A 2012 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that people who express especially strong anti-gay bias may themselves be hiding same-sex desires.
The research reveals some of the finer points of holding prejudices such as homophobia, and suggests that such preconceived notions can be the result of having overly controlling parents, especially when those parents hold severely anti-gay views of their own. It also concludes that the consequences of internalizing such attitudes can be severe.
Researchers did four studies involving college students from the United States and Germany, designed to look at the inconsistencies between what people said about their sexuality versus what a reaction-time test revealed.
To measure reactions, participants were required to sort pictures and words presented on a computer screen into “gay” and “straight” categories; the words included “homosexual,” “gay,” “straight,” and “heterosexual,” while the pictures were of gay and straight couples. Before each test, the students saw either the word “me” or “others” briefly flash onto the screen.
According to the researchers, a faster reaction time between “me” and “gay” compared to a slower one between “me” and “straight” would be indicative of implicit homosexuality. Another test, also to measure each participant’s implicit orientation, had the students choosing to look at pictures of either opposite-sex or same-sex couples on the test computer.
Information about how each participant had been raised was also collected via questionnaire. The strictness of the households the students had been raised in was gauged by their rating, for example, how much they agreed or disagreed with statements regarding how much pressure they felt from their parents. The presence or absence of homophobia was determined by responses to statements about their parents’ level of comfort with LGBT people.
The participants’ own homophobia, implicit and overt, was measured via word completion exercises, where they were asked to write down the first three words that came to mind when presented with some of the letters in orientation-related words; at times, they were presented with the word “gay” to measure how its explicit use influenced the use of more hostile words.
The results of all the studies showed that the participants whose families were supportive of them had fewer conflicts between their implicit and their overt sexual orientations. In contrast, those who came from more controlling families had much larger divergences between what they said about their orientation, and what the tests said.
Participants who claimed heterosexuality despite latent homosexual desires were also more likely than others to be overtly hostile towards LGBT people; they had the highest incidences of reporting homophobic views, such as support for anti-gay legislation.
Researchers stated that their findings might help explain the rationale behind hate crimes and bullying motivated by homophobia. People who are in denial regarding their orientation may feel threatened by others who are or perceived to be LGBT.
Many high-profile media stories over the last few years support this conclusion, with multiple public figures known for being loudly homophobic being caught engaging in same-sex activity. The site Gay Homophobe actually has a counter for “days since the last prominent homophobe was caught in a gay sex scandal.”
As of May 13, 2013, the counter is at 79, with the “Latest winner” listed as Cardinal Keith O’Brien, a cardinal whose homophobic views didn’t prevent him from sexually abusing his subordinates, all male.
Gay Homophobe’s maintainer, Sai, told 429Magazine that research has shown “there’s a correlation
that someone with implicit homosexual inclinations living in an authoritarian homophobic environment tends to become homophobic and closeted. It’s rather sad really; it also shows that those who either don’t have those inclinations or don’t grow up in non-authoritarian environments tend to be less homophobic.
“That doesn’t mean we can conclude that homophobes are all closet cases, but some sure are, as my site helps to document. Personally, I’m happier when I can post someone [that has]come out voluntarily and started supporting gay rights.”