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Psychosocial Correlates of Internalized Homophobia in Lesbians

By Szymanski, Dawn M.; Chung, Y. Barry et al. | Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Psychosocial Correlates of Internalized Homophobia in Lesbians


Szymanski, Dawn M., Chung, Y. Barry, Balsam, Kimberly F., Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development


This study investigated the relationship between lesbian internalized homophobia and various psychosocial variables in a national sample of 157 women.

Internalized homophobia, or what some clinicians call "internalized homonegativity," represents lesbians' and gay persons' internalization of negative attitudes and assumptions concerning homosexuality (Shidlo, 1994; Sophie, 1987). Internalized homophobia is an important construct to study because (a) it is suggested to be a developmental occurrence that all lesbians and gay men experience to varying degrees as a result of living in a heterosexist and homophobic society, (b) it is suggested to be a cause of psychological distress in many lesbians and gay men, and (c) reduction of internalized homophobia is often an important goal in therapy with lesbian and gay clients (Shidlo, 1994).

Studies on internalized homophobia have focused almost exclusively on gay men, which is partly due to a lack of measures of lesbian internalized homophobia. A new measure, the Lesbian Internalized Homophobia Scale (LIHS), was recently developed by Szymanski and Chung (in press). In addition to providing data to support the reliability and validity of the scores on the LIHS for their sample, Szymanski and Chung also found that greater internalized homophobia was associated with loneliness and low self-esteem in lesbians and bisexual women. The purpose of the present study was to further examine the reliability and construct validity of the scores on the LIHS with a new sample by investigating the psychosocial correlates of lesbian internalized homophobia, drawing on research findings on gay men.

DEVELOPMENT OF THE LESBIAN INTERNALIZED HOMOPHOBIA SCALE

A few measures exist that assess internalized homophobia in gay men. The Nungesser Homosexuality Attitudes Inventory (Nungesser, 1983) is a 34-item instrument consisting of three subscales. Nungesser conceived of internalized homophobia as consisting of (a) attitudes toward the fact of one's own homosexuality (Self), (b) attitudes toward homosexuality in general and toward other gay persons (Other), and (c) reaction toward others knowing about one's homosexuality (Disclosure). Shidlo (1994) revised the Nungesser Homosexuality Attitudes Inventory by omitting items that were confounding internalized homophobia with other variables, adding more extreme items such as suicidal items to improve content validity, and rephrasing unclear and grammatically awkward items. Alexander (1986) developed the Internalized Homophobia Inventory, which consists of 25 items covering a broad range of areas, including desire to affiliate with other lesbians and gay men and pleasure at being perceived by others as heterosexual. Marti n and Dean (1987) developed the 9-item Internalized Homophobia scale for gay men. This scale was based on the criteria for ego-dystonic homosexuality in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd edition; American Psychiatric Association, 1980). Ross and Rosser's (1996) factor analytic study revealed four dimensions of internalized homophobia: (a) public identification as gay, (b) perception of stigma associated with being homosexual, (c) social comfort with gay men, and (d) the moral and religious acceptability of being gay.

The use of measures developed to assess gay male internalized homophobia with a lesbian sample is problematic because these measures were developed from theoretical and empirical literature on gay men. In addition, many of the scale items are slanted toward gay male culture. Because of a lack of measures specifically assessing lesbian internalized homophobia, as well as content validity problems associated with using the aforementioned measures with a lesbian sample, Szymanski and Chung (in press) developed the LIHS using a rational/theoretical approach to test construction. On the basis of a review of the literature, Szymanski and Chung conceptualized lesbian internalized homophobia as consisting of five dimensions: (a) connection with the lesbian community (CLC), (b) public identification as a lesbian (PIL), (c) personal feelings about being a lesbian (PFL), (d) moral and religious attitudes toward lesbianism (MRATL), and (e) attitudes toward other lesbians (ATOL).

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