Straight allies: Supportive attitudes toward lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals in a college sample.
Stotzer, R. L. (2009). Straight allies: Supportive attitudes toward lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals in a college sample. Sex Roles, 60(1), 67-80. DOI:10.1007/s11199-008-9508-1
The author of this article argues that most contemporary research which studies heterosexuals’ attitudes towards the LGBT community focuses on how or why negative or prejudicial attitudes are formed against queer-identified individuals despite the evidence that young people in American society are developing supportive and accepting attitudes towards the queer community. Stotzer claims there is an exigent necessity to begin exploring further how these positive, rather than negative, attitudes arise, as research which seeks to do so is, “vital for many reasons, not the least of which is prevention of discrimination and acts of violence, but also to find ways to secure equal rights or move social movements forward.” The article focuses on a single study, conducted at a Midwestern university, in order to demonstrate how Stotzer’s proposed research and investigative projects could potentially be performed. Based on this study, the author concludes that there are three primary factors which contribute to the formation of positive attitudes towards queer-identified people by straight-identified people: “(1) early normalizing experiences in childhood, (2) meeting LGB peers in high school or college as important to the development of their attitudes, and (3) experiences of empathy based on an LGB peer’s struggles and successes, or resistance to hatred expressed by those with negative attitudes” (1).
From a convenience sample of 1,018 undergraduate psychology students who responded to a pre-screening questionnaire (Herek’s Attitudes toward Lesbians and Gay Men, Gay Men Subscale), 69 straight-identified students (51 females and 18 males) who reported no prior sexual contact with the same sex agreed to participate in a blind-study which required them to submit to a private interview with the researchers. The method chosen for the qualitative research was a grounded theory approach. Data were collected from a semi-structured interview format, in which, “specific questions [were] asked in the same order for each interviewee.” Stotzer justifies the research methods by stating, “it allowed participants to discuss content and events that they felt were meaningful, not those that were predetermined by the researchers as meaningful…[it] allowed participants to tell stories rather than just answer specific questions, which offered inclusion of rich contextual details….[and] responses from a semistructured interview also allow for an analysis that is built from the ground up, allowing the data to inform research, rather than imposing preconceived theories on the data.” The data were later analyzed using the method of constant comparison (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Dye et al., 2000), in which a coding scheme was developed gradually as researchers read through transcribed interviews, with new categories being added or collapsed as researchers progressed through the set of data.
The findings are groundbreaking, as the author refutes the popular claims of well-known studies which suggest that focusing on the biological components
of homosexuality leads to more supportive attitudes (e.g., Hegarty & Pratto. 2001) as, “in this case, participants with supportive attitudes clearly demonstrated a wide array of reasoning behind their attitudes.” Examples of reasons which participants offered to explain their positive attitudes towards queer individuals include, “‘social justice,’ ‘personal freedom,’ ‘human rights,’ and ‘exposure to LGB adults…[and] popular culture.’” However, it is important for researchers to note the limited nature of this study as it was completed using a sample derived exclusively from a group of young students belonging to an institution of higher education. Despite this fact, the research project discussed within this article is significant as it contributes greatly to the scant body of work on the development of positive attitudes towards LGBT communities assembled thus far. Furthermore, the article offers the intriguing concept that such positive attitudes can develop not only when biological components of sexual orientation are considered by research participants, but also when a variety of other psychological or social factors are examined. Finally, this article serves as an in-depth, step-by-step look into how qualitative grounded theory methodology can be configured for research in the fields of psychology and sexuality studies, and its potential to yield considerably-sized sets of data fit for analysis.