Coverage of Gay and Lesbian Subject Matter in Social Work Journals

By Van Voorhis, Rebecca; Wagner, Marion | Journal of Social Work Education, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Coverage of Gay and Lesbian Subject Matter in Social Work Journals


Van Voorhis, Rebecca, Wagner, Marion, Journal of Social Work Education


IN 1992 THE Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) revised the Curriculum Policy Statement, adding a requirement that programs must include curriculum content on sexual orientation. (CSWE, 1992). For social work programs to meet this mandate, knowledge about lesbians and gay men must be accessible. Many social workers might assume that publication on homosexuality has increased significantly in social work journals in recent years due to the growing public attention to gay and lesbian issues. With the emergence of the gay rights movement following the Stonewall uprising in 1969, public debate about aspects of civil rights for gay and lesbian people increased. As gay rights activists have worked to assure freedom for gay men and lesbians from discrimination in areas such as housing, employment, marriage, child custody, and military service, their opponents have made statements about the homosexual threat to family values. Does social work literature reflect this increased level of public attention to homosexuality and are issues of importance to lesbian and gay people receiving adequate coverage?

This article presents findings on both the amount and the content of writing on lesbians and gay men in selected social work journals during the period 1988-1997. This analysis determined the number of articles and book reviews published during the decade, the percentage that focused on content specific to gay men and lesbians, and the specific matters addressed in the articles on homosexuality. In addition, the authors analyzed the research approach used in the articles pertaining to homosexuality.

Spender (1981) has emphasized the importance of publications in defining the issues that will be addressed by the social work discipline. Berger (1990) discusses the influence of journal publications on the practice of social work, arguing that practitioners and educators rely on social work journals to provide current information on theory, research, and practice approaches. If this is so, content about homosexuality in social work journals is vital to the profession's ability to respond effectively to gay and lesbian clients.

Not only may such content be vital as a resource for practitioners, it also highlights the value placed on understanding the experiences of gay men and lesbians by the social work profession. The presence of journal articles on various issues of importance to lesbians and gay men suggests the profession's commitment to counter heterosexism and homophobia in the larger society. The social work profession generally thinks of itself, and is perceived by others, as committed to social diversity and social justice. Does social work journal publication on the topic of homosexuality reflect these commitments?

Journal Sample

The goal of the research presented here was to determine the attention given to content on lesbians and gay men in social work journals from 1988 to 1997. Twelve social work journals were reviewed. Five were longstanding social work journals: Social Work, Social Service Review, Journal of Social Work Education, Families in Society, and Child Welfare. Seven were journals that began publication within the last two decades: Social Work Research and Abstracts, Research on Social Work Practice, Journal of Social Service Research, Health and Social Work, Computers in Human Services, Affilia, and Administration in Social Work. These 12 journals were selected because they are national in scope, both in readers and authors; they address a general spectrum of social work topics; they have been used in previous reviews of the social work literature (e.g. Kirk & Rosenblatt, 1984; Nichols-Casebolt, Krysik, & Hamilton, 1994; Quam & Austin, 1984); and they are not limited to one particular specialization in social work.

In addition to these 12 social work journals, two journals that focus on practice with gay men and lesbians, the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services and the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Psychotherapy, were included for purposes of comparison.

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