Catholic High School Students' Attitudes toward Homosexuality: A Snapshot of Incoming College Freshmen

Article excerpt

This study is a survey of incoming freshmen at a Midwestern Catholic university on their agreement with Church teachings on homosexuality. In general, females had more homo-positive attitudes than males, graduates of Catholic high schools had more homo-positive attitudes than graduates from non-Catholic high schools, and graduates from coeducational Catholic high schools had more homo-positive attitudes than graduates from unisex Catholic high schools. Also, if respondents agreed with the Church's teaching against homosexual activity and that homosexuality is a disorder, they were less likely to agree with the Church's teachings that gay and lesbian people have rights that the Church should protect.


The purpose of this article is to report the results of a survey study conducted at a Midwestern Catholic university in 1995 with a gay and lesbian student organization. The student organization was interested in discovering the attitudes of incoming freshmen on the topic of homosexuality, and the study also served broader research purposes.



The term "homophobia" is credited to Weinberg (1972). While the term has become widely used, researchers have questioned if it can be applied universally to all negative attitudes toward homosexuality and gay and lesbian people (LaSalle, 1992; Plasek & Allard, 1985; Sepekoff, 1985). Friend (1993) defined the term as "the fear and hatred of homosexuality in one's self and in others" (p. 211). Friend also defined "heterosexism," another term in common use, as "the belief that everyone is, or should be, heterosexual" (p. 211). Herek (1985a, 1985b) argued that not all negative attitudes toward homosexuality and gay and lesbian people can be described as "phobic." Herek went on to create three categories of negative attitudes toward homosexuality. Experiential attitudes are the result of negative experiences with gay and lesbian people. Defensive attitudes describe fear of homosexuality within one's self. Symbolic attitudes derive from ideologies, such as religion. Studies have also shown that the AIDS epidemic increased homophobia in the American public in the 1980s, and that homophobia is related to attitudes toward people with AIDS (Ellis, 1989; McClerren, 1992; McDevitt, 1987; Reynolds, 1989; Russell & Ellis, 1993; Walters, 1990).

A number of studies have demonstrated a relationship between religious beliefs and attitudes toward homosexuality (Reinhardt, 1997). Fledderjohann (1996) found that among freshmen at conservative Christian colleges, those who graduated from Christian high schools were more conservative on the topic of homosexuality than those who graduated from public schools. The Barna Research Group (2001) found that Born Again Christians were more conservative than mainline Protestants in their attitudes toward homosexuality, and that Evangelical Christians were by far more conservative than either group.

Several researchers have sought to give a picture of attitudes toward homosexuality among college and university students. Simoni (1996) found that college students were more likely to have negative attitudes toward gays and lesbians if they were younger, less educated, had less educated parents, and were male. Students with low self-esteem tended to have less positive experiences with gays and lesbians, which led to greater heterosexism. In a study of university students who had strong negative attitudes toward gays and lesbians, Dowler (1999) found that negative attitudes tended to fall into five major categories: repulsion, fear-discomfort, moral/religious righteousness, abnormality, and conditional acceptance. Similarly, LaSalle (1992) found that negative comments about homosexuality from university students, faculty, and staff showed four themes; religious or moral beliefs, that homosexuality is a private matter that should not be discussed, that people were "tired of" or "fed up with" the issue, or that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people were psychologically or behaviorally abnormal. …