Book chapter

Contact Theory and the Distinct Case of LGBT People and Rights (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Gordon Allport's Intergroup Contact Theory predicts that coming into contact with a member of an outgroup will, under the right conditions, lead to reduced intergroup prejudice. Scholars have found significant evidence that contact with gay men and lesbians does typically lead to reductions in explicit prejudice, even when Allport's specific conditions are not met. People who report that they personally know someone who is gay or lesbian are more supportive of gay and lesbian rights and relationships and people who report contact with same-sex couples in committed relationships are more supportive of legal recognition of those relationships. There is also evidence that mediated contact, also known as paracontact, can reduce prejudice—in other words, that exposure to positively portrayed gay men and lesbians via the media, including television shows, can shift attitudes. Less is known about how contact affects attitudes toward bisexuals, but initial evidence suggests similar effects. Contact with transgender people is more mixed, with some evidence that interpersonal contact is not as effective due to the negative reactions that many individuals have to transgender people, and some evidence that mediated contact may be more effective, although this is also limited due to the small (but growing) number of positively portrayed transgender characters in the media. A final complication is self-selection bias, in that members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community are more likely to come out to individuals whom they believe will respond positively but both observational and experimental evidence suggests that this does not completely explain the power of contact to reduce prejudice against LGBT people.