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Political Attitudes and Behaviors of LGBT People in the United States  

Patrick Miller

Despite the prominence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans and debates over LGBT rights in modern American politics, a substantial academic literature that examines their political attitudes has yet to develop. Prominent academic surveys have only relatively recently begun to ask respondent sexual orientation, though even the highest quality surveys that rely on random national samples still contain few LGBT respondents given their small share of the population. Further, questions about respondent gender identity are still largely absent in both academic and commercial surveys. As a result, systematic and deep knowledge about the contours of LGBT political attitudes and how they differ from those of non-LGBT Americans is understandably shallow. However, existing surveys can provide a descriptive overview of the American LGBT community and its politics. Demographically, those who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual in surveys as of the mid- to late 2010s tend to be younger, disproportionately female, less religiously committed, less likely to be white, and somewhat lower income and more highly educated than those who identify as heterosexual. Given how these demographic tilts map onto modern political divides, it should not be a surprise that LGBT Americans skew more liberal and Democratic than others in their political orientations. When differences emerge between LGBT and non-LGBT Americans in their issue attitudes, LGBT respondents in surveys consistently tend toward more liberal-leaning opinions. However, this leftward tilt does not always place LGBT persons on the liberal side of issues on average, nor does it mean that LGBT and non-LGBT survey respondents are necessarily in opposition in the aggregate as oftentimes the difference between them is their degree of collective liberalism. Thus, the nature of these intergroup differences depends on the issue or set of issues under examination. Existing data and research do have certain limitations that future research may improve upon. Given that most data on LGBT political attitudes comes from general population surveys of which LGBT respondents are only a small part, most current data do not strongly lend themselves to deeper analysis of subgroups within the LGBT community. Surveys specifically of LGBT people suggest important differences between gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals in how they view their identities as LGBT people and how they perceive how LGBT people fit into modern society, so future research may gather the data necessary to explore the consequences of these differences in political attitudes in greater depth. Also, there is substantial room for future research to explore the sources of LGBT political distinctiveness, and to what extent that distinctiveness stems from demographics, socialization, lived experience, psychology, or other factors.

Article

Public Opinion Toward LGBT People and Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean  

Enrique Chaux, Manuela León, Lina Cuellar, and Juliana Martínez

Important changes toward more acceptance of homosexuality seem to be occurring in many countries around the world. However, large differences exist between individuals, societal groups, countries, and regions in attitudes toward homosexuality. Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LatAmC) are not an exception in either of these trends. More positive attitudes toward homosexuality in LatAmC countries and significant legal and political changes in favor of LBGT rights have been occurring in the region since the third wave of democratization in the 1980s. Nonetheless, there are important limitations to these advancements: they are highly uneven; they are fragile and likely to become targets of politically motivated public outrage; enforcement is irregular and often faces hostile resistance from the civil servants appointed to enact and uphold them; and LGBT individuals continue to face high levels of violence, making the region one of the deadliest for sexual and gender minorities, particularly trans women. Analyses from two large surveys, conducted periodically in several LatAmC countries, which include questions about homophobic attitudes (the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study, or ICCS, and the Latin American Public Opinion Project, or LAPOP) show a clear historical pattern of increased acceptance toward homosexuality in most countries. They also reveal large differences between countries with high (e.g., Uruguay) or low (e.g., Haiti) levels of acceptance of homosexuality. Multiple variables are associated with these differences. In almost all countries, women and more educated, less religious, and more politically active participants show more positive attitudes toward homosexuality than men and less educated, more religious (especially evangelical) and less politically involved participants. The analysis of attitudes toward homosexuality in LatAmC shows that (a) change in attitudes at a large scale is possible and is occurring relatively fast in LatAmC; (b) some countries are greatly lagging behind in these changes, especially in the Caribbean; and (c) policies and programs are urgently needed in the region, not only to facilitate changes in those countries where homophobic attitudes are still very common, but also to consolidate changes that have already been occurring.

Article

Attitudes Toward LGBT+ People and Policies: Political Tolerance and Egalitarianism  

Lauren Elliott-Dorans

Political tolerance and commitment to egalitarianism have long been examined as possible contributors to attitudes toward LGBT+ people and policies. Since the 1970s, American attitudes toward LGBT+ issues have changed drastically. During this period, public policy and measures of public opinion toward LGBT+ rights have focused on a variety of areas, such as nondiscrimination laws, gay military service, and family matters such as adoption and marriage. Interestingly, although support for equality has remained the same in the United States, individuals have become rapidly more supportive of LGBT+ people securing equal rights in a variety of domains. There are three primary reasons for this shift: elite messaging, attributions of homosexuality, and contact with members of the LGBT+ community, both direct and indirect. These factors have led to an environment in which the value of equality is more readily applied to LGBT+ issues, therefore increasing support for these rights over time. Elite messaging has played a key role in this shift. Across LGBT+ issues, equality frames are often countered with moral traditionalism, thus leading to an increased propensity for individuals to associate LGBT+ issues with these values. The effectiveness of equality frames has been bolstered by the growing belief that homosexuality is a fixed rather than chosen trait, which yields a greater reliance upon egalitarianism when evaluating LGBT+-related issues. At the same time, both direct and indirect contact with the LGBT+ community increased following the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Americans were first introduced to gay characters on television in the 1970s. LG characters gained more prominent roles throughout the 1990s on shows such as The Real World and Will and Grace. Following Stonewall, LGBT+ activist organizations also advocated that members of the community “come out of the closet” and reveal their sexual orientation to the people in their lives. Thus, the chances of Americans knowing—or at least feeling like they knew—an LGBT+ person increased. Consistent with Allport’s Contact Theory (1954) and Zajonc’s work on “mere exposure effects” (1968), affect toward LGBT+ individuals has generally grown more positive with greater interaction and familiarity. These various factors interacted with underlying predispositions to drastically move public opinion in favor of greater equality for LGBT+ people.

Article

Progressive Christian Communities as Sites for LGBTQ Collective Action and Civic Behavior  

Barrett Scroggs and Debra McKnight

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals have historically been considered non-religious. This disconnect has typically been due to the anti-LGBTQ stances that many religions have taken. However, as many Christian denominations begin to take more open and progressive stances on issues related to sexuality, gender, and identity, there are some in the LGBTQ community who desire and are able to reconcile their LGBTQ and religious identities. This is especially true for members of the LGBTQ community who grew up in Christian spaces. Prior research has explored LGBTQ participation in religious communities and has found that participation in these activities has positive implications for the well-being of the LGBTQ community. However, despite the growing number of Christian churches welcoming members of the LGBTQ community, the literature has not explored the implications for LGBTQ collective action and civic behavior within the context of progressive church communities. Participation in social justice work, whether in formal or informal ways, can offer individuals an altruistic outlet to become actively involved in causes impacting the world around them. This social justice work may include attending a justice-themed rally, volunteering for an organization promoting equality, or engaging in dialogue with others to promote a justice-themed cause. Social justice work like this can be a form of activism, which has been found to be an important stage of LGBTQ identity development. Prior research has found that higher levels of minority group identification are associated with a higher likelihood of participation in collective action and that higher levels of church attendance are associated with higher levels of civic participation. The church has historically been a space for social justice behavior and thus can connect LGBTQ individuals to a deeper passion for social justice and civic behavior. Members of the LGBTQ community are able to reconcile their LGBTQ and religious identities. And through the connection to a church, they can engage in collective action connected to LGBTQ-related and other issues (e.g., women’s rights, the environment, poverty, immigration, and housing).

Article

Theoretical Perspectives on LGBT Representation and Party Politics  

Paul Snell

LGBT people have gone from being a “politics” to a “people” from the end of the 20th century to the beginning of the 21st. They were mostly excluded from public life, and reduced to their sexuality. And when they weren’t reduced, they were restricted. Legislatures, not only failed to protect LGBT people from discrimination, but created new barriers for them under the guise of “protecting” the presumed heterosexual and cisgender basis of society. In America, the Defense of Marriage Act, (DOMA) and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) are the most consequential examples of legislative action that treats LGBT people as morality issues rather than citizens. As LGBT people have gone from the margins to the center of public life, however, their political status changed. LGBT people are no longer a sexuality—but a constituency. There is an undisputed electoral connection. Legislators act on behalf of LGBT constituents in symbolic and substantive ways ranging from membership in LGBT caucuses in their chambers, to voting for bills that clearly help LGBT citizens in specific ways. They also exert pressure on representatives for whom they share no electoral connection, and who are not themselves LGBT. These allies act for LGBT citizens because they it aligns with ideological beliefs in justice and equity. This growth in activity has not only been limited to the US Congress, but has also occurred in US state legislatures and around the world. Activity has not always been synonymous with success, as the US Congress’s long struggle to pass an Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that is inclusive of all aspects of the “LGBT” umbrella demonstrates. Nevertheless, LGBT voters are no longer “an issue”, but a part of the polity. Now that “LGBT” is an established political group there are serious questions that need to be addressed about what is being represented—and why it matters.

Article

The Special Role of Religion in LGBT-Related Attitudes  

Abigail Vegter and Donald P. Haider-Markel

Religious tradition and religiosity affect attitudes toward LGBT people, their rights, and their position within religious communities. There is significant variability within the American context concerning how religious traditions approach issues related to sexuality and gender identity, with monotheistic religions holding more conservative positions. These positions and the elites who hold them often influence the attitudes of their congregants, but not always, as some congregations diverge from the official positions of their denominations in terms of attitudes toward LGBT rights, religious leadership, and congregational membership. As the religious landscape is consistently changing in terms of attitudes toward sexual minorities, understanding the special role of religion in LGBT-related attitudes remains important and an area ripe for future scholarship.

Article

Measuring Attitudes Toward LGBT Individuals: Theoretical and Practical Considerations  

Melanie C. Steffens and Sabine Preuß

Over the last decades, in many so-called Western countries, the social, political, and legal standing of lesbians, gay men, and bisexual and trans* individuals (henceforth, LGBT* individuals) has considerably improved, and concurrently, attitudes toward these groups have become more positive. Consequently, people are aware that blatantly prejudiced statements are less socially accepted, and thus, negative attitudes toward LGBT* individuals (also referred to as antigay attitudes, sexual prejudice, or homonegativity) and their rights need to be measured in more subtle ways than previously. At the same time, discrimination and brutal hate crimes toward LGBT* individuals still exist (e.g., Orlando shooting, torture of gay men in Chechnya). Attitudes are one of the best predictors of overt behavior. Thus, examining attitudes toward LGBT* individuals in an adequate way helps to predict discriminatory behavior, to identify underlying processes, and to develop interventions to reduce negative attitudes and thus, ultimately, hate crimes. The concept of attitudes is theoretically postulated to consist of three components (i.e., the cognitive, affective, and behavioral attitude components). Further, explicit and implicit attitude measures are distinguished. Explicit measures directly ask participants to state their opinions regarding the attitude object and are thus transparent, they require awareness, and they are subject to social desirability. In contrast, implicit measures infer attitudes indirectly from observed behavior, typically from reaction times in different computer-assisted tasks; they are therefore less transparent, they do not require awareness, and they are less prone to socially desirable responding. With regard to explicit attitude measures, old-fashioned and modern forms of prejudice have been distinguished. When it comes to measuring LGBT* attitudes, measures should differentiate between attitudes toward different sexual minorities (as well as their rights). So far, research has mostly focused on lesbians and gay men; however, there is increasing interest in attitudes toward bisexual and trans* individuals. Also, attitude measures need to be able to adequately capture attitudes of more or less prejudiced segments of society. To measure attitudes toward sexual minorities adequately, the attitude measure needs to fulfill several methodological criteria (i.e., to be psychometrically sound, which means being reliable and valid). In order to demonstrate the quality of an attitude measure, it is essential to know the relationship between scores on the measure and important variables that are known to be related to LGBT* attitudes. Different measures for LGBT* attitudes exist; which one is used should depend on the (research) purpose.

Article

Coming Out, Intergroup Relations, and Attitudes Toward LGBT Rights  

Mark R. Hoffarth and Gordon Hodson

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.

Article

Attitudes Toward Homosexuality and LGBT People: Causal Attributions for Sexual Orientation  

Peter Hegarty

Social scientists have debated whether belief in a biological basis for sexual orientation engenders more positive attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. Belief in the biological theory has often been observed to be correlated with pro-lesbian/gay attitudes, and this gives some “weak” support for the hypothesis. There is far less “strong” evidence that biological beliefs have caused a noteworthy shift in heterosexist attitudes, or that they hold any essential promise of so doing. One reason for this divergence between the weak and strong hypothesis is that beliefs about causality are influenced by attitudes and group identities. Consequently beliefs about a biological basis of sexual orientation have identity-expressive functions over and above their strictly logical causal implications about nature/nurture issues. Four other factors explain why the biological argument of the 1990s was an intuitively appealing as a pro-gay tool, although there is no strong evidence that it had a very substantive impact in making public opinion in the USA more pro-gay. These factors are that the biological argument (a) implied that sexuality is a discrete social category grounded in fundamental differences between people, (b) implied that sexual orientation categories are historically and culturally invariant, (c) implied that gender roles and stereotypes have a biological basis, and (d) framed homosexual development, not heterosexual development, as needing explanation. Understanding this literature is important and relevant for conceptualizing the relationship between biological attributions and social attitudes in domains beyond sexual orientations, such as in the more recent research on reducing transphobia and essentialist beliefs about gender.

Article

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.

Article

Attitudes Toward LGBT People and Rights in Africa  

Jocelyn M. Boryczka

Capturing the nuanced attitudes toward LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people and rights in Africa involves examining them from within and outside the African context. Constructions of the entire African continent as holding negative attitudes toward LGBT peoples and denying them any rights remain quite commonplace across the Global North. However, closer analysis of specific nation-states and regions complicates our understanding of LGBT people and rights in Africa. Advances in the global study of LGBT attitudes through tools such as the Global LGBTI Inclusion Index and the Global Acceptance Index survey African peoples’ beliefs about LGBT communities. These measures locate African attitudes about LGBT peoples within a comparative context to decenter assumptions and many inaccurate, often colonialist, constructions. Attitudinal measures also expose the gap between legislation securing formal rights and the beliefs driving peoples’ everyday practices. These measures further specify how African governments can, often in response to Western political and economic forces, leverage homophobia on a national level to serve their interests despite a misalignment with the population’s attitudes toward LGBT peoples. Nongovernmental organizations and advocates raise awareness about LGBT rights and issues to impact socialization processes that shape these attitudes to generate political, social, and economic change. A rights-based approach and research on attitudes emerging from the African context represent shifts critical to better understanding how LGBT peoples and rights can be more effectively advanced across the continent.

Article

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.

Article

LGBTQ Politics in Media and Culture  

Thomas J. Billard and Larry Gross

As the primary vector by which society tells itself about itself, popular media transmit ideas of what behavior is acceptable and whose identities are legitimate, thereby perpetuating and, at times, transforming the social order. Thus, media have been key targets of LGBT advocacy and activism and important contributors to the political standing of LGBT people. Of course, media are not a monolith, and different types of media inform different parts of society. Community media have been an important infrastructure through which gays and lesbians and, separately, transgender people formed shared identities and developed collective political consciousness. Political media, such as newspapers, news websites, and network and cable television news broadcasts, inform elites and the mass public alike, making them an important influence on public opinion and political behavior. Entertainment media, such as television and film, cultivate our culture’s shared values and ideas, which infuse into the public’s political beliefs and attitudes. Generally speaking, the literature on LGBTQ politics and the media is biased toward news and public affairs media over fictional and entertainment media, though both are important influences on LGBTQ citizens’ political engagement, as well as on citizens’ public opinion toward LGBTQ rights and their subsequent political behaviors. In the case of the former, media—particularly LG(BT) community media—have played an important role in facilitating the formation of a shared social and then political identity, as well as fueling the formation of, first, separate gay and lesbian and transgender movements and then a unified LGBTQ movement. Moreover, digital media have enabled new modes of political organizing and exercising sociopolitical influence, making LGBTQ activism more diverse, more intersectional, more pluralistic, and more participatory. In the case of the latter, (news) media representations of LGBTQ individuals initially portrayed them in disparaging and disrespectful ways. Over time, representations in both news and entertainment media have come to portray them in ways that legitimate their identities and their political claims. These representations, in turn, have had profound impacts on public opinion toward LGBTQ rights and citizens’ LGBTQ-relevant voting behavior. Yet, the literature on these representations and their effects overwhelmingly focuses on gays and lesbians at the expense of bisexual and transgender people, and this work is done primarily in U.S. and Anglophone contexts, limiting our understanding of the relationships between LGBTQ politics and the media globally.