College Students' Attitudes toward Gays and Lesbians

By Chonody, Jill M.; Siebert, Darcy Clay et al. | Journal of Social Work Education, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

College Students' Attitudes toward Gays and Lesbians


Chonody, Jill M., Siebert, Darcy Clay, Rutledge, Scott Edward, Journal of Social Work Education


A HIGH LEVEL OF antigay bias, both in the larger population and the helping professions in particular, is a significant problem considering the proportion of the population that identifies as gay, lesbian, or bisexual (GLB). Data analysis for The National Survey from Family Growth (2002) indicates that 4.1% of those who are 18-45 self-identified as GLB. Using this finding along with data compiled from the 2000 U.S. Census and the American Community Survey, Gates (2006) estimates that approximately 8.8 million gay males, lesbians, or bisexuals live in the United States. Based on the census data from 2000, approximately 601,209 same-sex couples live in the United States (Smith & Gates, 2001), spread over 99.3% of all counties. More than 150,000 of these same-sex couples are raising children, of which there are approximately a quarter-million altogether (Witeck & Gates, 2004). It is plausible these estimates may not accurately reflect the true population, as many individuals may feel uncomfortable revealing their sexual orientation in a survey (Gates, 2006). Nonetheless, the makeup and distribution of the gay and lesbian population sheds light on the particular importance in addressing antigay biases in college students majoring in the helping professions (Crisp, 2006). Once these students begin practicing, they will likely encounter gay or lesbian clients at some point, regardless of their particular practice venue.

Research in this substantive area indicates that a number of key individual factors appear to be correlated with high levels of antigay biases. It has been found that religiosity is positively correlated with negative attitudes toward gays and lesbians (Cotton-Huston & Waite, 2000; Hinrichs & Rosenberg, 2002; Johnson, Brems, & Alford-Keating, 1997), whereas at least one study has found age to be negatively correlated (Johnson et al., 1997). Region of the country appears to have a relationship with antigay bias in that a correlation has been found between persons who are from the Midwest or the South and higher levels of sexual prejudice when compared to those from other regions of the country (Barth & Overby, 2003; Cramer, Oles, & Black, 1997). Similarly, type of childhood setting also shows some correlations; those from rural settings had higher levels of antigay bias (Snively, Kreuger, Stretch, Watt, & Chadha, 2004). A relationship has also been observed between lack of contact with gay or lesbian individuals and negative attitudes toward gays and lesbians (Barth & Overby, 2003; Berkman & Zinberg, 1997; Cramer et al., 1997; Hinrichs & Rosenberg, 2002). Moreover, gender appears to be a predictor of antigay biases (Ben-Ari, 1998; Cramer et al., 1997; Hinrichs & Rosenberg, 2002), and studies have found that male heterosexuals are more biased against gay men than are lesbians (Cramer et al., 1997). In at least one study, African Americans were found to have higher levels of sexual prejudice (Cramer et al., 1997), but Herek and Capitanio's (1999) national survey found that negative attitudes toward gays and lesbians were not more prevalent among African Americans.

Many different hypotheses have been posited to explain biases toward sexual minorities. Lack of positive contact with gays or lesbians (Lance, 1994; Miller, Smith, & Mackie, 2004), belief that sexual orientation is a choice (Hegarty, 2002), adherence to traditional gender roles (Newman, 2007), religious conservatism (Malcomnson, Christopher, Franzen, & Keyes, 2006), and latent homosexuality (Adams, Wright, & Lohr, 1996) are included among these theories. Similar to other biases, it is most likely determined by multiple factors (Crandall & Eshleman, 2003) and may be receptive to change with the application of pedagogical intervention specifically designed to address the problem (Cramer et al., 1997).

Pedagogical Interventions

Ben-Ari (1998) states that "homophobia can be confronted in at least three ways: exploring one's history, learning the facts, and getting to know lesbians and gay men" (p. …

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