Data Type: Journal Article

Straight allies: What predicts heterosexuals’ alliance with the LGBT community?

Fingerhut, A. (2011). Straight allies: What predicts heterosexuals’ alliance with the LGBT community?. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41(9), 2230-2248.

This article makes the claim that the social phenomenon of “out-group” allies and the social factors contributing to their construction as an identity have been understudied by the likes of sociologists, as well as psychologists. “Out-group” allies (in the context of this article) refers to members of a privileged social class which join the ranks of an underprivileged, minoritized, or oppressed social group in a political protest or fight for equality. Fingerhut notes that “out-group” allies have been observed for decades, citing whites’ involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, support from men during women’s liberation in the early 20th century, and even German citizens who worked to protect Jews during World War II and the Holocaust. Fingerhut posits that “out-group” allies have always played a crucial role in attaining equality alongside minority groups in society, but that the social factors contributing to the formation of alliance identities have not been represented in extant research. The purpose of the research presented in this article is to research the phenomenon of “out-group” alliance and to better understand the social factors which work to predict such alliance. “Given the current prominence of discussions regarding the civil rights of gay men and lesbians,” writes Fingerhut, “the research focuses specifically on factors that predict heterosexuals’ advocacy for and alignment with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community” (p. 2231).

To gather data, Fingerhut recruited heterosexual individuals (121 women, 80 men, 1 unidentified gender) to participate in an online survey concerning social attitudes. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 80 years and were predominantly Caucasian.
All of the participants were from the United States and were recruited through Participation in the study was incentivized, as each participant was entered in a lottery conducted by for one of six prizes of $52. A handful of social research scales were implemented into the survey to test participants for empathy (Interpersonal Reactivity Index; Davis, 1980); perspective taking, i.e. the “tendency to spontaneously adopt the psychological point of view of others”; attitudes toward gay men and lesbians (Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gay Men Scale; Herek, 1984 and The Allophilia Scale; Pittinsky, Rosenthal & Montoya, 2011); and action on behalf of the LGBT community (Fingerhut, 2011) (p. 2239). The objective of the research was to analyze, “whether and to what degree (a) personal connections, including empathy and out-group contact; (b) out-group attitudes, including prejudice and allophilia; and (c) demographic factors, including gender and education, would predict action taken
on behalf of LGBT causes” (p. 2240).

Fingerhut’s research is crucial to the studies of sexuality, social construction, and oppressed social groups because it takes an urgent first step toward understanding which social factors will most likely predict an individual’s allied behaviors or social alliance with the aforementioned minoritized group. A surprising and significant finding of the research is that empathy, a factor many sociologists and psychologists have hypothesized would play a key role in the development of “out-group” alliance in previous studies, “was unrelated to out group activism [entirely]…whether empathy was operationalized as perspective taking or empathic concern” (p. 2242). The research described in this article suggests associations among a variety of predictors and “out-group” alliance, but Fingerhut notes that it “does little to examine the process by which out-group alliance emerges,” and thus petitions for further research on the subject. This article is useful for researchers studying any underprivileged social class or group, and is especially valuable to projects examining how and why privileged individuals within a society align themselves with minoritized groups in a political push for equality or “intergroup harmony” (2245). Such projects could benefit from the findings of this article because Fingerhut identifies major and reliable predicting factors of “out-group” alliance, which can aid researchers in their design of future studies.

Categories: Qualitative Methods, Queer Theory/Sexuality Studies, Social Construction, Sociology of Mental Health and Illness
Publication Date: 2011