Gregory M. Herek, Ph.D.

Selected Publications on Sexual Orientation, Law, and Policy

Herek, G.M. (1986). The social psychology of homophobia: Toward a practical theory. Review of Law and Social Change, 14 (4), 923-934.
  This paper presents a social psychological theory to explain homophobia based on the notion that a broad range of reactions to homosexuality exists among Americans. Based on the idea that attitudes serve psychological functions and are divided according to how they benefit the person holding the attitude, two major categories of homophobia are discussed: (1) homophobia based on personal experiences with homosexuals (experiential attitudes), and (2) homophobia based on the consequences of expressing one's opinions about homosexuals (expressive attitudes). Different strategies must be used in dealing with each type of homophobia. For heterosexuals, personal contact with lesbians and gay men represents the most promising strategy for reducing homophobia. Heterosexuals will be less likely to define the world entirely in heterosexual terms when they are aware of gay significant others.
Herek, G.M., & Glunt, E.K. (1988). An epidemic of stigma: Public reactions to AIDS. American Psychologist, 43 (11), 886-891.
  The AIDS epidemic has been accompanied by intensely negative public reactions to persons presumed to be infected by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In this article, we define such reactions as AIDS-related stigma. We discuss two major sources of this stigma: the identification of AIDS as a deadly disease and the association of AIDS in the United States with already stigmatized groups, especially gay men. We describe some of the social and psychological processes that contribute to AIDS-related stigma and offer suggestions for eradicating stigma through public policy and individual education.
Herek, G.M. (1989). Hate crimes against lesbians and gay men: Issues for research and policy. American Psychologist, 44 (6), 948-955.
  Antigay hate crimes (words or actions that are intended to harm or intimidate individuals because they are lesbian or gay) constitute a serious national problem. In recent surveys, as many as 92% of lesbians and gay men report that they have been the targets of antigay verbal abuse or threats, and as many as 24% report physical attacks because of their sexual orientation. Assaults may have increased in frequency during the last few years, with many incidents now including spoken references to the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) by the assailants. Trends cannot be assessed, however, because most antigay hate crimes are never reported and no comprehensive national surveys of antigay victimization have been conducted. Suggestions are offered for research and policy.
Herek, G.M. (1990). Gay people and government security clearances: A social science perspective. American Psychologist, 45 (9), 1035-1042.
  Lesbian and gay male applicants routinely are denied government security clearances or are subjected to unusually lengthy and intensive investigation. This article reviews social science data relevant to the principal justifications that have been offered for this policy and presents the following conclusions: (a) Lesbians and gay men are no more likely than heterosexuals to suffer from a personality disorder or emotional stress, or to be psychologically unstable; (b) lesbians and gay men are no more likely than heterosexuals to be unduly sensitive to coercion, blackmail, or duress; and (c) lesbians and gay men are no more likely than heterosexuals to be unwilling to respect or uphold laws or regulations, or to be unreliable or untrustworthy. Three major flaws are discussed that underlie current government policies toward gay applicants for security clearances: (a) Groups rather than individuals are screened for undesirable characteristics; (b) applicants are rejected on the basis of problems created by government policies themselves; and (c) homosexual applicants are scrutinized according to criteria that are not applied similarly to heterosexual applicants. An alternative hypothesis, that experience with stigma actually may increase a gay applicant's ability to maintain secrecy, is discussed. Some consequences of current policies are noted.
Herek, G.M. (1991). Myths about sexual orientation: A lawyer's guide to social science research. Law and Sexuality, 1, 133-172.
  This article provides an overview of social science theory and empirical research concerning sexual orientation. The paper begins with a brief discussion of terminology, basic concepts of internal validity and generalizability, the application of data to individuals and groups, and the burden of proof in scientific research on homosexuality. The bulk of the article is devoted to a discussion of current data relevant to eight common, inaccurate characterizations of lesbians, gay men, and homosexuality. These myths concern: (1) the relationship of homosexuality to mental illness; (2) the psychological effects of stigma on gay men and women; (3) the origins of sexual orientation and possibilities for changing it; (4) homosexuality and child molestation; (5) the effects of gay parents and role models on children; (6) gay male and lesbian intimate relationships; (7) gay people as a minority group; and (8) the effects of gay people on organizational efficiency and morale. The social science research reviewed here consistently indicates that lesbians and gay men, as a group, do not differ in significant ways from heterosexuals except in terms of their sexual orientation.
Herek, G.M. (1993). Sexual orientation and military service: A social science perspective. American Psychologist, 48 (5), 538-547.
  Since 1982, the policy of the U.S. Department of Defense has been that homosexuality is incompatible with military service. In January of 1993, however, President Clinton announced his intention to reverse the military's ban and called for discussion about how best to implement a new, nondiscriminatory policy. This article reviews the social science literature relevant to such a discussion. Empirical data suggest that lesbians and gay men are not inherently less capable of military service than are heterosexual women and men; that prejudice in the military can be overcome; that heterosexual personnel can adapt to living and working in close quarters with lesbian and gay male personnel; and that public opinion will be influenced by the way this issue is framed. Any change in policy should be accompanied by strong measures to prevent harassment and violence against lesbians and gay men, educate heterosexual personnel, and enforce uniform policies regarding all forms of sexual harassment. Considerations relevant to a new policy that does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation are discussed.
Herek, G.M. (2006). Legal recognition of same-sex relationships in the United States: A social science perspective. American Psychologist, 61 (6), 607-621.
  Whether and how civil society should recognize committed relationships between same-sex partners has become a prominent, often divisive policy issue. The present article reviews relevant behavioral and social science research to assess the validity of key factual claims in this debate. The data indicate that same-sex and heterosexual relationships do not differ in their essential psychosocial dimensions; that a parent's sexual orientation is unrelated to her or his ability to provide a healthy and nurturing family environment; and that marriage bestows substantial psychological, social, and health benefits. It is concluded that same-sex couples and their children are likely to benefit in numerous ways from legal recognition of their families, and providing such recognition through marriage will bestow greater benefit than civil unions or domestic partnerships. Trends in public opinion toward greater support for legal recognition of same-sex couples are discussed.
    Go to Dr. Herek's complete bibliography


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