Nervous Around Gay People? Get a Gay Friend, Study Shows

A study found that the minds of people who are uncomfortable around LGBTQ individuals can be changed if they make just one gay friend, reports NBC

This was the case for one Dr. Nelson Bonheim, who was hesitant to invite his female coworker to his golf club after finding out that she is a lesbian and was living with another woman. However, after getting to know his colleague, he became good friends with her and realized that she and her wife are just like any other couple and even spoke at their wedding. Bonheim recalled that he wasn't against same-sex marriage, but he was not as accepting as he is now. 

Bonheim's acceptance of his lesbian colleague after befriending her is known as contact theory. Daniel DellaPosta, a gay sociology professor at Penn State and author of the study “Gay Acquaintanceship and Attitudes Toward Homosexuality: A Conservative Test" had a personal interest in understanding the relatively recent rise in the acceptance of homosexuality. In his study, he examined how straight people are affected by relationships with gay and lesbian people. He compared data from the 2006, 2008, and 2010 General Social Survey, or GSS.

The results of the study found that  “respondents who were acquainted with at least one gay or lesbian person in 2006 exhibited greater shifts toward increased acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage in 2008 and 2010.” In 2006, only 45% of people with a gay or lesbian friend supported same-sex marriage, while in 2010, 61% of respondents did. In contrast, in 2006, only 22% of people who did not have a gay or lesbian friend supported same-sex marriage, and in 2010, the number actually decreased to 18%. 

DellaPosta hypothesized that people who only see LGBTQ people in a superficial setting, i.e. in a grocery store, may have their prejudices enforced, while people who take the extra step to get to know an LGBTQ person, whether it be just knowing their name or sitting down and talking to them, will be affected by the contact effect and reconsider their biases. 

DellaPosta also recognized the two-fold importance of coming out. The process of coming out can be very liberating for LGBTQ people but it can also help straight people connect with their LGBTQ friends or family members at a more personal level which may reduce prejudice. He also wants to see every gay doctor, lawyer, architect, etc. to come out to show the world that LGBTQ people aren't part of some out-group that is different, but people who are the same as everyone else. He believes that this will help straight people conquer their own bias and stereotypes of LGBTQ and reduce homophobia. He realizes, however, that not everyone who has a gay or lesbian friend will change their mind, but at a macro scale, the contact effect works. 

As a gay friend, reading about this made my Grinch-sized heart grow three sizes, as it made me realize that by just being myself, I could have and can continue to make a positive difference in how people think. You really never know how you can change someone's life by simply being a part of it, and I think that's beautiful. 


h/t: NBC

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