Differences in Attitudes Toward Homosexuality Among Hispanic College Students in Texas: Gender, Religion, and Perceived Origin of Homosexuality
By: Stephen W. Liebowitz
retired, McAllen Texas, USA
Christine Gutierrez, Russell Eisenman & Marc A. Garcia
University of Texas-Pan American
Contact Note: Russell Eisenman, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of Texas-Pan American, Edinburg, TX 78539-2999, USA.
This study examined attitudes of heterosexual Hispanic
college students (N= 421) in
views towards homosexuality were largely unquestioned in the
Research suggests that “heterosexuals’ evaluations of both gay men and lesbians are influenced by a generalized gender belief system.” (LaMar & Kite, 1998) This system has suggested that people’s opinions of others are based on the assumption that what is masculine cannot be feminine and what is feminine cannot be masculine (Whitley & Egisdóttir, 2000); therefore, individuals who violate the traditional gender roles by possessing characteristics that are associated with the opposite sex are viewed negatively (LaMar & Kite, 1998). Consequently, homosexuality poses a threat to individuals who have traditional beliefs about what are acceptable male and female behaviors (Lim, 2002).
Pressures from Western society to reject homosexual behaviors are encouraged for men more than they are for women (Davies, 2004). Compared to females, male gender roles are more clearly defined in society and there are more negative sanctions enforced on men for violating these roles (Davies, 2004). As a result, men’s hostility towards homosexuals, especially gay men, could be linked to the traditional gender belief system (Davies, 2004).
According to Kite and Whitley (1996), heterosexual men hold more negative attitudes toward homosexual persons than do heterosexual women. Research has shown that “men’s attitudes are especially negative when the target is gay rather than lesbian” (Cirakoğlu, 2006); and that heterosexual attitudes toward homosexuals of the same-sex are more negative than attitudes of homosexuals of the opposite-sex (Nelson & Krieger, 1997). Various explanations have been suggested for this gender difference including differential demands from gender roles, lack of interpersonal contact with homosexual persons, and “the eroticizing of lesbians by heterosexual men” (Herek & Capitanio, 1999).
The purpose of this study is to assess differences in heterosexual males’ and heterosexual females’ attitudes toward gay men and lesbians among Hispanics. Therefore, we expect:
1.) Hispanic heterosexual females will be more tolerant in their attitudes toward gay men than Hispanic heterosexual males and 2.) Hispanic heterosexual males will be more tolerant in their attitudes toward lesbians than Hispanic heterosexual females.
Participants used in this study were 421 Hispanic heterosexual undergraduates (291 females and 130 males). Demographic data (gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, marital status, and religion) were assessed by a self-report questionnaire, Non-Hispanics and non-heterosexuals were not included in our data analysis. Participants ranged in age from 18-50, with the majority being of traditional college age (18-22; M= 21.74 years). The marital status of participants was 372 single (88.4%) and 49 married (11.6%). In terms of religion, 292 of the participants identified themselves as Catholic (69.4%) and 104 as Christian (24.7%). Other religious denominations were not included in the analysis of the data. All participants were recruited from introductory and advanced Psychology and Sociology classes from a university in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas during the 2007-2008 academic year. Some subjects received extra credit for their participation while others completed the survey on a voluntary basis.
An anonymous and confidential survey was used for collection of data (see Appendix A). The first part of the survey, questions 1-10, requested demographic information about each participant. In addition, one question developed by the researchers, question 11, was used in order to assess participants’ belief of the origin of homosexuality. Respondents were asked to circle the statement they believed to be the cause of homosexuality from three options: innate-born homosexual, learned from the social environment-learn to be homosexual, or both innate and learned from the Social Environment. The remainder of the survey, attitudes questions 1-40, was used to gauge level of agreement with 40 statements about lesbians and gay men. Herek’s Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gay Men (ATLG) scale was used for this study. It is a 20-item scale in Likert format with two 10-item subscales: Attitudes Toward Lesbians (ATL) and Attitudes Toward Gay Men (ATG). Because they consist of different items, ATL and ATG subscale scores are not directly comparable (Herek, 1988, p. 455). In order to compare subject's attitudes toward gay men with their attitudes toward lesbians, parallel forms of the two subscales with each item presented twice, once in reference to gay men and once in reference to lesbians, was used. This survey was designed to be completed in 15 minutes or less.
After obtaining IRB approval, participants were recruited from classes, and the survey was given in a group setting. All respondents were briefed about the research project, and informed consent forms were administered. Before the questionnaire was begun, participants were reminded that they had the right to discontinue without any explanation and without penalty, and that all of their responses would remain completely confidential.
The SPSS 15.0 software was used to run an independent t-tests and a one-way analysis of variance. The independent t-test was used to compare the means for female versus male attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. The independent t-test was also used to analyze the mean differences for Catholics versus Christians in regard to attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. The one-way analysis of the variance was used to examine subjects’ belief about which factors cause homosexuality.
Analyses of the Hypotheses
The first hypothesis stated that Hispanic heterosexual females as compared to Hispanic heterosexual males will be more tolerant in their attitudes toward gay men. Using an independent t-test to compare the means of females and males, the first hypothesis was supported. A lower score on the Attitudes Toward Gay Men (ATG) Scale indicates more positive attitudes toward gay men. Results showed Hispanic females (M=24.15) in comparison to Hispanic males’ attitudes (M=30.68) are more tolerant in their attitudes toward gay men. In addition, results indicated a significant reversal for our second hypothesis which stated that Hispanic heterosexual males will be more tolerant than Hispanic heterosexual females in their attitudes toward lesbians. Once again, a lower score on the Attitudes Toward Lesbians (ATL) Scale indicates more positive attitudes toward lesbians. Hispanic heterosexual males (M=35.07) were less tolerant toward lesbians compared to Hispanic heterosexual females (M=23.25).
In addition to the analyses of the gender hypotheses, we conducted supplemental analyses which included running bivariate correlations between attitudes toward homosexuality and age, education completed, and religious attendance. Age and education completed showed no significant associations to attitudes toward homosexuality. Religious attendance was the only variable found to be correlated with all three homosexuality scales (Attitudes Toward Lesbians, Attitudes Toward Gay Men, and the combined Attitudes Toward Lesbians & Gay Men). These correlations were all significantly positive at the .01 level.
Further analyses between religious affiliation and attitudes toward homosexuality showed that Christians held significantly more negative attitudes toward homosexuality than Catholics for all three homosexuality scales. For the Attitudes Toward Lesbians, the mean for Christians was (M=27.09) and for Catholics the mean was (M=22.28) [t(161.25)-5.84=p<.01]. For the Attitudes Toward Gay Men, the mean for Christians was (M=30.10) and for Catholics the mean was (M=24.42) [t(153.25)-4.876=p<.01]. For the last scale, Attitudes Toward Lesbians & Gay Men, the mean for Christians was (M=57.19) and for Catholics the mean was (M=46.70) [t(153.10)-5.57=p<.01]. In addition, Christians were found to have a significantly higher monthly religious attendance rate (M=3.03) as compared with Catholics (M=1.86) [t(119.16)-3.61=p<.01]. (See figures 1 and 2).
Origin of homosexuality
Last, the belief of origin for homosexuality was investigated. A frequency distribution indicated that 61% of the participants believed that homosexuality is both innate and learned from the social environment, 27% believed homosexuality was learned from the social environment, and 12% believed homosexuality was innate or biologically determined. A One-Way Analysis of Variance was used to determine the mean differences between the belief of the origin of homosexuality: innate, learned from the social environment or both innate and learned from the social environment in regards to the three scales: Lesbians, Gay Men and Lesbians & Gay Men combined. Results showed that there were significant differences between the origins of homosexuality on all three attitude scales. For the Attitude Toward Lesbians Scale, the belief that homosexuality was learned from the social environment (M=27.99) was endorsed more than the belief that homosexuality was both innate and learned (M=22.82) or the belief that homosexuality was innate (M=19.60). Similarly, for the Attitude Toward Gay Men Scale, the belief that homosexuality was learned from the social environment (M=32.01) was endorsed more than the belief that homosexuality was both innate and learned (M=24.71) or the belief that homosexuality was innate (M=20.67). As expected, the same pattern was found for the Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gay Men Scale, the belief that homosexuality was learned from the social environment (M=60.01) was endorsed more than the belief that homosexuality both innate and learned (M=47.53) or the belief that homosexuality was innate (M=40.27). All of the results on homosexual belief were significant at the .001 level. (See figures 3 and 4).
According to the findings of this study, Hispanic heterosexual males are less tolerant in their attitudes toward homosexuality for both gay men and lesbians as compared to Hispanic heterosexual females. These results are in keeping with past research studies conducted on a sample of primarily Caucasian participants (LaMar & Kite, 1998).
There’s evidence to suggest that within Western Societies, there are social pressures for men and women to conform to traditional gender roles (Davies, 2004). These pressures are especially emphasized for males. In addition, social pressures advocate the rejection of homosexual behaviors (Davies, 2004). The presence of these social pressures may explain the findings in this study for why heterosexual men held more negative views toward both gay men and lesbians.
Supplemental analyses in regards to religious affiliation between Christians and Catholics were further explored. It was originally thought that Hispanic Catholics would be more conservative in their views toward homosexuality than Hispanic Christians due to the traditional nature of the Catholic Church. However, Christians were found to hold more negative attitudes toward both gay men and lesbians than did Catholics. This may be explained by the fact that Christians reported a higher rate of monthly religious attendance on a monthly basis as compared to Catholics. These results may suggest that Christians are more conservative in their views of homosexual behavior due to more exposure to religious ideals.
In addition, the belief of the origin of homosexuality was investigated. Initially, it was thought that most participants would view the origin of homosexuality as a combination of innate and learned from the social environment. Results confirmed this notion. When the three different beliefs of homosexuality were analyzed with the three attitude scales of homosexuality (innate, learned from social environment, or both learned from the social environment and innate with Attitudes Toward Lesbians, Attitudes Toward Gay Men, and Attitudes Toward Lesbians & Gay Men), it was found that participants who endorsed the belief that homosexuality was socially learned held the most negative attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. Those participants who believed that homosexuality was biologically determined were more tolerant in their attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. In other words, if a heterosexual individual believes homosexuality is something one is born with and therefore sexual orientation cannot be changed to fit in with the traditional gender roles, that individual will be more liberal in their views toward homosexuality. In contrast, if a heterosexual individual believes homosexuality is something that is learned from the social environment and is not biologically determined, these individuals will hold a more conservative view toward homosexuality.
The present study is limited by the fact that previous contact with homosexuals and the quality of contact was not assessed by the survey. This information could have had important implications for the findings in this study.
The present study contributes to the literature on heterosexuals’ attitudes toward homosexuals by focusing on an ethnic group that has been largely neglected in the research. The results demonstrated that there are considerable gender differences in attitudes toward homosexuality among a Hispanic sample, and these findings support earlier research conducted with predominantly Caucasian samples. Furthermore, the literature on homosexuality has little to no prior research on the significance of the belief heterosexuals have about the origin of homosexuality. Therefore, this study also contributes to current knowledge about homosexuality by the addition of three possible beliefs of the origin of homosexuality: innate, learned from the social environment or both innate and learned from the social environment. The findings of this study suggest that the view of homosexual belief could have implications for the level of tolerance heterosexuals have toward homosexual persons.
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