derived from previous research describing heterosexuals' attitudes toward lesbians and gay men, which has been conducted mainly with non-Hispanic samples (e.g., Herek, 1984, 1994, 2000a; Herek & Capitanio, 1995, 1996; Kite & Whitley, 1996, 1998). We tested six hypotheses:
H1. Men of Mexican descent will express more negative attitudes toward homosexuality than women of Mexican descent, and this difference will be more pronounced in attitudes toward gay men than in attitudes toward lesbians. This hypothesis is based on previous findings of a reliable gender difference in attitudes toward gay men and lesbians in samples of non-Hispanic Whites (Kite & Whitley, 1998) and Hispanics (Sherrod & Nardi, 1998).
H2. U.S. residents of Mexican descent who are less educated, older, and married will express more negative attitudes toward homosexuality compared to those who are highly educated, younger, and single. These demographic differences have been reliably observed in survey research with national probability samples (Glenn & Weaver, 1979; Herek & Capitanio, 1995; Herek & Glunt, 1993; Irwin & Thompson, 1977; Schneider & Lewis, 1984). In addition, Sherrod and Nardi (1998) reported a statistically significant correlation between attitudes and marital status among Hispanic women in their sample.
H3. U.S. residents of Mexican descent will express more negative attitudes toward homosexuality to the extent that they are highly religious and belong to denominations with strongly negative views of homosexuality. Religiosity, as measured by frequency of attendance at religious services, is a reliable predictor of non-Hispanic White heterosexuals' attitudes toward lesbians and gay men (Herek, 1994; see also Sherrod & Nardi, 1998). Given the central role played by religious institutions in Mexico and in the Mexican-American community (Marin & Marin, 1991), we hypothesized that this relationship would hold in the present sample as well. Furthermore, we expected respondents who belonged to more fundamentalist religious denominations (e.g., Baptists, Evangelicals) to exhibit the most negative attitudes.
H4. U.S. residents of Mexican descent will express more negative attitudes toward homosexuality to the extent that they are politically conservative. In recent years, the issue of gay rights in the United States has become increasingly politically charged, with liberals generally supporting the passage of antidiscrimination statutes, whereas conservatives have denounced gay men and lesbians as immoral (Herek, 1994; Herman, 1997). We hypothesized that the same political dynamics would be present among U.S. residents of Mexican descent (see also Sherrod & Nardi, 1998).
H5. U.S. residents of Mexican descent will express less negative attitudes toward homosexuality to the extent that they have had personal contact with gay people. Empirical research has consistently shown that such contact is correlated with tolerant attitudes and, indeed, is one of the best predictors of such attitudes (Herek & Capitanio, 1996; Herek & Glunt, 1993; Schneider & Lewis, 1984). This pattern also was observed among Latinos in Sherrod and Nardi's (1998) sample.
H6. U.S. residents of Mexican descent will express more negative attitudes toward homosexuality to the extent that they endorse traditional values about gender and the proper roles of men and women. This pattern has been reliably observed among non-Hispanic samples (e.g., Kite & Whitley, 1998).
To address the study's third goal---exploring how cultural identity might affect these associations--we tested each of the preceding hypotheses within cultural subgroups defined by language preference (English vs. Spanish) and ethnic identification (Mexican vs. Mexican-American or Chicano/a). In addition, we examined the extent to which attitudes toward homosexuality were correlated with social psychological measures of personal identification with Latinos as a group, self-rated importance of Mexican and U.S. customs and celebrations, and preferences for Mexican versus U.S. cultural contexts. Because differences between males and females have been observed consistently in research with non-Hispanic samples (Herek, 2000b; Kite & Whitley, 1998), we also conducted analyses to assess whether the correlations between attitudes toward homosexuality and the variables listed above differed by respondent gender.
Finally, the extent to which attitudes toward homosexuality are related to perceptions of the ethnicity of gay people was assessed. The attitudes of some U.S. residents of Mexican descent may be premised on the assumption that they differ from gay people not only in sexual orientation, but also in ethnic identification. This assumption of dual differences may result in more negative attitudes than would be the case if gay people were perceived as different solely on the dimension of sexuality. This type of pattern has been observed among African Americans, who tend to express more strongly antigay attitudes if they equate being gay with being White rather than Black (Herek & Capitanio, 1995). Thus, we hypothesized that people …
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Publication information: Article title: Attitudes toward Homosexuality among U.S. Residents of Mexican Descent. Contributors: Herek, Gregory M. - Author, Gonzalez-Rivera, Milagritos - Author. Journal title: The Journal of Sex Research. Volume: 43. Issue: 2 Publication date: May 2006. Page number: 122+. © 2007 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.
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