Intergroup relations and contact between groups has historically been considered a mechanism to promote support for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights. However, LGBT identities are often concealable, and stigma discourages members of the LGBT community from disclosing that they are LGBT, which may prevent contact. Some subsets of the LGBT population make up a small percentage of the overall population, which may also decrease the quantity of contact. As such, the process of coming out to friends, relatives, and coworkers has been a common strategy of the modern LGBT movement. The strategy could be effective because the intergroup contact literature has found support for intergroup contact decreasing prejudice in meta-analyses. At the same time, researchers have challenged the assertion that intergroup contact promotes social change because intergroup contact is sometimes negative, or may be impractical or avoided, positive attitudes can coincide with acceptance of inequality, and intergroup contact may have unintended negative side effects. Research has generally found support for the notion that intergroup relations are more positive when there is greater contact. For LGBT people greater contact has been associated with decreasing anti-LGBT prejudice and increasing support for LGBT rights. However, similar to other domains of contact, the influence of LGBT contact is contextually sensitive, and a combination of psychological and structural barriers can decrease or prevent the positive effects of intergroup contact. There are strategies which may overcome these limitations, through policies (e.g., protection against discrimination), promoting types of contact that promote social change as opposed to merely positive attitudes, secondary transfer of contact effects, imagined contact, indirect forms of contact, and positive media representations of LGBT people. Gaps in the literature include a relative lack of research on contact with members of the LGBT community other than gays and lesbians (particularly non-cisgender people), intergroup contact between members of different subsets of the LGBT community, and a need for experimental and/or intervention-based research.
Coming Out, Intergroup Relations, and Attitudes Toward LGBT Rights
Mark R. Hoffarth and Gordon Hodson
Distributive Justice for LGBTQ People
Leading advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) advancement in the United States debate the central objectives of the movement as well as its proper reformist scope. On the libertarian right, gay rights proponents articulate a narrow vision, devoid of race or class consciousness and focused on obtaining formal equality through spare legal reforms—mainly access to marriage and military inclusion. On the left, advocates envision a larger cultural transformation, one that intersects with racial and economic justice and challenges the norms of powerful institutions such as family, capitalism, and the military. A review of empirical research demonstrates that the needs in the LGBTQ community are diverse and, in many cases, urgent. The most privileged, along axes of race and class, may have few concerns apart from protection against discrimination and formal exclusion from major social institutions. Once the full spectrum of LGBTQ demographics and experience are considered, however, such a constricted range of reform objectives reveals itself to be insufficient to address such obstacles as hunger, homelessness, and unemployment. A fresh approach to evaluating LGBTQ legal needs yields an equally fresh set of alternatives to the mainstream legal reform agenda. An intersectionally and distributively cognizant shift in the movement’s direction could advance the needs of the most disadvantaged members of the community, including homeless youth, transgender sex workers, and low-income parents.
Attitudes toward LGBT Rights: Political Tolerance and Egalitarian Values in the United States
Andrew R. Flores
Attitudes towards political groups and their rights are often shaped by the core values held by individuals. In reference to LGBT people and their rights, research has often shown that core values play a role in understanding affect towards the group and related policies. Values such as moral traditionalism and egalitarianism have long been understood to be determinants of people’s attitudes toward LGBT rights. LGBT issues are framed relying on competing value frames, which change in their dominance over time. However, core values tend to be stable but American attitudes toward LGBT people and rights have undergone sharp increases in their favorability. One explanation for this change is an increasing political tolerance among the American public. Political tolerance is the degree to which the public supports the civil liberties of members of different social groups, and it is distinct though related to attitudes on LGBT issues of equality (e.g., marriage equality). Political tolerance encompasses attitudes toward the rights for LGBT people to exercise their free speech, political and social organization, and live free from government intrusion. In the US, adults have consistently expressed greater political tolerance for lesbian and gay people than issues of LGBT equality. Political tolerance toward lesbian and gay people has increased since the 1970s, but egalitarian values have remained rather stagnant. The effect of egalitarian values on political tolerance for lesbian and gay people was stronger in earlier years, and as Americans have become more tolerant of lesbian and gay people, the role of egalitarianism in affecting political tolerance has diminished. There are limitations of existing data, especially regarding the political tolerance of bisexuals, transgender people, and others who are generally considered to be within the broader LGBT community.
Beliefs and Stereotypes About LGBT People
Gary R. Hicks
The public’s perception of, beliefs about, and interest in LGBT individuals and the issues impacting them has long had great significance to the community’s social, political, and legal progress. The last decade has seen monumental changes in public attitudes about LGBT people and the laws that affect them in the United States and around the world. Much of this change has been positive, including the landmark Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage. In some parts of the world—even those that have witnessed great strides for LGBT equality—there have also been signs of a backlash against the community’s newfound rights and visibility in society. Stereotypes of LGBT individuals, mostly negative, have been responsible for much of this reaction, as well as their historically negative view in by the public. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the mass media has played a major role in creating and perpetuating these stereotypes.
Historical Views of Homosexuality: European Colonialism
The history of colonialism encompassed diverse meetings between societies and cultures, providing chances for discovery (by both the colonizing and the colonized) of differing sexual attitudes and behaviors. Varying sexual cultures inspired European ethnographical research, relativised sexual certainties and incited both fantasies and moral concern. Eroticised images of foreign men appeared in art, and affective relationships between Europeans and non-Europeans featured in literary works. The sex lives of “natives” and Europeans overseas provided subjects of speculation. The conquest of overseas territories by European and other expanding powers also led to the imposition of Western law codes regulating sexuality, including same-sex relations, gender norms, and marriage. Prohibitions on “sodomy” entered law codes throughout the British Empire, often with provisions of severe penalties. Only in the late 1900s did decriminalization occur in the British settler Dominions, though less often in former colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. For European countries where same-sex activity had been decriminalized, such as France, it generally remained legal in the colonies, though surrounded with taboos and social opprobrium. Same-sex desire (and relations between Europeans or between them and indigenous people) appeared in many forms in colonial societies and in the lives of men associated with overseas empires. It was castigated by authorities as a menace to colonial mores but experienced by some men in the colonies as an opportunity for pleasure and a source of male bonding; non-Western sexual cultures provided arguments for both campaigns of “moralization” and for homosexual emancipation in Europe. Occasional scandals underscored the ways in which debates about sexual difference intertwined with colonial-era attitudes and policies.
Canada’s LGBT Movement and Interest Groups
The Canadian LGBT movement has had enormous success in gaining political and legal recognition for sexual minorities—as much as any of its sister movements in other countries. This is especially remarkable because the sexual repressiveness of the Canadian social and political climate remained largely in place until the 1990s. And although activist groups across the country have had challenges in marshalling resources, mobilizing beyond the regional level, and overcoming internal inequities, advocacy pressure has been effective enough to produce a political sea change with few precedents in other issue areas. Starting in the 1990s, Canada experienced a country-wide “takeoff” in the formal recognition of sexual diversity, most dramatically in the legal status given to same-sex relationships. Even if a vocal minority of the general public opposed such moves, the acceptance of sexual minorities as legitimate members of the Canadian mosaic has become politically normalized. Sexual diversity is far from being fully accepted, and those communities traditionally under-represented in the LGBT movement still face marginalization in a period of growing socioeconomic inequality. But the movement has made impressive gains, aided by social and institutional factors that have allowed activist leverage when the political winds blew in their favor. This success, however, presents new challenges, creating complacency within and beyond LGBT circles and increasing the difficulty of mobilizing people and resources. The decline of religiously conservative opposition to the public recognition of sexual diversity in Canada has also created room for the movement to become more fragmented than it has been in the past. And yet there is still much need for advocacy. Socially conservative politicians are still pandering to public anxiety about recognizing sexual diversity. Activist attention is still needed in areas such as schooling, policing, social service provision, and immigration. Trans people, “two-spirited” Indigenous people, and sexual minorities within Canada’s large ethnocultural and religious minorities are often on the margins of their own communities, the broader society, and the LGBT movement itself. From the early 1970s through the mid-2000s, the Canadian movement’s trajectory was similar to activism elsewhere. A “liberationist” period generated a long-lasting strand of radicalism alongside a slowly growing current focused on seeking rights through mainstream political channels (Adam, 1987, 1999). The analysis to follow first points to distinctive elements of the Canadian social and political context and then traces the evolution of what would become the LGBT movement from these early stages and into a period of legal and political “takeoff.” It points to strong commonalities in movement agendas, even across imposing regional lines, but also recognizes the challenges of mounting coherent movement responses to remaining inequities in a political environment so marked by activist success.
Public Opinion and Religion: Gay Rights in the United States
Darren E. Sherkat
Religion plays an important role in structuring civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people (GLBT). Religious proscriptions against homosexuality were almost universally codified into law until the late 20th century, and laws against homosexuality and denying civil rights to homosexual remain in place in most nation states. The advent of the civil rights movement for GLBT persons has generated considerable backlash both in nations where civil rights have been secured, as well as in nations where many political leaders and movements view the extension of civil rights to GLBT persons as an external cultural threat. Religious opposition to the extension of rights has swiftly followed GLBT activism seeking: (a) an end to legal proscriptions; (b) alleviation of harassment and discrimination; (c) marriage and family recognition; (d) action related to the HIV/AIDS epidemic; and (e) recognition of transgendered identity and transgendered rights. GLBT movements quickly achieved considerable success and even garnered support from religious liberals. Data from the General Social Surveys (GSS) in the United States show that while support for same-sex marriage has increased in the U.S., significant differences remain across religious groups. Specifically, sectarian Protestants are significantly less supportive of civil rights for GLBT persons, while the non-religious are most supportive. While GLBT persons are making substantial political gains throughout the world, in many places backlash is eroding civil rights, and in much of the world the movement has lacked success. Several liberal religious groups have been crucial for the international success of human rights campaigns for GLBT persons, however conservative religious groups from several religious traditions have successfully promoted the continued repression of GLBT persons and movements.
Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Political Decision Making
Ewa A. Golebiowska
Public opinion on LGBT Americans’ rights has become more supportive of equal treatment over time. The movement toward greater egalitarianism has been particularly pronounced on attitudes toward same-sex marriage and gay adoption. Today, the general public is overwhelmingly supportive of laws to protect gays and lesbians against job discrimination, the right of gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, and legal recognition of same-sex marriages. It is also overwhelmingly supportive of legal protections for gay and lesbian employees, although we do not know whether abstract support for equality in the workplace translates into support for the hiring of gays and lesbians in all occupations. Yet, many questions concerning LGBT Americans’ rights remain controversial. The general public is especially polarized on the questions of whether transgender individuals should be able to use the bathrooms of the gender with which they identify and whether business owners in the wedding services industry can discriminate against same-sex couples on religious grounds. Systematic research on political attitudes of LGBT individuals using probability samples is practically nonexistent, although there are many studies of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals’ attitudes, identities, and behavior that use convenience samples. The existing studies demonstrate that lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals tend to identify as ideologically liberal and favor the Democratic Party in their affinities and votes. LGBT Americans are far more supportive of equality in all issue domains although bisexuals—compared to lesbians and gay men—are more lukewarm in their embrace of equality on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Scholarship on LGBT Americans in public opinion has primarily explored attitudes toward gays and lesbians and has tended to focus on attitudes toward same-sex marriage and adoption. It examines psychological, political, and demographic correlates of public opinion regarding LGBT individuals and explores links between interpersonal contact with LGBT individuals and attitudes toward them. Generally speaking, moral traditionalism, gender role conceptions, and attributions for the existence of homosexuality are especially important psychological predictors of attitudes toward sexual and gender identity minorities. Partisan and ideological identities play an important role too as do cues from ideologically compatible political elites. Of the several demographic attributes that researchers have included in their models, religion-related variables stand out for their predictive prowess. Finally, interpersonal contact with sexual and gender minorities, as well as community exposure to LGBT individuals, is associated with more favorable views toward them. Another yardstick by which commitment to equal treatment for LGBT Americans could be measured is whether and how sexual orientation and gender identity influence political fortunes of candidates for electoral office. Scholarship to date suggests that sexual orientation and gender identity function as important heuristics that influence voters’ thinking about LGBT candidacies. Some scholarship mines survey questions that inquire about respondents’ willingness to support hypothetical LGBT candidates for office. Others use experimental design to isolate the influences of sexual orientation and gender identity on political evaluation. Altogether, these studies demonstrate that LGBT individuals do not face a level playing field when they launch campaigns for office.
The Inclusion-Moderation Thesis: The U.S. Republican Party and the Christian Right
Andrew R. Lewis
Conservative Christianity’s alignment with the Republican Party at the end of the 20th century is one of the most consequential political developments, both for American religion and American party politics. In the proceeding four decades, what has been the nature of this relationship? The inclusion-moderation thesis suggests that once religious movements are integrated into political parties, their interests are often co-opted by broader party interests and their positions moderate. For the Christian right in the U.S. there is mixed evidence for the inclusion-moderation process. Considering all the evidence, the most apt description is that conservative Christianity has transformed the Republican Party, and the Republican Party has transformed conservative Christianity. With its inclusion in the Republican Party, the Christian right has moderated on some aspects. The movement has become more professional, more attuned to the more widely accepted, secular styles of democratic politics, and more engaged in the broader goals and positions of the party. Conservative Christianity has also failed to fully achieve some of its most important goals and has lost some of its distinctiveness. In these ways, the party has changed the Christian right. At the same time, the Christian right has altered Republican politics. National candidates have changed their positions on important social issues, including abortion, gay rights, and religious freedom. The party’s platforms and judicially strategies have been strongly affected by movement’s interests, and conservative Christian activists have come to be central to the Republican Party. It’s stability and strength within the party have given the movement power. In these areas, the Christian right has evangelized the Republican Party rather than moderated. A fair assessment is that for the Christian right there has been partial but quite incomplete adherence to the inclusion-moderation process.
LGBTQI Rights and Sub-Saharan Africa
In recent decades, the efflorescence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) movements has created powerful inroads for sexual rights in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. While conditions for LGBTI people vary considerably between and within countries, activists across the region are reshaping political, legal, and social understandings of gender and sexuality through their advocacy, both by seizing opportunities and navigating periods of backlash and repression. Over the years, activists have established domestic movements and have expanded their reach to articulate demands in regional and international forums. Their work has challenged the universality of models developed in other parts of the globe and has generated new tactics to respond to religious, familial, and state-sponsored prejudice. At the same time, questions of representativeness, accountability, and strategy have been raised by constituencies and longtime activists alike, inviting critical assessments of movement politics in the region.
Attitudes Toward LGB Families: International Policies and LGB Family Planning
Pedro Alexandre Costa
According to recent U.S. census data, there are over 700,000 same-gender couples, of which 114,00 have children. U.K. census data further revealed over 200,000 same-gender parented families, and there is evidence that these numbers have been increasing in the last few decades. Between the late 1980s and early 1990s, research on the psychosocial well-being of LGB families was established with a focus on the potential impact of parents’ sexual orientation on the psychological adjustment of their children. Interest in LGB families was evidenced by the growing political and public attention, and became a central issue within the LGBT+ movement across the Western world, especially in Europe and the United States. However, attitudes toward LGB family policies have not evolved in a linear fashion insofar as they have accompanied the constant back and forth in LGB family policies and legislation. Negative attitudes toward LGB family policies are rooted in the negative evaluations of LGB individuals based on beliefs that LGB people are less fit as parents or unable to form and sustain healthy relationships because of their sexual or gender identity. However, these negative beliefs differ according to heterosexual individuals’ characteristics. Research has shown that men, older, less educated, non-White, politically conservative, highly religious, and authoritarian, as well as those who believe that homosexuality is controllable, strictly adhere to traditional gender roles and authorities, and do not have frequent or close contact with LGB individuals, hold higher levels of sexual prejudice toward LGB individuals and LGB family policies. As of January 2020, same-gender marriage and parenthood are recognized in around 30 countries worldwide, although some countries recognize some forms of same-gender unions, but not marriage, whereas others recognize the right of LGB individuals to have children but not to marry. LGB family policies have progressed mostly through two different pathways: (a) the judicial pathway, which has involved litigation and court rulings on specific matters related to same-gender relationships and parenthood and which was undertaken in the United States, and (b) the legislative pathway, which has relied on political discussion and policy initiatives and was undertaken in the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain). The different pathways to equality in LGB family policies have different impacts for LGB individuals. In particular, the constant negative messages regarding same-gender couples as being unable to have healthy relationships have been shown to contribute to chronic minority stress and psychological distress among LGB individuals. By contrast, the legalization of same-gender marriage and parenthood provide important benefits and protections for LGB families in addition to promoting their well-being. Examining the evolution of attitudes and legislation regarding LGB family policies is important to inform further initiatives aimed at correcting inequalities for LGB families.