‘Born This Way’ argument not helping to reduce homophobia


Born-This-Way-not-helping-to-reduce-homophobiaIn recent years, the argument that sexual orientation is innate or that we are “born this way” has become a principal component of the advocacy for the rights of sexual minorities.

Activist have argued that if science shows (as it increasingly appears to do) that one’s sexual orientation is inborn this will help silence those critics who claim it is a lifestyle or a choice.

New research from the University of Tennessee (UT), however, seems to indicate that this may not be the most effective way to promote more positive attitudes toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people.

Patrick Grzanka and Joe Miles, both UT assistant professors of psychology, recently published a study in the Journal of Counseling Psychology challenging the notion that the belief that people are born with their sexual orientation — a belief that has proliferated in the past thirty years, particularly among social and biological scientists — is the key to improving attitudes toward LGB people.

“This research is not about figuring what makes a person gay or straight,” Grzanka stressed. Rather, the researchers aimed to understand how a person’s belief about sexual orientation may affect how they view sexual minorities.

Their findings suggest that the belief that sexual orientation is inborn is not what distinguishes people who hold negative or positive attitudes toward gay men.

For the study, Grzanka, Miles, and co-author Katharine Zeiders of the University of Missouri surveyed two groups of college students. Most respondents believed sexual orientation is inborn and unchangeable, but it’s what else they believed about sexual orientation that distinguishes them.

For example, the researchers looked more closely at respondents who had negative attitudes about gay men. Even among those who believed gay men are “born that way,” those who also believe gay men are “all the same and act the same way” were more likely to hold prejudicial attitudes toward gay men, Grzanka said.

“We suggest that this demonstrates the limited capacity of ‘born this way’ arguments to reduce homophobia,” he said.

Grzanka said their study may help activists, educators, and other researchers more effectively foster acceptance of sexual minorities and create a safer and more welcoming society.

Grzanka noted that beliefs about the nature of sexual orientation have profound implications for science, policy, and the law. Arguments that sexual orientation is inherent and unchangeable have been used in landmark court cases to serve as the foundation for civil protections and privileges, such as marriage, and to challenge harmful faux-medical practices, such as so-called sexual orientation “conversion therapy.”

“I think social scientists, lawyers, biological researchers, and activists all need to examine why it is that many of us are so deeply invested in biological explanations of sexual orientation, particularly when they appear to have limited efficacy in terms of promoting more positive attitudes toward sexual minorities,” said Grzanka.

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