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The Psychology of Anti-Gay Aggression July 5, 2009

Posted by Geekgirl in psychology.
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Where does anti-gay aggression come from? Researchers in the Department of Psychology at Georgia State University reviewed the published literature on this topic and came to some overall conclusions. The actual paper is long and is publicly available. If you are interested in this topic, especially if you are involved in supporting victims of hate or trying to prevent hate, I encourage you to visit this website and read the paper. The paper covers many other factors that contribute to anti-gay aggression, as well as theories for prevention.

Clin Psychol Rev. 2008 July; 28(6): 933–951.Published online 2008 February 16

A theoretical framework for antigay aggression: Review of established and hypothesized effects within the context of the general aggression model

Dominic J. Parrott*

Dominic J. Parrott, Department of Psychology, Georgia State University

I’ve summarized the major findings and I have also copied some of the most relevant statements from this important scientific literature review. What do you think? Does this fit with your experiences or theories that you have?

  • Most LGBT violence is against gay men or transgendered men and the perpetrators are men.
  • Perpetrators feel that their masculinity or view of gender roles is threatened. They often have very traditional feelings about gender roles.
  • Perpetrators are more likely to respond to male/male erotica than those who are not anti-gay, demonstrating an inner fear that they might be gay or perceived as gay.
  • The perpetrators often act in groups, feeling peer pressure to prove their masculinity.
  • Societal norms and right wing authoritarianism can be more important factors than an individual’s own thinking, because it appears to sanction their actions.

How frequently do hate crimes and bullying occur?

Reports in the early 1990’s indicated that over one third of gay men and lesbians were victims of interpersonal violence and up to 94% experienced some type of victimization related to their sexual orientation (Fassinger, 1991; National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 1990). one in five sexual minority adults were victims of a person or property crime due to their sexual orientation, and approximately 50% have been verbally insulted or abused because of their sexual orientation (Herek, in press-a).

Social advocacy groups, however, estimate that countless cases of antigay intimidation, verbal harassment, and physical assault occur every day but go unreported (NCAVP, 2005). Moreover, because numerous states do not have data collection statutes for hate crimes based on sexual orientation, it is likely that documented cases of antigay hate crimes underestimate the frequency of these acts. Indeed, the true prevalence of the problem is largely unknown.

So what are the causes of violence against gays?

(Ehrlich, 1990; Herek, 1986, 2000; Franklin, 2000; Kimmel, 1997; Kite & Whitley, 1998) that explore mechanisms by which sociocultural and/or individual factors facilitate antigay violence. Sexual stigma is defined as “the negative regard, inferior status, and relative powerlessness that society collectively accords to any nonheterosexual behavior, identity, relationship, or community At the societal level, sexual stigma is referred to as heterosexism. This ideology is manifested in various social customs and institutions (e.g., religion, the legal system) and provides “the rationale and operating instructions for that [antigay] antipathy” (Herek, 2004; pg. 15).

At the individual level, the internalization of sexual stigma by heterosexuals is referred to as sexual prejudice (Herek, 2004, in press-b; Pharr, 1988; Neisen, 1990). Importantly, within the context of an individual-level interaction, heterosexism sanctions the individual’s expression of sexual stigma (e.g., individual prejudice, aggression) toward sexual minorities. Thus, whereas sexual prejudice may not always be a primary motivation for antigay aggression, “the importance of cultural heterosexism cannot be underestimated” (Herek, 1992; pg. 164).

Men who frequently question their masculinity or have it questioned by other men are presumably more likely to exaggerate stereotypical masculine behaviors (e.g., aggression toward gay men) in order to maintain gender dichotomy and reaffirm their heterosexual masculinity.

Psychoanalytic theory posits that antigay aggression results from the use of reaction formation to cope with one’s unconscious anxiety about being gay and/or experiencing homosexual urges (West, 1977). Data in support of this viewpoint is limited. Most notably, Adams, Wright, and Lohr (1996) assessed sexual arousal patterns in heterosexual men who viewed male–female, female–female, and male–male erotica. Not surprisingly, all participants demonstrated significant sexual arousal to male–female and female–female erotica.

However, sexually prejudiced men, but not their non-prejudiced counterparts, demonstrated significant sexual arousal to male–male erotica. This finding provided tentative empirical evidence that a man’s experience of presumably unwanted sexual arousal to other men may motivate sexual prejudice and antigay aggression due to his fear of being gay.

But here’s another theory

Herek (1986) posited that antigay aggression serves a broader ego-defensive function that reduces anxiety from psychological conflicts associated with gender and sexuality.1Broadly defined, this conceptualization of defensive antigay aggression reflects the perpetrator’s “insecurities about personal adequacy and meeting gender-role demands” rather than his unconscious fear of being gay. Franklin (2000, 2002) distinguished between two types of defensive antigay aggression.

Consistent with the work of Herek (1986), the first type, termed psychological defensiveness, stems from internal psychological conflicts. In the second type, antigay aggression protects the assailant from the perceived threat posed by presumably “sexually predatory” sexual minorities. Data support both of these explanations, especially with respect to the link between psychological defensiveness and physical aggression (Franklin, 2000).

Who are the perpetrators of hate crimes?

In an analysis of hate crime perpetrators, McDevitt, Levin, and Bennett (2002) noted that “most hate crime offenders are young males for whom respect from their peers is incredibly important” (pg. 313). Franklin (1998) similarly posited that the primary motivation for antigay group assailants is to “prove both toughness and heterosexuality to friends” (pg. 12). This explanation essentially extends the “reaffirmation of masculinity” conceptualization to the group context.

Indeed, group perpetrated aggression toward gay men — much like group rape of women — represents an extreme social display of masculinity and public adherence to traditional male gender norms (Franklin, 2004). Though dysfunctional, these exaggerated masculine displays clearly demonstrate one’s own heterosexuality and masculinity to other men.

Survey data indicate that 80% of antigay assailants are male and tend to be in their late teens or early twenties (NCAVP, 2005). Consistent with these data, heterosexual men, relative to heterosexual women, report higher levels of sexual prejudice toward gay men than toward lesbians (Gentry, 1987; Herek, 1988;Kite, 1994; Lim, 2002, Whitley, 1987). Not surprisingly, 60–75% of antigay hate crimes are directed toward gay or transgender men (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2006).

First, in a survey of hate crime perpetrators, 58% reported a history of substance abuse and approximately 33% were intoxicated at the time of the offense (Dunbar, 2003).

What about right wing groups that are anti-gay?

Right wing authoritarianism is a personality trait comprised of three related clusters, including submission to authority figures, acceptance of aggression perceived to be sanctioned by authority figures, and extreme adherence to social conventions (Altemeyer, 1996). From a behavioral standpoint, individuals who are high on this trait tend to be submissive to established authority figures, display aggression when they believe authorities approve such behavior, and engage in activities that uphold traditional social norms. Not surprisingly, over three decades of research indicate that right wing authoritarians are more likely to hold prejudiced attitudes toward out-groups (Altemeyer, 1981, 1986, 1996).

Although Altemeyer (1996) has referred to right wing authoritarians as “equal opportunity bigots” (pp. 26), research indicates that authoritarianism is particularly associated with negative attitudes toward groups (e.g., sexual minorities) condemned by authority figures (e.g., Herek, 1988; Whitley, 1999). Indeed, a recent meta-analysis reported a strong positive correlation between right wing authoritarianism and antigay attitudes (Whitley & Lee, 2000). While a portion of this relation is attributable to gender role ideology, recent data indicate that other factors account for approximately 90% of the variance.

Isn’t this just natural? Or is it learned?

Anderson and Carnagey (2004) state that “a person who repeatedly ‘learns’ through experience or through cultural teachings that a particular type of person is a ‘threat’ can automatically perceive almost any action by a member of that group as dangerous” which can “easily lead to a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ mentality” (pp. 173). As applied to antigay violence, heterosexism and masculine socialization processes systematically “teach” a person that sexual minorities are a threat.

Consequently, automatic use of these knowledge structures may contribute to the formation of attitudes (e.g., sexual prejudice, perception of gays as an inferior social group) that also increase one’s likelihood of antigay aggression. It is possible that these perpetrators, who access antigay aggressive scripts with such ease, will be driven to antigay aggression by the slightest situational cue or whim, will engage in these acts with the most recurrence, and will be least responsive to intervention.

How do we stop this?  Get to know a gay today.

Interventions could be designed that promote self-esteem in groups at high risk for antigay violence (e.g., adolescent males) (Hamner, 1992).

Second, a consistent finding in the antigay aggression literature is that individuals who report low levels of sexual prejudice also report knowing someone who is gay (Herek & Capitanio, 1996). Thus, interventions to reduce sexual prejudice may seek to increase individuals’ positive interactions with or challenge stereotypes of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender persons.

Finally, individuals’ beliefs about themselves (e.g., socially disempowered) or the world (e.g., sexual minorities are a low status social group) may be targeted with change techniques (Dobson & Hamilton, 2003).

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