New Study Examines College Students’ Attitudes Toward LGT People

The findings show that being in a liberal (as opposed to a conservative) cultural climate makes a difference in the students’ attitudes.

Students from the U.S. and Europe provided data on their attitudes toward LGT people Photo by iStock

Meredith G. F. Worthen, a sociologist at the University of Oklahoma, has completed a new study that examines how measures of social interaction—specifically, social contact, the desire for social contact, and social distancing—relate to attitudes toward lesbian, gay, and transgender people.

The title of the study is “Social Contact, Social Distancing, and Attitudes Toward LGT Individuals: A Cross-Cultural Study of College Students in the United States, Italy, and Spain.” It has been published and is available online in the Journal of Homosexuality. The findings show that being in a liberal (as opposed to a conservative) cultural climate makes a difference in the students’ attitudes, especially when it comes to simply knowing a lesbian, gay, or trans person versus actually wanting to be in social contact with LGT people.

“The findings suggest that measures of desired social contact with LGT people are more strongly related to LGT support than simple measures of knowing LGT people,” said Worthen. “This is likely because more and more people know LGT people than in the past. But as demonstrated in this study, these patterns differ based on cultural climate and by stigmatized group (lesbian, gay or transgender).”

By using a scale she created and gathering data from American and European college students, Worthen compared cross-cultural attitudes toward lesbian, gay, and trans people in the United States and the European Union. The goal of the study, according to a press release, is to gain a deeper understanding of global LGT biases and “to promote future research that better counteracts negative prejudices toward these groups.”

“We found that when both contact and desired contact are considered (as done in the current study), desired contact emerges as a more robust correlate of LGT prejudicial attitudes, Worthen stated in an email to The Oklahoma Daily, the campus newspaper. “This suggests that desired contact is simply a better measure of understanding prejudices.”

Worthen has also written a book on the stigma associated with LGBTQ people that is due out later this year.

“The book will focus on an intersectional investigation of LGBTQ stigma using nine stigma scales (lesbian women, gay men, bisexual women, bisexual men, trans women, trans men, queer men, queer women, and non-binary/genderqueer people),” Worthen told The Oklahoma Daily.