Queer Sense: Role Models
Social role models are with us from day one. They may be positive or negative influences-but all of them shaped our values and beliefs.
When we are five years old, depending on the home we grew up in, we see the man we call dad as our hero, or we see him as a scary man who hurt mom.
In college, you’ve put one particular professor on a pedestal saying she’s knowledgeable, competent, and does everything perfectly. You strive to be like her. Or you may see your professor as aloof, uncaring, and rigid.
Role Models & Our Behaviors
A developmental psychologist named Albert Bandura showed us that role models are quite influential in shaping our behavior.
If you have ever taken an Introduction to Psychology course then you’ve heard about the Bobo Dolls. A plastic doll told us all we needed to know about role models.
In Albert Bandura’s study there was a group of children who were shown a video of adults inside a room with a Bobo Doll. One video showed the adult playing with different toys in the room and ignoring the Bobo Doll. And the other video showed an adult pummeling the Bobo Doll to hell.
So what happened when they put the child in the room alone with the Bobo Doll?
Interesting findings were that boys were more likely to imitate a behavior when they observed a male model. Girls were more likely to show verbally aggressive behavior when the model’s sex was female.
Choosing Our Role Models
Bandura said one criterion used to choose models is the perceived status of the person. The higher the status of the person we are observing the more likely we are to imitate them. This is one reason why celebrities are so influential as they are visible and have high status.
Gay teenagers are highly susceptible to role models because they are still learning who they are as a person, and trying to make sense of their sexual attractions.
Teenagers view particular people within their own age groups as having a high status. Anyone can relate to this as there was a boy or girl in your high school regardless if it was in a wealthy area or in the hood. It could have been the guy who was identified as the “cool cat”, the football star, the girl who starred in a film last summer, or the notorious gang banger said to have shot someone last year.
Role models impact what Bandura calls “self-concept.” The self-concept is our image of our abilities and our own uniqueness. An individual with an ill-defined self-concept will be more likely to imitate certain role models. That is, the person believes the actions of certain role models will be more effective than the person’s own actions.
A gay teen may imitate a popular kid in school because he sees everything he as “wrong,” but the popular kid knows how to act. In this case the gay teen does not acknowledge his same-sex attraction but rather ends up participating in making jokes and putting down gay people.
Teens are influenced by their peers on everything from smoking, to sexual activity, to alcohol and substance use. Peer groups set the standards of certain behaviors as being good. Although adults often see this process of influence as peer pressure (i.e., you have to do X, or you can’t be part of our group), this isn’t necessarily the case.
Rather what we call “peer pressure” can be the result of an informal group consensus that may not even be conscious on the part of participants. Just as with any role models, teens who model themselves on peers also internalize their standards and beliefs, so that adolescents may not feel that they are merely imitating the actions of others, but that they are epitomizing the natural actions of a “jock,” a “nerd,” or an adherent of some other social identity.
Role models are influential to everyone, everywhere though and are not particular to teenagers.
Political parties have their own role models. Republicans look to Fox News celebrities of Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reily, and Mike Huckabee. They look to their national leaders of Chris Christie, Rand Paul, and President George W. Bush. People who are liberal look to MSNBC anchors of Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, and Andrea Mitchell. They also look to their leaders of Secretary Hillary Clinton, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and President Barack Obama.
In prison populations, role models also exist of course. Prisoners view particular people within their own group as having higher status. This may be the inmate who has access to drugs. Or the inmate who has history of murders. Or the inmate who has a record of being a strong Alpha leader of a gang, and regularly prostitutes out inmates for profit of power.
Positive and Negative Gay Role Models
The year was 1997. Ellen DeGeneres starred in the sit-com Ellen. A show that had run since 1994. Ellen’s character came out lesbian on the show. The disclosure sparked anti-gay rhetoric from the public and particular groups. An ABC affiliate in Alabama refused to air the show. Subsequent series contained gay themes and a few companies, including Dalmer Chrysler, pulled their advertisements. The TV series Ellen was canceled.
In 1997, the number of gay role models were sparse to say the least. People thought Prince might be but turns out he had much anti-gay rhetoric to spew. People thought Elton John was and turns out he’s Bisexual.
The rock singer Melissa Etheridge was out lesbian.
President Bill Clinton showed some positivity towards homosexuality as he signed into law Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. A law that stopped the military from conducting witch hunts that discharge homosexuals from the military.
Time warp to 2015. Gay role models are galore.
In 2012, a Fox News anchor in Cincinnati, Ohio called MSNBC host Rachel Maddow an ‘angry young man.’
Did Rachel get fired for being outed as gay? First, she was already out. Second, quite the opposite happened. The Fox News anchor was suspended for two days and returned after issuing an apology to Rachel.
Any consequences for Rachel? She laughed off the comment using her clever wit and put the sexual orientation matter to the side-as a nonissue. She continued on to report the story of the day.
The media airwaves related to sexual orientation of current day have been busy. It has been bad and ugly, but anti-rhetoric in today’s climate come with a backlash.
San Francisco 49ers cornerback, Chris Culliver, was asked if there were any gay players on the team. His response. “We don’t have any gay guys on the team”. Culliver said, “They gotta get up outta here if they are. Can’t be with that sweet stuff.” There was a public outcry and Culliver apologized.
Pat Robertson said in a recent TV interview that gay men intentionally pass HIV onto other people by using a ring on their finger. The interviewer attempted to steer the conversation elsewhere but Robertson stuck on the anti-gay rhetoric. The news network was reluctant to air Robertsons’ comments.
U.S. Representative Todd Akin said of gay marriage, “Anybody who knows something about the history of the human race knows that there is no civilization which has condoned homosexual marriage widely and openly that has long survived.”
Paris Hilton had these encouraging words for gays, “Gay guys are the horniest people in the world…they’re disgusting. Dude, most of them probably have AIDS.”
Former Saturday Night Live star Victoria Jackson slammed the TV show Glee because it had a scene with two guys who kissed. Not long after her speech she received a multitude of angry tweets.
Adam Corolloa drew fire when he asked this on his radio show, “When did we start giving a sh*t about these [transgender] people?”
The entire Texas Republican Party adopted a platform that includes supporting the well discredited, an unethical Reparative Therapy. This stance got covered in Newsweek and it was noted this treatment has been discredited.
Once upon a time negativity ruled the day in regards to sexual orientation. In today’s society, there has been a surge of positivity aimed at recognizing and affirming gay people, supporting their same-sex relationships and protecting their rights.
In America we have celebrities who’ve come out gay or openly gay and are widely accepted. Anderson Cooper and Don Lemmon of CNN. Rachel Maddow is the super-star newswoman who is out as lesbian.
Sports fans now have exposure to out gay role models. The Australian Gold Olympic medalist Mathew Mitcham is out and proud.
Jason Collins was the first NBA player ever to be openly gay. Now NBA player Derrick Gordon and Will Sheridan are openly out and Brittney Griner of the Woman NBA is openly gay.
Michael Sam was the first out NFL drafted player. Professional soccer player Robbie Rogers retired at 25 years old and said, “Oh, by the way, I’m gay too.” Megan Rapinoe came out lesbian when she interviewed for Out Magazine.
We have gay characters on TV series. There’s the classic Grace and Will. Orange is the New Black gives a lens to not just sexual orientation but gender identity orientation. Gotham has a bisexual character. Even Games of Thrones has gay characters-gorgeous Ser Loras Tyrell and his lover Renly Baratheon.
In today’s world, teenagers have direct access to not just adult gay role models but teen gay role models. Glee portrays gay teens on the TV hit series.
Gay allies have becomes quite pronounced in the modern society. President Ronald Reagan told someone in confidence he worked many gay people in Hollywood when he was an actor and had no problems with them. He however remained silent on AIDS for the first five years of the epidemic and never spoke a word of any toleration to gays publicly.
President Bill Clinton passed into law Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. President George W. Bush supposedly had many gay friends but campaigned his second presidential bid on the promise he would pass a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage which he quickly abandoned after winning his second term election. President Barack Obama put his full support behind same-sex marriage.
Ted Olson, a renown conservative, went before the Supreme Court and argued that proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage should be overturned. On the June 26, 2013 the Supreme Court made a ruling that favored same-sex marriage. After the court’s decision, California Governor Jerry Brown allowed same-sex marriages to resume.
In another decision, on October 6, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled on a case whether same-sex marriage would be allowed in several states. The Washington Post wrote, “The Supreme Court on Monday decided to let stand rulings that allow same-sex marriage in Virginia, Utah, Oklahoma, Indiana and Wisconsin, a move that may dramatically expand across the nation a decades-long movement legalizing such unions.” The number of states that allow same-sex marriage is now 30.
Dan Savage started a project in 2010 called “It Gets Better” in response to a gay teen’s suicide. He invited gay people to create encouraging videos for other gay teens.
The average people, whether they are a gay teen, a father of a questioning youth, a teacher who is conservative and believes being gay is wrong, are exposed to common-every-day people who are openly gay, advocating, or heterosexuals who are allies.
There are Gay Christians…check out the Gay Christian Network. We have a Gay Republican group called Log Cabin Republicans. Universities now have gay fraternities on their campus called Delta Lambda Phi.
We can witness Gay veterans kissing each other when one’s partner returns home from deployment.
Social role models, whether they are anti-gay, pro-gay, or ambivalent, are not just celebrities but they are in our everyday lives.
You have a friend who’s ambivalent about the gay civil rights issues. Your professor came out gay on the first day of class. Your favorite teacher was fired, you think, for being gay. An uncle voices his disgust against gays every time you have a family re-union. Your older brother who’s married to a woman told you he experimented with a boy in college. Your best friend’s father speaks in favor of Gay Reparative Therapy on a Christian radio talk show.
Your aunt comes with you to PFLAG support groups.
Your teacher came out to you after you graduated high school and you tell him, “Yeah, we all knew. Why did you think I came out?”
Role models are aplenty in this world.
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