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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.


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.