Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Gender Differences in African American Attitudes toward Gay Males

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Gender Differences in African American Attitudes toward Gay Males

Article excerpt


African Americans are believed to have significantly less tolerance of homosexuality than Whites. This degree of difference is thought to result in greater stigmatization of homosexuality in African American communities, causing more "closeted" behaviors and subsequently producing more stress (Rose, 1998). The greater stigma of homosexuality is thought to cause Black gay men to have difficulties coping with their generally more traumatic life histories, rejection by Black churches and, to some extent, differential treatment by the White gay community (Boykin, 1996; Kenan, 1999; Meyer and Cohen, 1999). However, little empirical research has contributed to understanding the interaction of age, class, gender and race with other social structures like education and religion in shaping African American attitudes toward gay men (Halton, 1989; Rose, 1998; Waldner, Kikka and Baig, 1999).

Homophobia is not only stressful to Black gay men, but it also may play a significant role in the increasing prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the African American community. For example, African American students are reported to have significantly less knowledge of AIDS and have significantly more negative attitudes toward gay men than both Hispanic and White students (Waldner, Sikka and Baig, 1999). Some have gone so far as to explicitly state that negative attitudes toward gay men are a detriment to controlling HIV (Fullilove and Fullilove, 1999). Stigma creates a heavy burden for gay men and impedes their ability to fight AIDS (Fullilove and Fullilove, 1999; Herek and Capitanio, 1999). Cole and his colleagues (1997) analyzed data from a 9-year prospective study of 72 initially healthy HIV-positive gay men and reported rejection-sensitive males experienced a significant acceleration, over time, to a critically low CD4 T-lymphocyte level, time to AIDS diagnosis, and HIV mortality. There is also a reported relationship between shame and internalized negative attitudes toward gay men that results in avoidance of social support and utilization of public health resources (Allen and Oleson, 1999).

Though there has been limited research on African American attitudes toward gay males, to the degree that such research exists, the findings have been fairly consistent. For example, almost 30 years ago, Alston (1974) reported Blacks were more likely than Whites to disapprove of extramarital and homosexual relations; and a decade ago Ernst and his colleagues (1991) reported a greater relative endorsement of hostile attitudes toward gay males with AIDS. After examining race, gender, educational achievement, religious preference, and marital status, their research showed that racial difference in the condemnation of homosexuality was derived nearly completely from a difference in attitude between Black and White females.

In addition to race and gender, previous research indicates that individuals and groups with conservative ideologies are likely to harbor more negative attitudes toward gay males (Estrada and Weiss, 1999; Jome and Tokar, 1998; Sullivan, 1999). Ficarrotto (1990) reported that sexual conservatism correlated with racist and sexist beliefs as independent and equal predictors of anti-homosexual sentiment. Schieman (1998) found in his sample of 189 university students that men reported significantly higher levels of social distance and homophobia. He also reported that homophobia was higher among men who did not know or were "not close" to someone with AIDS and who accepted media portrayals of gays as accurate.


The sparse body of work on African American attitudes toward gay men has reported conflicting results. After the publication of Ernst et al.'s (1991) seminal work in the field, it was generally thought that Black women were largely responsible for greater intolerance of male homosexuality among African Americans. Two salient drawbacks to this study were that it was a regional sample of state employees and that the instrument was specifically designed as a 13-item Likert scale measuring reactions to AIDS. …

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