Book chapter

Coming Out, Intergroup Relations, and Attitudes Toward LGBT Rights (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Intergroup relations and contact between groups has historically been considered a mechanism to promote support for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights. However, LGBT identities are often concealable, and stigma discourages members of the LGBT community from disclosing that they are LGBT, which may prevent contact. Some subsets of the LGBT population make up a small percentage of the overall population, which may also decrease the quantity of contact. As such, the process of coming out to friends, relatives, and coworkers has been a common strategy of the modern LGBT movement. The strategy could be effective because the intergroup contact literature has found support for intergroup contact decreasing prejudice in meta-analyses. At the same time, researchers have challenged the assertion that intergroup contact promotes social change because intergroup contact is sometimes negative, or may be impractical or avoided, positive attitudes can coincide with acceptance of inequality, and intergroup contact may have unintended negative side effects.Research has generally found support for the notion that intergroup relations are more positive when there is greater contact. For LGBT people greater contact has been associated with decreasing anti-LGBT prejudice and increasing support for LGBT rights. However, similar to other domains of contact, the influence of LGBT contact is contextually sensitive, and a combination of psychological and structural barriers can decrease or prevent the positive effects of intergroup contact. There are strategies which may overcome these limitations, through policies (e.g., protection against discrimination), promoting types of contact that promote social change as opposed to merely positive attitudes, secondary transfer of contact effects, imagined contact, indirect forms of contact, and positive media representations of LGBT people. Gaps in the literature include a relative lack of research on contact with members of the LGBT community other than gays and lesbians (particularly non-cisgender people), intergroup contact between members of different subsets of the LGBT community, and a need for experimental and/or intervention-based research.