Queer Sense: Attitudes Towards Sexual Orientation

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No person is immune from having prejudicial attitude towards sexual orientation.

It does not matter whether you’re an individual who is gay, lesbian, bi, questioning, heterosexual, bi-curious or so on. It does not even matter whether you have one close gay friend, or a hundred, or whether your brother is gay and you love him to death or you’re accepting of your gay parents. It is normal to have some form of prejudicial attitudes.

If Gay a Choice when you decide you were straightWe live in a culture that is heterocentric and by virtue…everyone forms prejudicial attitude towards sexual orientation. In the same vein, we also have positive attitudes towards people who are gay.


People can share similar value and beliefs about sexual orientation. For instance, five men may attend the same conservative church and each individual may agree gay is a sin; likewise, five men may attend a liberal church service held inside the gay community and each agrees that being gay is not a sin but a mere identity.

Yet, there is always variations within any homogenous group. That is, the five the men attending the conservative church will have variations in their attitudes, and similarly the five men going to  the liberal church will have attitudes that vary.

Consider the example of three men who are gay and thirty years old. One man says, “I’m fine with civil unions, we don’t need the full-fledged gay marriage thing. I wish people would just get over that.” The second man tells his friend, “I have no idea why people are tripping out about gay marriage. It’ll happen some day.” The third man makes his case to a relative, “I was married five years to a woman. I want the same rights I had as a heterosexual. I want them with my lover.”

Attitudes, it turns out, vary significantly between people, even when it’s people who hold similar values and beliefs.

How are attitudes formed?


The answer to this question is the heart of Queer Sense. The Queer Sense model provides a comprehensive paradigm describing how certain processes within our culture shape attitudes towards sexual orientation.

The attitudes we express in any given situation are driven by the feelings we have towards gays and lesbians. Imagine a a gay sixteen year-old boy who has been raised in a conservative family whom hold anti-gay values. This boy also lives within a conservative community. This boy will undoubtedly develop negative feelings towards gay identity.

CrossHow did the boy ever develop certain feelings in the first place? The bedrock of feelings is based on the values and beliefs we have learned. In this instance, the gay sixteen year-old above has formed values and beliefs from a wide source of ultra conservative people and organizations in his community. These people and organizations are his immediate peer network, school, and family, but also expands out to include media of Fox News and listening to a sound bites on the radio from Rush Limbaugh on his outrage the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn an anti-gay law.

There are three constructs that are active in this teenager’s cultural system that is shaping his feelings. This will in turn affect how this youth expresses his attitudes. These constructs are role models, attachment, and language.

The teenager has role models in his immediate network he has attached to which may be his parents and peers. In this example they hold anti-gay attitudes. His peer network and family has constructed a specific language they use when discussing gay related topics and this in turn influences his feelings and attitudes.

Let’s say the gay sixteen year-old starts to understand he’s gay. He may have ambivalent feelings emerge. He however feels strong attachments to people and organizations in his culture but he has feelings towards same-sex people. In a conversation about same-sex marriage he may express his feelings that reflects the values and beliefs he’s learned from his family and peer network and community but also reflect his own ambivalence. For instance he may say: “I think marriage should be between a man and woman. But I say let the gays do what they want as long as it’s in their home.”

On a daily basis someone is projecting his feelings towards sexual orientation. The way the person expresses his feelings comes out in a form of an attitude.

The expression of attitudes will either be Explicit or Implicit.


Daniel RadcliffeExplicit attitudes are rather obvious.

Explicit attitudes have clear-cut meanings. A news story came out recently of a thirteen year-old who texted his friend, “I need to tell you something, I’m real upset…I don’t feel the same way other boys feel about girls. It’s not normal, right? I don’t know…I’m so scared because of telling [you this] because you’re my best friend bro and I don’t want you to think I’m weird and just leave or anything.”

The friend replied, “Bro, we’ve been friends for three years and I’m glad you told me this. Who the fuck cares what people are going to say? You’re awesome no matter what bro and I’m happy you’re my best friend.” The friend’s message conveys a positive explicit attitude.

You may hear a conservative religious celebrity on TV say he’s against same-sex marriage. He says, “I don’t believe in marriage between to same-sex people because homosexuality is a sin. The bible tells us so.” This is a negative explicit attitude.

Explicit AttitudesYour mother is expressing an explicit attitude when she says, “I want the best for you. I just want you to find someone you love, be it a boy or girl.”

An aunt expresses a negative explicit attitude when she says, “I’m not against homosexuals. I just don’t know why people choose to be so.” The aunt’s comment above is also riddled with implicit attitudes. They suggest expressions of values and beliefs that is not on the forefront of her awareness.

You know when you’re hearing someone express implicit attitudes if you think the communication has hidden meaning. For example, during the Winter Olympics President Putin told a news reporter with a straight face that he had no problems with gay people, but he warned, “Just leave our kids alone.”

We’ll cover implicit attitudes in a moment.

In America, we use national polls to obtain people’s explicit attitudes in a given moment of time. The Gallup Poll is frequently used to assess the people’s explicit attitudes:

1. For First Time, Majority of Americans Favor Legal Gay Marriage (2011)

2. Opposition to gay marriage higher among those who do not know someone who is gay/lesbian (2009)

3. In U.S., 67% support repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (2010)

4. Americans’ views on origins of homosexuality remain split: Most (47%) say being gay or lesbian starts at birth (2014)

Polls offer us useful data on a particular issue. We know exactly where a certain percentage of people stand.

ResearchResearchers use scales when gathering information on attitudes. They are dependent on instruments that have a list of statements about gay related topics. Each item has a likert scale that typically ranges from 1 to 5.

The researcher computes a total score that quantifies an individual’s attitude towards sexual orientation.

Examples of instruments that researchers use include:

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Knowledge & Attitude Scale for Heterosexuals (LGB-KASH)

I have close friends who are LGB.
1                                        2                           3                               4                             5                               6
Very uncharacteristic                                                                                                                      Very characteristic
of me or my views                                                                                                                             of me or my views

Modern Homonegativity Scale

Gay men have become far too confrontational in their demand for equal rights.
1                                        2                           3                               4                             5
Strongly Disagree                                                                                                   Strongly Agree

Explicit attitudes do not need to be measured by an instrument for us to know they are occurring though. We only need to listen to a conversation and comprehend there’s an explicit attitude being expressed.

Gays Go2 HellA bus driver in Louisiana demonstrated her feelings toward gay people when she communicated a negative explicit attitude to a teenager. After the bus driver dropped students off at school she detained a sixteen year-old whom she perceived to be gay. She asked him if he participated in any church-like activity. The student identified as John Doe told her no. The bus driver then told the boy, “going to church is how you can avoid sin.” She proceeded to tell John Doe that homosexuality is a ‘sin’ and that he can go to hell for it.

A school in Arkansas showed negative explicit attitudes when they refused to publish a student’s biography in the Year Book. The reason? He disclosed he was gay in his bio.

Several students at an Indiana school banned together to push forward a “traditional prom” stating they did not want same-sex couples at their prom. The heterosexual students formed a Facebook page and webpage, coordinated with parents and teachers. They all cooperated together just to ensure they would have a prom that was free of same-sex couples.

We are reliant on people giving their opinions on their values regarding sexual orientation so we can understand where they stand. We expect to hear a person’s explicit attitude.

Indeed, we can normally get an idea of where a person stands after just a few words, phrases, tone, and pitch. Consider saying this quote in different tones and pitches, “Are you gay?” It could sound quite neutral and non-judgmental. Or it could sound like you’re saying, “You’re not gay are you? Right?”


DimensionalUltimately, we find that people’s attitudes are complex. A teenage girl says she likes gay people but at the same times says she doesn’t believe there are any in her school of two thousand. She demonstrates an unawareness that many teens questions their sexual orientation and there is bound to be one or two students who are gay. A man says gay people should get civil unions and frowns on adoption. “I don’t know if they should adopt though-Is it even safe?”

Attitudes are multi-dimensional. They can fall under several categories but most commonly you find these attitudes are represented by these categories:

Civil Right Attitudes: The person conveys attitudes related to civil rights issues. “I think gay people should have full right to marriage.”

Homophobic: The person conveys an overt physiological reaction of anxiety in response to discussion on a gay related topic.

Homonegative: The phrases and words used are derogatory and are meant as put downs to a gay person.

Affirmative: The phrases and words used are meant to be empowering. Someone uses sexual orientation rather than Sexual preference; or another uses relationships versus homosexual relations; or someone asks if you are partnered rather than just asking, “Are you married?”

Born Gay Taught ReligionReligious Based Attitudes: The words and phrases used are embedded in a religious context. “Love the sinner but not the sin.”

Internalized Attitudes: The person conveys language that speaks to their willingness and openness of sexual orientation exploration either cognitively or in person. “When I was fifteen I asked if I was gay. But I really liked girls so it was obvious,” or “I daydream about being with Tommy,” or “I never would be with another guy.”

We only need to listen to media on TV; read our online news; or have a conversation with a friend, teacher, bartender, or a stranger to know that people’s attitudes are never simple or easy to assess.

Sometimes we talk to people who are speaking about sexual orientation in neither a favorable or unfavorable manner. In these situations it’s difficult to see where they stand. Sometimes, we might even here the person say they like gay people but at the same time say something that makes us think they are not entirely pro-gay. A girl who says, “I hate for any gay to be bullied, but an eighteen year old who acts so feminine, well, it’s easy to see why he gets picked on. You know what I mean?”, believes she’s pro-gay but she’s clearly conveying prejudicial attitudes. She has no awareness of her negative feelings.

In one study, researchers gave a group of doctoral counseling students a scale we’ll call Attitudes-Towards-Gays (ATG). They found overall their scores demonstrated that the graduate students had positive feelings towards gay people. The researchers had one group undergo an educational training session in which students were challenged about their beliefs and values on issues related to gay topics. The group that underwent the training were given the scale, ATG, at post-test. Were their scores higher?

No. They were actually lower. Lower scores mean the students have more negative feelings towards gay people. In other words, after a LGBT training, the people who said they had accepting attitudes towards gay people later said they had negative feelings towards gays.

Why? It is probable the students who had the educational training became aware they had negative attitudes and biases they never knew they held. They became conscious of negative feelings they held. For example, a person who thought she was gay accepting might have been using the word homosexual when talking to gay people asking questions like, “”How long you been homosexual?”  She learns in the training that the the word homosexual was once used to describe a mental illness and she’s ashamed of her past usage of word.

This finding brings us to the concept of Implicit Attitudes.


When most people speak about gay related topics they’re often expressing feelings and beliefs they are not fully aware of. These are called implicit attitudes. When we hear a man, we’ll call him Rick, say, “I’m not homophobic. I like gay people. I really do. I’m all for gay people. But I’m just not for them marrying or adopting or that kind of stuff.” In this example it’s clear there are implicit attitudes emerging which he has no awareness of.

Rick also sounds ambivalent which is a close cousin to implicit. For example, Rick’s words and phrases he uses may sound negative, but they also sound slightly positive. Implicit attitudes are expression of feelings we are not fully conscious of but nevertheless come out in the language we are using: “Gay people are okay. Seriously, I don’t have a problem with them. I just don’t want to be around them. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hater, it’s just they make me uncomfortable. It’s all cool if they aren’t hitting on me.” If you’re confused then you’re not alone. A person’s ambivalent language will usually cause you a headache.

President Barack Obama conveyed ambivalent language once upon a time. In 1998, he used language suggesting he was undecided on same-sex civil unions. He would later favor domestic-partnerships and civil unions in 2004. In 2008, President Obama said, “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage.”

In 2012, President Obama gave an equivocal, un-ambivalent statement that demonstrated a clear explicit attitude: “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

In the field of research it’s easy for researchers to quantify a person’s attitudes. They just give participants a set number questions that have a likert scale. In the end, you compute a total score which gives you a measure of that person’s explicit attitudes.

But how do you measure someone’s implicit attitudes? Is it even possible? You’re asking a person to tell you what their attitudes which they’re not fully aware of.

Take someone who says she has no prejudices. Consider Lucy who says, “I have three gay friends. I like them and have no problems with them being gay. I have to say, I don’t like the ones though who need to talk all the time about getting their rights. And I really can’t stand the guys who have to act so gay…I mean, can’t they just be normal?”

are u self awareHow do we get an accurate picture of Lucy’s attitudes via survey? She believes she has no negative attitudes but clearly she has some negative attitudes. It appears if she meets a gay person with feminine mannerisms she will not like these individuals.

If you gave Lucy a survey assessing her attitudes she’d give it back and her score would say she had a moderate level of acceptance towards gay people. Does her comment above sound like she’s a solidly affirmative for LGB individuals? You’re right. No it doesn’t.

In order to accurately measure Lucy’s attitudes you would need an instrument with items that she cannot consciously manipulate. The items would need to assess her preferences for heterosexual people versus gay people in a very subtle manner. The Implicit Association Test (IAT) offers a valid way to assess Lucy’s attitudes.

The researchers at Harvard University developed the Implicit Association Test originally to measure one’s attitudes towards race. A white person may say, “I’m no racist.” The results of the IAT may indicate, however, that the person actually has biases towards black people. The IAT was later adapted to measure not just attitudes towards race but a host of groups such as sexual orientation, Muslims, Transgender people, Mexican immigrants, etc. It has been adapted to assess a person’s attitudes toward sexual orientation.

Harvard’s IAT can be found here at this link:  https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

The IAT computes your response time to conclude what your attitude preference is: a.) gay people or b.) heterosexual people or c.) no difference.

The IAT has participants sort pictures or words to a particular column by pressing either the letter “e” for the left column or “i” for the right column.

There’s an example below. The word Heterosexual is paired with the word, Good, while the word Gay is paired with Bad. The word “FINE” pops up. Because the word has a meaning associated with good the participant sorts this word to the right column. The word Fine goes under category Good.Slide11

Sometimes a picture or phrase related to sexual orientation is shown. Below the picture of two guys pops up. The participant sorts the picture to the left side because the couple is associated with the word Gay. In the next slide the heterosexual picture pops up. It’s obviously associated with the category heterosexual so the participant hits the “i” key sorting it to the right column.



Same-sex marriage is associated with the word Gay so it’s sorted to the left column.


Below is the word “Horrible”. The participant clicks “e” making it go to the right column because it’s associated with Bad.


After the participant does several slides the words Bad and Good are reversed. Now, Gay is paired with Good and Heterosexual is paired with Bad. The participants do the same task over several slides.



People who have preferences for heterosexual people, or biased against gay people will have slower response times in sorting negative words to the column when Heterosexual is paired with Bad. They’re response times are faster when they sort negative words to the column when Gay is paired with Bad. The participant’s response times give researchers a measure of implicit of attitudes.


rainbow with eyeAttitudes towards sexual orientation are complex. They’re multidimensional they’re expressions are positive, negative, or even ambivalent (both).

An attitude is direct reflection of a person’s feelings. What shapes a person’s feelings?
The answer to this question is the nucleus of Queer Sense. People’s feelings towards sexual orientations are formed by the cultural systems they live in.

The cultural systems are comprised of siblings, parents, teachers, peers, coaches, next door neighbor, the bus driver, a principal, an elementary school, a church, the anti-gay pastor across town the person’s never met. The cultural system is also state legislatures, the mayor who tries to implement a law that ends discrimination against gay people, the Texas state senator who states that gay middle schools do not need extra protection. The cultural systems are our President, our Supreme Court’s decisions, they’re the NBA player who’s openly gay.

Within this cultural system there are three concepts actively forming our feelings: Role Models, Attachment, and Language.

These are the necessary ingredients to form our feelings.

Welcome to Queer Sense.

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