As a prejudice researcher, I have become increasingly interested in prejudice against sexual minorities (see my column on bias against asexuals here), especially against gay people (see references at end of this column; also a past Psychology Today column here). When I write up this research for publication in journals, I’m always careful to stress the problems presently faced by sexual minorities, ranging from prejudice to exclusion to bullying to hate crime. It seems that even academics, including those studying anti-gay prejudice, benefit from frequent reminders of the difficulties faced by this population. Many, it appears, think that Western societies have progressed so much that this form of prejudice is no longer a problem.
Indeed, gay rights are arguably at an all-time high. (for example, the majority of Americans now consider gay relations morally acceptable). But it is important to keep in mind that attitudes toward gay people over the last several thousand years have been overwhelmingly negative. This means that, although attitudes are rapidly becoming more favourable, these attitudes are starting from a very low (i.e., unfavourable) starting point.
And this week, we see clear backslides in progress. In India, legislation banning gay sexual relations has just been reinstated. The capital of Australia has also taken a step backwards, overturning its gay marriage law. As a result, 27 recently-married couples have had their marriages nullified by the state.
Unfortunately, such trends are actually consistent with the state-of-affairs in most of the world. If you follow this link on state-sponsored homophobia, you’ll find world maps where colour codes reveal vast areas of the globe where one’s sexual orientation leaves one devoid of protection from employment practices, and worse, where homosexuality is punishable by jail-time or death.
Prejudice against sexual minorities, especially gay people, persists throughout time and culture. Although we see clear trends, particularly in Western cultures, of increasing tolerance, this tolerance is not shared globally and rights for sexual minorities are being hard-fought even in most democracies. Without doubt, we will some day look back on our treatment of sexual minorities with puzzlement, much the way we presently look back on miscegenation and slavery laws and ask ourselves “what were we thinking”? I have an idea: why don’t we fast-forward and start asking ourselves that question today with regard to gay rights?
References and Suggested Readings:
Hodson, G., Choma, B.L., & Costello, K (2009). Experiencing Alien-Nation: Effects of a simulation intervention on attitudes toward homosexuals. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 974-978. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2009.02.010
Hodson, G., Harry, H., & Mitchell, A. (2009). Independent benefits of contact and friendship on attitudes toward homosexuals among authoritarians and highly identified heterosexuals. European Journal of Social Psychology, 39, 509-525. DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.558
MacInnis, C.C., & Hodson, G. (2013). Is homophobia associated with an implicit same-sex attraction? Journal of Sex Research, 50, 777-785. DOI:10.1080/00224499.2012.690111
MacInnis, C.C., & Hodson, G. (2012). Intergroup bias toward “Group X”: Evidence of prejudice, dehumanization, avoidance, and discrimination against asexuals. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 15, 725-743. DOI: 10.1177/1368430212442419