I wasn’t planning on writing about the US legalising gay marriage. This is not because of lack of interest in the topic, but because it’s too much of a trending topic at the moment and everyone has an opinion about it. However, gay marriage and generally everything that has to do with the LGBT community is a topic that I care deeply about and for this reason I am going to dedicate this article to Sexual Orientation Discrimination around the world.
While the rest of the world can write about this great accomplishment, I am going to write about the real world where homophobic and transphobic attitudes still exist and dominate many modern societies. Looking at my Facebook friends alone, I noticed an abrupt change from last year’s reactions to Eurovision winner, Conchita Wurst, to this year’s ‘rainbow attack’ celebrating sexual orientation equality. Did my pro-gay Facebook friends community win an overwhelming number of new supporters in the past year? The reality is that there are different ways of expressing tolerance and/or intolerance.
In the past, attitudes towards sexual minorities were mostly measured on a single dimension. Nowadays, more and more cross-national surveys started to incorporate a multi-dimensional measurement, where respondents are not only asked how tolerant they are of the out-group (whether this ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ refers to skin colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation and so on) but they are also asked to rate their attitudes towards welcoming the member of the out-group in their country, neighbourhood, work place and even family. This shift indicates an academic recognition of the fact that there are many ways to hate or to target intolerance (Saideman, 2013).
Despite the consistent progress made in terms of measuring tolerance, there is no universally agreed upon method. As a consequence, anyone trying to interpret tolerance data will get a different picture depending on the method used to measure it. Moreover, the link between measured and perceived tolerance is often neglected by many scholars and policy makers. Many fail to explore tolerance beyond the purpose of their own research and consequently they do not realise that it is equally important to assess people’s stereotypes, misconceptions, and anxieties about homosexuals and to measure how the state is combating discrimination. While all these dimensions are very important in the measurement of tolerance, no single one is broad enough to measure on its own attitudes toward homosexuality. Other challenges researchers have to face include: question wording, social desirability bias, validity and cross-experimental comparison and last but not least transparency in order to assure continuity in the field.
The academic challenges of exploring homophobia and transphobia are far too complex to be analysed in detail in this article. Just to illustrate how ample the subject is, I will be looking at three indexes showing tolerance towards the LGBT community in various countries. I will be focusing on Romania, but I am encouraging anyone interested in the topic to look at the data and see how friendly their country is towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals.
1. The LGBT Tolerance Index (2011) places Romania as the second lowest LGBT tolerant country in the world and the least LGBT tolerant country in Europe. Romania shares this position with China, both of them having scored 0.08/ 1. This Index uses questions such as “Should gays and lesbians be free to live life as they wish?” (from ESS round 4), “Is the city or area where you live a good place for gay or lesbian people?” (from the 2010 Gallup World Poll), “Is homosexuality justifiable?” (from WVS wave 5). See how the world looks like according to these measurements of intolerance:
2. ILGA, on the other hand, uses a different measurement scale and consequently the European map looks differently. According to this poll, Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia are the least LGBT friendly societies. Romania here is ranked 30th out of 49 countries. The percentage of tolerance is calculated in this case using 48 different aggregate indices, grouped in six categories (Equality & Non-discrimination; Family; Hate crime & hate speech; Legal gender recognition & bodily integrity; Freedom of assembly, association& expression; and Asylum). This is how Europe looks like according to these measurements of intolerance:
(Source: ILGA-Europe Rainbow Map May 2015)
3. The Bucharest Institute for Public Policy conducted in 2003 a survey about Intolerance, Discrimination and Authoritarianism in Public Opinion. They targeted different minorities in Romania and asked respondents from the dominant group to report how happy they would be to welcome a member of the out-group in various sectors of their life. As can be seen from the graph below, Romanians are least tolerant with homosexuals. This is probably not very surprising for a deeply religious country where homophobic remarks were made on live television by various public figures, but it is interesting to observe the lack of constraint in reporting isolationist tendencies towards the LGBT community.
(Saideman and Ayres, 2008)
Other frequently used and cited measures of assessing attitudes toward homosexuality include the Homosexuality Attitude Scale (Kite & Deaux, 1986) and the Component Measure of Attitudes Toward Homosexuality (LaMar & Kite, 1998).
A relatively old study has discovered that during interactions with homosexuals, the people who are aware of a person’s homosexuality are more negative toward them than are persons who are unaware, regardless of their attitude toward homosexuality (Kite & Deaux, 1986). A more recent experiment indicated that even a very tolerant sample of respondents (where very little negative attitudes towards lesbians and gay men were expressed) will not show an overwhelming support for lesbian and gay human rights (Ellis et al. 2003).
Despite the differences in all the Sexual Orientation Discrimination studies, one aspect tends to stay constant: homosexuals are liked less than heterosexuals around the world (e.g., Gross et al., 1980; Gurwitz & Marcus, 1978). Over the past few days, many heterosexual people have showed their support for the gay community by posting a Rainbow Facebook profile photo. I want them to ask themselves if that is enough. Does that picture make you a tolerant individual? Does the absence of it make you homophobic?
Or maybe this was just another Ice Bucket challenge where so many people got wet on social media, but failed to research the cause they were doing it for… Who knows? Time will tell!