The use of bidimensional scales to assess social workers' attitudes toward lesbians and gay men.

Author:Green, Robert G.
Position:Research Note

In this research note we provide a rationale for the use of gender-specific subscales, rather than a single global measurement device, to assess respondents' differential attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. We then evaluate the reliability and validity of equivalent forms of the Attitudes toward Lesbians and Gay Men scale (ATLG) (Herek, 1994) when administered to professional social workers. Following the psychometric testing of these instruments, we compared the responses of 288 heterosexual social workers to each of the items of the Attitudes toward Gay Men (ATG) (Herek, 1994) and the Attitudes toward Lesbians (ATL) (Herek, 1994) subscales.


Like the earliest studies of the general public's attitudes toward lesbians and gay men, the initial studies of professional social workers' attitudes were predicated on theories about the development of social perceptions and prejudice, which did not account for the influence of the gender of homosexual people. Consequently, these studies were grounded in unidimensional constructs and queried respondents to report their attitudes solely with unidimensional descriptors or referents (Hudson & Ricketts, 1980). Items and questions included such general terms as "homophobia," "homosexuals" "homosexuality," "homosexual persons," or "gay people." A review of questions used in national surveys conducted by the Institute for Social Research (ISR), the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), the Roper Center for Public Opinion, the Gallop organization, and others revealed that only two of 77 questionnaire items about homosexuality specifically asked respondents to distinguish their attitudes toward lesbians from gay men (Yang, 1997).

Similarly, Hudson and Ricketts' (1980) Index of Attitudes toward Homosexuals (IAH), the first measure developed exclusively to assess social workers attitudes and affective responses to homosexuals, was constructed to provide a unidimensional assessment. Full-scale scores for the IAH represent the respondents' homophobia, the sum of their "fear, disgust, anger, discomfort and aversion in dealing with gay people" (Hudson & Ricketts, p. 358). This measure continues to be the most frequently administered by social work researchers and practitioners. The IAH has been used in eight studies of the attitudes of professional social workers or social work students; six of these were conducted since 1997 (Ben-Ari, 1998, 2001; Berkman & Zimberg, 1997; Black, Oles, & Moore, 1998; Dongville & Ligon, 2001; Hudson & Ricketts; Hyun & Johnson, 2001; Wisniewski & Toomey, 1987).

In more recent years, interdisciplinary theory and research findings have been critical of unidimensional assessment methods because they fail to assess culturally transmitted variation in respondents' attitudes toward lesbians compared with their attitudes toward gay men. As Herek suggested, "to the extent that cultural gender norms are different for men and women, attitudes toward gay men and women are likely to be different" (Herek, 2002, p. 291). And in fact, empirical investigations of this presumed attitudinal "gender gap" have revealed that heterosexual respondents tend to express more hostility for and to feel more negatively disposed to gay men than to lesbians. These studies also suggest that women are less hostile to homosexual people in general than are men (Herek, 2001, 2002; Herek & Capitano, 1999).

Differential assessments of attitudinal targets by gender have also been solicited from respondents in a few social work studies. In the only study based on a national probability sample of social workers, Berkman and Zimberg (1997) found that the 187 NASW members they surveyed, like respondents in Herek's national samples, expressed more positive attitudes toward lesbians than toward gay men. Similarly, Black and colleagues (1999) found this same gender gap in a convenience sample of 56 social work students. However...

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