Academic journal article Social Work

The Gay Affirmative Practice Scale (GAP): A New Measure for Assessing Cultural Competence with Gay and Lesbian Clients

Academic journal article Social Work

The Gay Affirmative Practice Scale (GAP): A New Measure for Assessing Cultural Competence with Gay and Lesbian Clients

Article excerpt

Few studies have been conducted on homophobia, a term used to refer to the broad range of negative attitudes toward gay men and lesbians (Hudson & Ricketts, 1980), in social workers. The first such study, conducted by DeCrescenzo (1984), examined homophobia in 140 mental health professionals in Los Angeles, California, and found that social workers were more homophobic than psychologists. Wisniewski and Toomey (1987) found evidence of homophobia in their study of 77 social workers in Columbus, Ohio. Using classifications developed by Hudson and Ricketts, the authors found that 4 percent were high-grade nonhomophobics; 65 percent were low-grade nonhomophobics; 25 percent were low-grade homophobics; and 6 percent were high-grade homophobics (in total, 31 percent were homophobic). Berkman and Zinberg (1997), using a mailed survey, studied 187 heterosexual social workers randomly selected from the membership rolls of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). In contrast to Wisniewski and Toomey, Berkman and Zinberg found that only 11 percent of social workers were homophobic, based on their responses to Hudson and Ricketts' Index of Homophobia.

Although these studies yielded helpful information about social workers' attitudes toward gay and lesbian individuals, they ten us little about their social work practice with this population. Several authors have discussed the practice implications of homophobia in social workers, and many claim that homophobia may reduce the effectiveness of services offered to gay and lesbian individuals. Homophobia may thus lead practitioners to provide inferior treatment; minimize or exaggerate the importance of sexual orientation in the gay of lesbian person's life; change the topic when clients talk about gay or lesbian issues; devalue clients' feelings and experiences; deny clients access to a broad range of experiences; view clients strictly in terms of their sexual behavior; assume celibate adults and adolescents cannot identify as gay men or lesbians; inform clients that they are not gay of lesbian because they fail to meet some arbitrarily defined criterion; assume that gay or lesbian relationships are phases clients will move through; or perpetuate self-hatred experienced by some gay and lesbian clients (Brown, 1996; McHenry & Johnson, 1993; Messing, Schoenberg, & Stephens, 1984; Peterson, 1996). At its extreme, homophobia in social workers and other practitioners can lead to the use of conversion or reparative therapies, treatments aimed at changing the sexual orientation of the gay, lesbian, of bisexual person, which are explicitly condemned by NASW, the American Psychological Association (ApA), the American Counseling Association, and the American Psychiatric Association (ApA) (American Academy of Pediatrics, n.d.; ApA, 1998; NASW National Committee on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues, 2000).

Despite these assertions, few studies have assessed the relationship between social workers' attitudes and practice with gay and lesbian individuals empirically, although a relationship between the two is generally assumed (Wisniewski & Toomey, 1987). Oles and colleagues (1999) claimed that although attitudes are an important component of practice with gay men and lesbians, other factors also are required for culturally sensitive practice with these individuals. Given these limitations, additional research on social workers' behaviors in practice and beliefs about practice with gay and lesbian individuals is needed. The goal of this study was to develop a two-dimensional scale that would assess both these elements and to examine the relationship between this scale and social workers' attitudes in general toward gay and lesbian individuals.

GAY AFFIRMATIVE PRACTICE

Gay affirmative practice models provide guidelines for treating gay and lesbian individuals. Historically, this approach to practice has been the domain of psychologists with an emphasis on gay affirmative psychotherapy. …

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