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Recently, almost all cultures have witnessed increasing trends in homosexuality. As a result, more and more organizations protecting gay, lesbian, and bisexual rights have emerged. One factor that seems to affect the emotional and social development of gays and lesbians is the attitudes of society toward them (Bowen & Bourjeois, 2001).
Much research has been conducted since late 1970s focusing on the factors that affect heterosexuals’ attitudes toward gays and lesbians (Whitley, 1988). Gender, religion, education, as well as race are some of the factors that play a role in determining these attitudes (Whitley, 1988; Negy & Eisenman, 2005; Landen & Innala, 2002; Grapes, 2006). Studies conducted in the United States, Australia, Turkey, Hong Kong, Sweden and Canada have indicated that most attitudes towards gays and lesbians are negative in general (Negy & Eisenman, 2005; Landen & Innala, 2002; Hopwood & Connors, 2002; Schellenberg, Hirt, & Sears, 1999).
It is suspected that the prevailing attitudes in Lebanon are similar to those in the countries mentioned earlier. However, because of the lack of concrete research on this topic in Lebanon, it is necessary that a study be conducted in order to investigate the attitudes towards gays and lesbians among university students in Lebanon.
The purpose of this study was to determine the attitudes that students at universities in Lebanon have towards gays and lesbians. Since previous research have shown gender and choice of major to be of great importance in determining university students’ attitudes towards homosexuality, this study also compared the attitudes of male vs. female, as well as Social sciences and Art students vs. Natural sciences and Business students.
Review of the Literature
One of the main problems associated with homosexuality in the Middle East is the negative attitudes that Arabs have towards gay men and lesbians. These attitudes are further complicated by international politics which slow down social progress in Middle Eastern countries. As a result, strict Arab morality is imposed in these countries as a means of defense against Western trends that promote female nudity and homosexuality. However, these negative attitudes could not be generalized as “homophobia” because they are directly linked to political, social, religious and cultural issues (Whitaker, 2006). Contrary to what many people believe, the attitudes towards gay men and lesbians are rather negative even in western countries such as the United States, Australia, Sweden and Canada (Negy & Eisenman, 2005; Landen & Innala, 2002; Hopwood & Connors, 2002; Schellenberg, Hirt, & Sears, 1999). Previous studies on attitudes of undergraduate university students specifically indicate mostly negative attitudes, with fluctuations that depend on factors such as gender, education, religiosity, as well as, race (Whitley, 1988; Negy & Eisenman, 2005; Landen & Innala, 2002; Grapes, 2006; Jonathan, 2008). Because of the lack of empirical evidence on the attitudes in Lebanon towards gay men and lesbians, it is important that this study be conducted so as to set stable grounds for this issue. The purpose of this study was to measure the attitudes of undergraduate university students in Lebanon towards gay men and lesbians.
Hopwood and Connors (2002) examined the attitudes of undergraduate students toward homosexuality at a university in Australia. The first hypothesis was that homophobic males were most likely to be religious and politically conservative. The second hypothesis stated that levels of homophobia would be more prevalent among business majors than humanities majors.
The sample consisted of 104 students from two faculties; 58% were registered in a humanities class, while 42% were registered in a business class, and 65% of the sample was females. Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire composed of three parts. The first part included The Heterosexual Attitudes to Homosexuals questionnaire which measured the attitudes of the participants toward issues such as befriending or social equality for homosexuals. The second part of the questionnaire measured the participants’ fear of AIDS/HIV with the use of the Fear of AIDS scale by Bouton et al. The third part involved the measurement of demographic variables intended to ascertain participants’ religiosity and political views.
The results validated the hypotheses tested in this research. Fear of HIV/AIDS seemed to be the most powerful indicator of homophobia among men, with a correlation of 0.64. Gender was also a predictor of homophobia; males exhibited more negative attitudes towards homosexuals than women. The results also showed that religious individuals expressed more homophobia than nonreligious ones. Last but not least, academic major aided in predicting homophobia; as hypothesized, business majors expressed higher levels of homophobia and fear of HIV/AIDS than did the humanities students.
In another similar study conducted by Schellenberg et al. (1999) at the University of Windsor in Canada investigated the attitudes of undergraduate university students toward gay men and lesbians. Comparisons were to be made on the basis of the participants’ gender, faculty, and year at university. One hypothesis was that participants enrolled in Arts or Social science faculties would have more positive attitudes than those enrolled in Science or Business faculties. Another hypothesis was that females were more likely to have positive attitudes than men toward gay and lesbian individuals.
This study’s sample consisted of 199 undergraduate students (101 males and 98 females) enrolled at the University of Windsor, who were hired so as to increase the chances that they would be enrolled in different faculties. Participants were asked general questions such as their year at college, their major, as well as their age and gender. Their attitudes were measured using the short form of Herek’s Attitudes toward Lesbians and Gay men scale which was designed to yield a subscale which measures attitudes toward lesbians, and other that measures attitudes toward gay men.
The results of this study indicated that attitudes toward gay men changed as a function of the students’ faculties; that is to say that students in the faculties of Arts or Social Sciences had more positive attitudes than those in the faculties of Business or Science. Moreover, gender and year at university had a big role; women had more positive attitudes as compared to men regardless of their year at university. However, although new male students held negative attitudes toward gay men, these attitudes improved with the years spent at university. As for attitudes towards lesbians, gender and faculty played little or no role in determining the attitudes. However, the attitudes became more positive with the time at university.
Along the same lines, Negy and Eisenman (2005) studied the attitudes and affects of African American and White college students toward lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals. More specifically, this study aimed to investigate how enculturation and religiosity might control the attitudes toward lesbian, gay and bisexuals. Because of inconsistent findings in the past, no formal hypothesis was made. Previous studies regarding African Americans showed that they seem to be more probable than whites to both see homosexuality as incorrect and to support gay rights laws. As a result, this study aimed to investigate African American attitudes while considering variables which may influence homophobia such as culture, religiosity, and sociodemographics.
The study’s sample consisted of 77 African Americans (22 male, 48 female) and 143 non-Hispanic whites (38 male, 105 female) who attended a public university in Southeast U.S. 90% of the African Americans and 94% of the Whites were exclusively heterosexuals, and 89% of the African Americans and 76% of the Whites were Christian. In order to measure the three variables mentioned previously, several questionnaires were handed out to the participants. Questionnaires included a Demographic Sheet which inquires the age, gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and sexual orientation of the participants. It also inquired the level of parental education as well as the years of education of the participants’ parents so as to infer the socioeconomic status of each. Moreover, participants’ commitment to religion was assessed based on two measures; one of which is the frequency of church attendance, and the second includes reasons for believing in a religion. The third questionnaire was a Balanced Inventory of Desirable Responding, constructed to measure social desirability. The fourth questionnaire was the Index of Homophobia by Hudson & Ricketts which measured homophobia among the participants. A fifth questionnaire was the Heterosexual Attitudes Toward Homosexuality (HATH) which measured attitudes and beliefs regarding gay and lesbian individuals. Finally, a sixth questionnaire, African American Acculturation Scale, was handed out to the African American participants only to measure how much African American respondents were absorbed into a traditional African American culture.
The results indicated that even though African American participants’ affective and attitudinal reactions to lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals may be more negative than those of White students’, this difference faded when regularity of church attendance, religious dedication, and SES were considered. So for both, African Americans and Whites, the three variables church attendance, religiosity and SES served as predictors of homonegativity.
Bowen and Bourgeois (2001) examined the attitudes toward lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals based on certain social psychology theories. They first hypothesized that having had more LGB acquaintances in the past would yield more positive existing attitudes. The second hypothesis was that respondents were more likely to rate their personal attitudes toward LGB more positively than their friends or typical students as a result of pluralistic ignorance. The third hypothesis predicted that students’ attitudes would change with regards to the residence halls (i.e students from the same residence hall would share the same attitude) based on the Dynamic Social Impact Theory. The last hypothesis stated that present contact with LGB individuals would yield more positive approaches regardless of the respondent’s past contact with LGBs.
Questionnaires were sent out by mail to 240 undergraduate students in two residence halls (6 Floors in building A and 5 floors in building B), however only 109 students completed them (48 females and 51 males). The questionnaire included only a Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual Attitudes questionnaire made of a 7 point Likert type scale. Respondents were inquired to provide three responses: the first about his/her attitude toward LGB, the second about his/her beliefs about how friends would respond, and third they had to rate how they thought the typical student would reply. Respondents were also asked about the number of previous LGB acquaintances, as they were asked to indicate how many openly LGB individuals resided in their residence halls and on their individual floors.
The results of this study confirmed the hypotheses constructed at the very beginning. Respondents actually did represent themselves as having more positive attitudes towards LGB individuals than their friends and the typical student, proving the pluralistic ignorance theory. Moreover, consistent with the contact hypothesis, respondents who referred to as few as one or two explicitly LGB students in their residence halls or on their floor held considerably more positive attitudes than students who knew none. Some limitations of this study could be the small sample, the ethnic homogeneity of the respondents. Moreover, the low response rates could have been an indication of bias since it is possible that the students with more negative attitudes did not respond.
In an interesting research article by Landen and Innala (2002), the effects of a biological explanation on attitudes towards gays and lesbians in Sweden were examined. The purpose of this study was to test whether attitudes towards homosexuals differed between people who supported the biological explanation and those who supported a psychological explanation. Comparisons were also to be made between the attitudes of men and those of women, as well as between an old age group and a young age group.
A sample of 992 people was randomly selected from the National Registration and was sent questionnaires by mail. 668 out of the 992 people returned the questionnaire. The questionnaire consisted of ten questions that covered the participants’ beliefs about the origin of homosexuality, the integration of homosexuals in the society as well as homosexual friendships. Participants ranged between 18 and 70 years of age, with the median age being 44 years.
The results of this study supported previous findings that proposed that individuals supporting the biological explanation of homosexuality had more tolerant attitudes toward it (CITE). Moreover, the more participants were acquainted with gays and lesbians, the more liberal attitudes they held toward them. Also, the results of this study showed that women and the younger age group tended to have more positive attitudes towards homosexuals than those who believed in a psychological explanation of homosexuality. Out of the 668 people, a little more than half of them (51%) believed in a biological explanation, whereas the remaining 49% believed in a psychological explanation. This study supports theories of the prominence of positive attitudes among people who believed that homosexuality had a biological origin, as well as people who had more personal contacts with homosexuals (CITE).
In an attempt to inspect the prevalent attitudes towards homosexuals among Turkish university students, Cirakoglu (2006) aimed to examine the students’ beliefs regarding the causes of homosexuality. The study also aimed to compare how participants’ attitudes varied towards the labels ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’. Finally, the attitudes of participants who had had previous social contact with homosexuals were measured. Cirakoglu (2006) hypothesized that the label ‘gay’ would elicit the most negative attitudes, whereas the label ‘lesbian’ would trigger more positive ones. And, in relation to previous studies, he hypothesized that participants who had prior social contact with a homosexual would have more positive attitudes than those who hadn’t.
Participants of this research included 334 private university students (140 women and 194 men) in Turkey. Students were given questions regarding their demographic information, as they were also given a 50-item scale for the causes of homosexuality and a 19-item attitude scale. When asked about previous contact with at least one homosexual, 41.82% of participants reported having had contact with a homosexual.
The results of Cirakoglu’s study seemed to verify the hypotheses stated at the beginning. The label ‘lesbian’ seemed to elicit more positive attitudes than did the term ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’. It seemed that the term ‘gay’ triggered the most negative attitudes among the three labels (CITE). Moreover, men had rather negative attitudes towards homosexuals, unlike women who held more positive attitudes. As hypothesized earlier and in accordance to previous research, participants who reported having previous social contact with homosexuals held more positive attitudes than participants who reported no prior social contact. It is interesting to note that, participants who had no social contact with homosexuals seemed to believe that homosexuality stems from a psychological or physiological disorder; participants who reported prior contact, however, believed that homosexuality is a choice of lifestyle (CITE).
Since South Africa became the fifth country to legalize homosexual marriages in 2006, Mwaba (2009) studied the attitudes and beliefs of South African students regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriages. Even though South African law protected its homosexual citizens’ rights and bans any sort of discrimination against them, the general attitudes of students remained negative.
Mwaba’s sample was made up of 150 undergraduate students at a university in Western Cape in South Africa. These students were hired during a time of intense debate after the validation of homosexual marriages in 2006. The sample’s mean age was 18.3 years, 83% of which were females. Also, 68% of the sample students were Christians. An 18-item questionnaire was used to measure the attitudes toward homosexual marriages and homosexuality.
The results signified rather conservative attitudes among the sample, as almost 44% thought that homosexuality should be socially unacceptable rather than acceptable in South Africa. However, when it came to granting homosexuals equal rights, 41% only believed that the government was right in doing so, with the majority of the sample (59%) opposed it. 37% thought there was nothing wrong in discriminating against homosexuals, and 71% indicated that they thought the marriage of two people of the same sex to be strange. But overall, those who believed that homosexual marriages should be legalized were almost equal to those who were against it (51% and 49% respectively).
One of the factors that seems to affect people’s attitudes towards homosexuality is their level of education. In one of her studies, Grapes (2006) investigated the relationship between the level of education and the attitudes towards homosexuals and their rights. Grapes hypothesized that as the level of education increases, the attitudes towards homosexuals become more liberal. She also hypothesized, in accordance to literature, that females will have more tolerant attitudes than males.
Grapes obtained data from the General Social Survey which was conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago (Grapes, 2006). Her two independent variables were gender and level of education, and her dependent variable was the attitudes toward gays and gay rights. The attitudes were measured by choosing four specific questions that address homosexuality in the General Social Survey (Grapes, 2006). The sample consisted of 740 participants.
Consistent with previous studies, Grapes’ (2006) results prove that gender plays a big role in determining the attitudes toward gay rights and homosexuals. Females held more positive attitudes than did males. Moreover, Grapes established a multivariate relationship between level of education, gender and attitudes toward gay rights (2006). She found that males who had a degree lower than high school were 36% more inclined to be against equal rights for homosexuals. Whereas females with a graduate diploma are 28% more likely to be supportive of homosexuals’ rights than females with an education lower than high school (Grapes, 2006).
Congruently, Herek (1988) used a sample of 405 students to study what contributes to heterosexuals’ reaction formation to gay and lesbian individuals. First, he wanted to determine how heterosexuals’ attitudes were affected by gender. Second, he inquired about the contribution of social psychological factors to the attitude formation toward homosexuals. Last, he questioned whether attitudes differ toward lesbians and gays men (Herek, 1988).
Herek’s sample included 405 students (226 females, 179 males) from six different universities in the United States. The participants presented information about their religious backgrounds and how often they attend religious services, as well as the number of their gay/lesbian acquaintances. An Attitude Toward Lesbians and Gays (ATLG) scale composed of a 20-item likert scale was developed by Herek (1988). The scale had two ten-item subscales: half of which measure attitudes toward lesbians, whereas the other half measures attitudes toward gay men.
Herek’s results (1988) proved that male participants held more negative attitudes than females on both the ATL (Attitudes Toward Lesbians) and ATG (Attitudes Toward Gays) scale, yet they held less negative attitudes toward lesbians. Herek’s study also verified that attitudes toward homosexuals are influenced by participants’ loyalty to traditional gender and family values, as well as by the level of their religious commitments and previous experience with gay men and lesbians (Herek, 1988). Last but not least, and in accordance to the Pluralistic ignorance theory in Bowen and Bourgeois’ study (2001), participants who held negative attitudes were likely to presume that their friends had similar attitudes towards homosexuals.
Likewise, attitudes of undergraduate university students toward gay men and lesbians were investigated in a study conducted by Engstrom and Sedlacek (1997). The study aimed to investigate whether heterosexual college students at a southeast university held negative attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. Moreover, the study investigated the type of situations in which negative feelings toward homosexuals were expressed (Engstrom & Sedlacek, 1997).
The study’s randomly selected sample consisted of 224 heterosexual university students; half of which were males, and half of which were females. Engstrom and Sedlacek (1997) administered the SAS Sexual Orientation Survey to measure the students’ attitudes toward gays and lesbians. The survey contained a likert-type scale ranging from one to five; it consisted of ten statements that covered personal, social, and academic situations. Three different forms of the survey were produced and mailed to participants: one referred to “student” (with no specified sexual orientation), the second referred to “Gay male student,” and the third referred to “lesbian student,” (Engstrom & Sedlacek, 1997).
Engstrom and Sedlacek’s study confirmed that male students’ attitudes were more negative toward gay men than toward lesbians. It seemed that participants displayed more intolerant attitudes in situations where they must interact with gay males in public. Moreover, despite the fact that women hold more negative attitudes toward lesbians, in this study, females had surprisingly more negative attitudes toward gay males (Engstrom & Sedlacek, 1997). However, and despite the negative attitudes toward homosexuals, participants seemed to be infuriated at the thought of the physical assault of a homosexual. This study gives insight as to how and in what situations stereotypical attitudes could be formed and allows further implications for practice (Engstrom & Sedlacek, 1997).
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