Gregory M. Herek, Ph.D.

Selected Publications on Sexual Prejudice and Homophobia

Herek, G.M. (1984). Beyond "homophobia": A social psychological perspective on attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. Journal of Homosexuality, 10 (1/2), 1-21.   Homophobia, a term often used to describe hostile reactions to lesbians and gay men, implies a unidimensional construct of attitudes as expressions of irrational fears. This paper argues that a more complex view is needed of the psychology of positive and negative attitudes toward homosexual persons. Based upon a review of previous empirical research, a model is proposed that distinguishes three types of attitudes according to the social psychological function they serve: (1) experiential, categorizing social reality by one's past interactions with homosexual persons; (2) defensive, coping with one's inner conflicts or anxieties by projecting them onto homosexual persons; and (3) symbolic, expressing abstract ideological concepts that are closely linked to one's notion of self and to one's social network and reference groups. Strategies are proposed for changing attitudes serving each of the functions. The importance of distinguishing attitudes toward lesbians from those focused on gay men is also addressed.
Herek, G.M. (1984). Attitudes toward lesbians and gay men: A factor-analytic study. Journal of Homosexuality, 10 (1/2), 39-51.
  This paper reports a series of factor analyses of responses to attitude statements about lesbians and gay men. Using a common factor model with oblique rotation, a bipolar Condemnation-Tolerance factor was observed repeatedly in four separate samples of undergraduates. The factor accounts for 35-45% of the total common variance in responses, and is similar for males and female respondents and for questionnaires concerning both lesbians and gay men. A Beliefs factor accounts for another 5% of the total variance. It is argued that scales assessing attitudes toward lesbians and gay men should restrict their content to items loading highly on the Condemnation-Tolerance factor. An appendix lists items loading on the Condemnation-Tolerance factor.
Herek, G.M. (1986). On heterosexual masculinity: Some psychical consequences of the social construction of gender and sexuality. American Behavioral Scientist, 29 (5), 563-577.
  This article considers the proposition that to be "a man" in contemporary American society is to be homophobic -- that is, to be hostile toward homosexual persons in general and gay men in particular. Starting from empirical observation of links between homophobia and gender, heterosexual masculinity is discussed as a culturally constructed gender identity that has been affected by the historically recent emergence of gay identities. The paper then discusses how heterosexual masculine identity is constructed by individuals, and how expressing hostility toward gay people enhances such an identity. Homophobia serves the psychological function of expressing who one is not (i.e., homosexual) and thereby affirming who one is (heterosexual). Furthermore, homophobia reduces the likelihood that heterosexual men will interact with gay men, thereby ruling out opportunities for the attitude change that often occurs through such contact. Finally, the paper proposes strategies for disentangling homophobia from heterosexual masculinity, and considers prospects for changing both.
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. (1987). Religion and prejudice: A comparison of racial and sexual attitudes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 13 (1), 56-65.
  Past research on the relationship between religious orientation and prejudice against out-groups has focused on racism. A greater tendency toward racist attitudes has been found among persons with an extrinsic religious orientation, whereas an intrinsic orientation has sometimes been associated with tolerance. This study examined the influence of religious orientation on attitudes toward an out-group not widely accepted by contemporary religions (lesbians and gay men). Using questionnaire data from 126 White, heterosexual students on four university campuses, an extrinsic orientation was found to be positively correlated with racism, whereas an intrinsic orientation was not. Intrinsics, however, tended to be more prejudiced against gay people than were extrinsics. It is suggested that an intrinsic orientation does not foster unequivocal acceptance of others but instead encourages tolerance toward specific groups that are accepted by contemporary Judeo-Christian teachings. Attitudes toward outgroups may serve different psychological functions for persons with extrinsic and intrinsic orientations.
Herek, G.M. (1987). Can functions be measured? A new perspective on the functional approach to attitudes. Social Psychology Quarterly, 50 (4), 285-303.
  This paper argues for the value of a reformulated and reoperationalized functional approach to attitudes. The development of two new procedures for directly assessing functions is described. First, a content analysis procedure was devised, using essays written by 110 undergraduate students describing their attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. Patterns of themes were identified in the essays that indicate the presence of three functions: Experiential-Schematic, Defensive, and Self-Expressive. Correlations with theoretically relevant measures indicate that the content analysis procedure effectively assesses attitude functions. In Study 2, an objectively-scored method, the Attitude Functions Inventory (AFI), was developed and used to assess the functions served by attitudes toward lesbians and gay men and toward persons with three stigmatizing disabilities: AIDS, mental illness, and cancer. In the AFI, the Self-Expressive function observed in Study 1 was subdivided into Social-Expressive and Value-Expressive functions. Preliminary data support the AFI's validity. Theoretical and methodological implications for future research are discussed.
Herek, G.M. (1988). Heterosexuals' attitudes toward lesbians and gay men: Correlates and gender differences. The Journal of Sex Research, 25 (4), 451-477.
  This paper discusses the basis for differences among heterosexuals in their reactions to gay people, with special emphasis on the issue of gender differences. Three studies conducted with students at 6 different universities revealed a consistent tendency for heterosexual males to express more hostile attitudes than heterosexual females, especially toward gay men. The same social psychological variables appear to underlie both males' and females' attitudes toward both gay men and lesbians: religiosity, adherence to traditional ideologies of family and gender, perception of friends' agreement with one's own attitudes, and past interactions with lesbians and gay men. The role of these variables in shaping attitudes is discussed and areas for future research are proposed. Construction and validation of the Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gay Men (ATLG) scale are also described.
Herek, G.M. (1990). The context of anti-gay violence: Notes on cultural and psychological heterosexism. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 5 (3), 316-333.
  Hate crimes against lesbians and gay men occur within a broader cultural context that is permeated by heterosexism. Heterosexism is defined here as an ideological system that denies, denigrates, and stigmatizes any nonheterosexual form of behavior, identity, relationship, or community. It operates principally by rendering homosexuality invisible and, when this fails, by trivializing, repressing, or stigmatizing it. This article focuses on the nexus between cultural heterosexism and individual prejudice against lesbians and gay men. Key components of the ideologies of sex and gender from which heterosexism derives are identified: (a) the personal-public dichotomy, (b) the stigmatization of particular forms of sexuality, and (c) the linkage of heterosexuality to gender-role conformity. Supported by these ideological underpinnings, cultural heterosexism fosters anti-gay attitudes by providing a ready-made system of values and stereotypical beliefs that just such prejudice as "natural." By imbuing homosexuality with a variety of symbolic meanings, cultural heterosexism enables expressions of individual prejudice to serve various psychological functions. Furthermore, by discouraging lesbians and gay men from coming out to others, heterosexism perpetuates itself. Recent social trends that may affect the ideology of heterosexism are identified, and their potential for reducing anti-gay prejudice is discussed.
Herek, G.M., & Glunt, E.K. (1993). Interpersonal contact and heterosexuals' attitudes toward gay men: Results from a national survey. The Journal of Sex Research, 30 (3), 239-244.
  The association between heterosexuals' attitudes toward gay men and their interpersonal contact experiences with a lesbian or gay person was examined with data from a national AIDS telephone survey with a probability sample of English-speaking adults in the United States (n = 937). When asked whether any friends or relatives had "let you know that they were homosexual," approximately one-third of the respondents gave an affirmative answer. Regression analyses indicated that interpersonal contact predicted attitudes toward gay men better than did any other demographic or social psychological variable included in the equation. Interpersonal contact was more likely to be reported by respondents who were highly educated, politically liberal, young, and female. The data indicate that interpersonal contact is strongly associated with positive attitudes toward gay men and that heterosexuals with characteristics commonly associated with positive attitudes are more likely than others to be the recipients of disclosure from gay friends and relatives.
Herek, G.M., & Capitanio, J.P. (1995). Black heterosexuals' attitudes toward lesbians and gay men in the United States. The Journal of Sex Research, 32 (2), 95-105.
  Although the direction and intensity of Black heterosexuals' attitudes toward homosexuality have been topics for considerable speculation, empirical data from representative samples previously have not been available. The current article reports findings from a two-wave telephone survey with a national probability sample of 391 Black heterosexual adults. Results indicated that negative attitudes toward homosexuality are widespread, but do not appear to be more prevalent among Blacks than among Whites. Gender differences in Black heterosexuals' attitudes (men's attitudes toward gay men were more negative than their attitudes toward lesbians or women's attitudes toward gay men) appeared to result primarily from men's greater tendency to regard male homosexuality as unnatural. The single most important predictor of attitudes was the attribution of choice to sexual orientation: Respondents who believed that homosexuality is beyond an individual's control expressed significantly more favorable attitudes toward gay men and lesbians than did respondents who regarded homosexuality as a choice. Consistent with previous research in predominantly White samples, respondents were more likely to express favorable attitudes if they were highly educated, unmarried, politically liberal, registered to vote, not religious, and if they included Blacks in their concept of gay men. In addition, respondents reported more favorable attitudes if they had experienced personal contact with gay men or lesbians, but this was not a significant predictor of attitudes when other variables were statistically controlled. Possible differences between Blacks' and Whites' social constructions of sexual orientation are discussed.
Herek, G.M., & Capitanio, J.P. (1996). "Some of my best friends": Intergroup contact, concealable stigma, and heterosexuals' attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22 (4), 412-424.
  In a two-wave national AIDS telephone survey, a probability sample of English-speaking adults indicated their attitudes toward gay men at Wave 1 (1990-91; n = 538) and toward both gay men and lesbians approximately one year later (n = 382 at Wave 2). At Wave 1, heterosexuals reporting interpersonal contact (31.3%) manifested more positive attitudes toward gay men than did those without contact. Their attitudes were more favorable to the extent that they reported more relationships, closer relationships, and receiving direct disclosure about another's homosexuality. At Wave 2, these findings were generally replicated for attitudes toward lesbians as well as gay men. Cross-wave analyses suggest a reciprocal relationship between contact and attitudes. Theoretical and policy implications of the results are discussed, with special attention to the role of interpersonal disclosure in reducing stigma based on a concealable status.
Herek, G.M., Cogan, J.C., Gillis, J.R., & Glunt, E.K. (1998). Correlates of internalized homophobia in a community sample of lesbians and gay men. Journal of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, 2, 17-25.
  Objective: To systematically assess internalized homophobia and its correlates among gay men and lesbians. Design: A measure of internalized homophobia (IHP) was administered to a community sample of lesbians and gay men, along with measures of psychological well-being, outness, and perceptions of community. Results and Conclusions: Women's IHP scores were significantly lower than those of men. For lesbians and gay men alike, internalized homophobia was associated with less self-disclosure to heterosexual friends and acquaintances and less sense of connection to the gay and lesbian community. Lesbians and gay men with the highest IHP scores also manifested significantly more depressive symptoms and higher levels of demoralization than others, and high-IHP men manifested lower self-esteem than other men. IHP scores were not associated with disclosure to parents or the recency of developmental milestones for either lesbians or gay men.
(A pre-publication version of the paper in PDF format can be downloaded from this site.)
Herek, G.M., & Capitanio, J.P. (1999). AIDS stigma and sexual prejudice. American Behavioral Scientist, 42, 1126-1143.
  This paper presents national survey data to assess the extent to which AIDS-related stigma remains linked to public attitudes toward homosexuality in the United States. Most heterosexuals continue to associate AIDS primarily with homosexuality or bisexuality, and this association is correlated with higher levels of sexual prejudice (antigay attitudes). Although all people who contract AIDS sexually are assigned blame for their infection, such blame is greater for a gay or bisexual man than for a heterosexual man or woman. A sizable minority of the public equates all male-male sexual behavior with AIDS, even sex between two HIV-negative men. A substantial portion also expresses discomfort about touching an article of clothing or drinking from a sterilized glass used by a PWA. These misconceptions and discomfort are correlated with sexual prejudice. It is argued that the link between AIDS attitudes and sexual prejudice impedes HIV prevention efforts and threatens civil rights.
(A pre-publication version of the paper in PDF format can be downloaded from this site.)
Herek, G.M., & Capitanio, J. C. (1999). Sex differences in how heterosexuals think about lesbians and gay men: Evidence from survey context effects. Journal of Sex Research, 36(4), 348-360.
  Two experiments were embedded in a 1997 telephone survey of US households to assess possible differences in how heterosexuals think about lesbians versus gay men. In each experiment, one half of the sample first responded to one or more attitude items about lesbians, followed by comparable items about gay men. The other half received the gay male item(s) first. Results are reported separately for White (N = 976) and Black (N = 479) heterosexuals. For White and Black men alike, self-reported attitudes toward lesbians tended to be more favorable when they were assessed without reference to gay men (i.e., lesbian items presented first). White men's reactions to gay men tended to be less negative when assessed after the questions about lesbians were presented, but Black men's responses did not consistently show this pattern. For some items, women gave more favorable ratings of lesbians and less favorable ratings of gay men when the lesbian items were presented first. The findings suggest possible gender differences in the cognitive organization of heterosexuals' attitudes toward lesbians and gay men.
(A pre-publication version of the paper in PDF format can be downloaded from this site.)
Herek, G.M. (2000). The psychology of sexual prejudice. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(1), 19-22.
  Sexual prejudice refers to negative attitudes toward an individual because of her or his sexual orientation. In this article, the term is used to characterize heterosexuals' negative attitudes toward (a) homosexual behavior; (b) people with a homosexual or bisexual orientation; and (c) communities of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. Sexual prejudice is a preferable term to homophobia because it conveys no assumptions about the motivations underlying negative attitudes, locates the study of attitudes concerning sexual orientation within the broader context of social psychological research on prejudice, and avoids value judgments about such attitudes. Sexual prejudice remains widespread in the United States, although moral condemnation has decreased in the 1990s and opposition to antigay discrimination has increased. The article reviews current knowledge about the prevalence of sexual prejudice, its psychological correlates, its underlying motivations, and its relationship to hate crimes and other antigay behaviors.
(A pre-publication version of the paper in PDF format can be downloaded from this site.)
Herek, G.M. (2000). Sexual prejudice and gender: Do heterosexuals' attitudes toward lesbians and gay men differ?. Journal of Social Issues, 56 (2), 251-266.
  This paper explores the question of whether and how heterosexuals' attitudes toward lesbians differ from their attitudes toward gay men. Data from a 1997 national survey are presented to show that heterosexual women generally hold similar attitudes toward gay men and lesbians, whereas heterosexual men are more likely to make distinctions according to gender. Moreover, men's attitudes toward lesbians are susceptible to situational manipulations. Nevertheless, the underlying unity of attitudes toward lesbians and gay men is demonstrated by the fact that they are highly correlated for both heterosexual men and women. It is suggested that heterosexuals' attitudes toward gay people are organized both in terms of minority group politics and personal sexual and gender identity, and that attitudes toward lesbians are most likely to be differentiated from attitudes toward gay men in the latter realm.
(A pre-publication version of the paper in PDF format can be downloaded from this site.)
Herek, G.M. (2002). Gender gaps in public opinion about lesbians and gay men. Public Opinion Quarterly 66 (1), 40-66.
  Using data from a 1999 national RDD survey (N = 1,335), this paper examines gender gaps in heterosexuals' attitudes toward lesbians, gay men, and a variety of topics related to homosexuality. Attitudes toward lesbians differed from attitudes toward gay men in several areas, and significant differences were observed between male and female heterosexual respondents. Survey participants generally were more likely to regard gay men as mentally ill, supported adoption rights for lesbians more than for gay men, and had more negative personal reactions to gay men than to lesbians. Overall, heterosexual women were more supportive than men of employment protection and adoption rights, more willing to extend employee benefits to same-sex couples, and less likely to hold stereotypical beliefs about gay people. Heterosexual men's negative reactions to gay men were at the root of these gender differences. Of all respondent-by-target combinations, heterosexual men were the least supportive of recognition of same-sex relationships and adoption rights for gay men, most likely to believe that gay men are mentally ill and molest children, and most negative in their affective reactions to gay men. Heterosexual men's response patterns were affected by item order, suggesting possible gender differences in the cognitive organization of attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. The findings demonstrate the importance of differentiating lesbians from gay men as attitude targets in survey research.
(A pre-publication version of the paper in PDF format can be downloaded from this site.)
Herek, G.M. (2002). Heterosexuals’ attitudes toward bisexual men and women in the United States. Journal of Sex Research, 39 (4), 264-274.
  This paper examines heterosexual adults' attitudes toward bisexual men and women using data from a 1999 national RDD survey (N = 1,335). Ratings on 101-point feeling thermometers were lower (less favorable) for bisexual men and bisexual women than for all other groups assessed – including religious, racial, ethnic, and political groups – except injecting drug users. More negative attitudes toward bisexuals were associated with higher age, less education, lower annual income, residence in the South and rural areas, higher religiosity, political conservatism, traditional values concerning gender and sexual behavior, authoritarianism, and lack of contact with gay men or lesbians. White heterosexual women expressed significantly more favorable attitudes than other women and all men. A gender difference was observed in attitudes toward bisexuals and homosexuals: Heterosexual women rated bisexuals significantly less favorably than they rated homosexuals, regardless of gender, whereas heterosexual men rated male targets less favorably than female targets, regardless of whether the target was bisexual or homosexual.
(A pre-publication version of the paper in PDF format can be downloaded from this site.)
Herek, G.M. (2004). Beyond "homophobia": Thinking about sexual stigma and prejudice in the twenty-first century. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 1(2), 6-24.
  George Weinberg’s introduction of the term homophobia in the late 1960s challenged traditional thinking about homosexuality and helped focus society’s attention on the problem of antigay prejudice and stigma. This paper briefly describes the history and impact of homophobia. The term’s limitations are discussed, including its underlying assumption that antigay prejudice is based mainly on fear and its inability to account for historical changes in how society regards homosexuality and heterosexuality as the bases for social identities. Although the importance of Weinberg’s contribution should not be underestimated, a new vocabulary is needed to advance scholarship in this area. Toward this end, three constructs are defined and discussed: sexual stigma (the shared knowledge of society’s negative regard for any nonheterosexual behavior, identity, relationship, or community), heterosexism (the cultural ideology that perpetuates sexual stigma), and sexual prejudice (individuals’ negative attitudes based on sexual orientation). The concept of internalized homophobia is briefly considered.
(A pre-publication version of the paper in PDF format can be downloaded from this site.)
Herek, G. M., & Gonzalez, M. (2006). Attitudes toward homosexuality among U.S. residents of Mexican descent. Journal of Sex Research, 43 (2), 122-135.
  This study examined attitudes toward lesbians and gay men in a sample of northern California residents of Mexican descent (N = 616), using 3-item versions of the Attitudes Toward Gay Men (ATG) and Attitudes Toward Lesbians (ATL) scales presented simultaneously in Spanish and English. Males' attitudes toward homosexual men were significantly more negative than females' attitudes, whereas females expressed relatively negative attitudes toward lesbians. Overall, respondents expressing negative attitudes endorsed more traditional gender attitudes than respondents with positive attitudes, tended to be older and less educated, had more children, were more likely to belong to a fundamentalist religious denomination and to attend religious services frequently, were more conservative politically, and were less likely to have personal contact with gay people. Further analyses revealed that the associations between attitudes and education, number of children, personal contact, and religious attendance occurred mainly among respondents who spoke and read English (rather than Spanish) or identified with U.S. culture (rather than Mexican culture).
(A pre-publication version of the paper in PDF format can be downloaded from this site.)
Herek, G. M. (2007). Confronting sexual stigma and prejudice: Theory and practice. Journal of Social Issues, in press.
  This article explores theoretical and applied questions that are relevant to social scientists' efforts to understand and confront sexual stigma. A framework is presented for conceptualizing such stigma as a cultural phenomenon with structural and individual manifestations. The latter include enacted stigma and felt stigma, as well as internalized stigma, which encompasses self-stigma among sexual minorities and sexual prejudice among heterosexuals. Insights suggested by the model for reducing sexual prejudice are discussed. At the structural level, the framework highlights processes whereby heterosexism legitimates and perpetuates sexual stigma and the power differentials that it creates. Social and behavioral scientists roles' in working to eliminate heterosexism are discussed, and psychologists' contributions to court cases challenging state sodomy laws are described. It is argued that confronting sexual stigma will not only address an important social problem but will also enrich scientific understanding of human behavior.
(A pre-publication version of the paper in PDF format can be downloaded from this site.)
    Go to Dr. Herek's complete bibliography


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