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10 Jan 2013

Interpersonal contact with gay people increases acceptance: Singapore study

Personally knowing gay men and lesbians – more than seeing gay characters in films and TV shows – has shown to increase positive attitudes and affect acceptance of gay men and lesbians. The results also show a small but significant trend toward greater tolerance of homosexuals in Singapore.

Attitudes of Singaporeans and permanent residents toward gays and lesbians – although “sharply polarised and predominantly negative” – have become a little more favourable, according to researchers from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

The nationally representative study conducted in 2010 surveyed 959 Singaporeans and permanent residents aged 18 or older. It was a continuation of a similar survey conducted in 2005. The study was published in the Asian Journal of Social Psychology in December 2012.

When results from both surveys were compared, Singaporeans' attitudes towards homosexuals appear to have shifted more positively.

In 2005, 68.6 percent of respondents expressed negative attitudes, 22.9 percent had positive attitudes and 8.5 percent were neutral.

In 2010, 64.5 percent of those surveyed held negative attitudes towards homosexuals, while 25.3 percent expressed positive attitudes and 10.2 percent were neutral.

"Taken together, the results show a small but significant trend toward greater tolerance of homosexuals,” said lead researcher Professor Benjamin Detenber in a press release.

“Clearly, public opinion is still highly polarised on this issue, but slightly more people are sharing the middle ground in 2010 compared to 2005,” he said.

Survey items
Attitudes toward lesbians and gay men

1. Sex between two men is just plain wrong.
2. You think male homosexuals are disgusting.
3. Male homosexuality is a natural expression of sexuality in men.
4. Sex between two women is just plain wrong.
5. You think lesbians are disgusting.
6. Female homosexuality is a natural expression of sexuality in women.
Acceptance of homosexuals
To what degree would you accept or not accept:
1. A homosexual co-worker.
2. A homosexual teacher.
3. A homosexual friend.
4. A homosexual neighbour.
5. A homosexual family member.
The study found that older people tend to have more negative attitudes towards lesbians and gays, as do those with lower levels of education and income. On the other hand, people who feel it is less important to conform to social norms and those with a more Western cultural orientation tend to have less negative attitudes and be more accepting of homosexuals.

As the attitude items came from the Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gay Men (ATLG) Scale, a well established composite measure, respondents were not asked about section 377A, a law which criminalises sexual relations between men in Singapore. 

Religion

As was the case in 2005, the 2010 study found that religion is significantly related to attitudes and acceptance. Among the religious groups, freethinkers were the most positive in their attitudes – significantly higher than Christians, Buddhists and Muslims. Irrespective of specific religion, people who are more intrinsically religious – i.e. people who say that religion is integral to their lives – are more likely to have negative attitudes towards homosexuals and are less accepting of them.

Interestingly while Christians had the second lowest ATLG (attitudes) scores, they were more accepting of gay men and lesbians than Buddhists and Muslims.

The study noted that it is possible for people to hold negative attitudes towards homosexuals but accept gay men and lesbians on a more personal level, whether as co-workers or friends, regardless of whether they perceive homosexuality to be a choice. The researchers suggested that the precise reasons for this could be the subject of future research.

Gay characters in the mass media

Those who had higher interpersonal contact with gay men and lesbians and watched more films and television shows with gay characters were also likely to express more positive attitudes toward gays and lesbians, and to show greater acceptance.

The interaction between interpersonal contact and mediated exposure was found to have a significant effect on attitudes, but not on acceptance of gay men and lesbians. Therefore, interpersonal contact was a significant moderator of the relationship between mediated exposure andATLG, but not acceptance.

Previous studies showed that exposure to gay characters in the media has the most effect on the attitudes of people with little or no interpersonal contact with gay men and lesbians. In contrast, the 2010 study found that viewing gays and lesbians in the media has the strongest effect on the attitudes of people with many personal contacts with gay men and lesbians.

The researchers suggested this could be because of the positive correlation between interpersonal contact and media exposure to homosexuals in this sample of Singaporean adults. Alternatively, it could be due to the way in which exposure to homosexuals in the media has been measured. The 2010 study used the total number of films and TV programmes watched, whereas other studies used viewing frequency and scale measurements of para-social relationships between viewers and media characters.

Interpersonal contact

Similar to studies conducted elsewhere, the survey found that Singapore citizens and permanent residents who have a gay or lesbian family member or know someone who is gay are less likely to have negative attitudes and be more accepting. 

As with other studies, the Singapore survey shows that interpersonal contact appears to have a bigger influence in shaping attitudes and acceptance of homosexuals than mediated exposure to gay characters – i.e. seeing gays and lesbians in films and television programmes – which also predicted less negative attitudes and greater acceptance.

The study noted: “… people who had some homosexual personal contacts had significantly more positive attitudes than those with no homosexual personal contacts, and people with more homosexual personal contacts had significantly more positive attitudes than those with few personal contacts. Similarly, greater interpersonal contact is likely to affect acceptance.”

The research team is planning to conduct a similar survey in 2015.

Reader's Comments

1. 2013-01-11 01:59  
We also study hard, work hard, risk our lives for our country and serve the military dutifully, pay our taxes, fulfil our duties as filial children to our parents, live/leave legacies for future generations, hang out with friends, watch movies, laugh/cry, etc. JUST like anybody else. And on top of all the above, WE are the ones whom have much higher spending power than those straight-married-men whom are tied down with families, the govt depends on *us* to save/keep our country's economy going during financial downturns. While the straight men merely cut all expenses and stayed home to rot, WE would continue to buy/spend/shop. We also do our part in giving back to the society. Furthermore, some countries are facing over-population crises - too many mouths to feed, but not enough food to spare...what's wrong with having a few gays to alleviate the situation?
Comment edited on 2013-01-11 02:05:41
2. 2013-01-11 04:09  
At the heart of most chauvinism is lack of experience with diverse people. No matter where you go, people who are isolated are more likely to be racist or homophobic.

I see this as pretty much innate in humans. We evolved in a world where strangers were a life and death threat. And our brains are always seeking to classify everything encountered, people included.

We can't really expect the brain to stop working the way its always worked. So making people more familiar with differences should be the focus.

And at some point, people give up trying to classify all the ways that people are different and just start dealing with others as individuals. It becomes a lot easier the more we do it.
3. 2013-01-11 18:23  
One thing we should take from this research, is that we should be out and visible: normal, kind, engaged, functioning and constructive gay members of society. That will help further acceptance of the gay community by the ignorant masses. Don't hide in your closet, you'll only perpetuate the status quo. Come out - Be proud.

The government could also play a role in this. By educating the people, and thus shaping tolerance toward the gay community, just like they have educated people and shaped religious and racial tolerance.

"It's OK to be GAY"

There should be a zero tolerance policy to any kind of hatred and bigotry, same as there is a zero tolerance policy toward religuous and racial hatred and bigotry.
4. 2013-01-11 22:44  
Though based in Canada now, I'm still concerned about issues in my beloved homeland. Though I treat the result of this survey with a "pinch of salt", it is glowing optimism for more acceptance of gays in Singapore.

Not only happening in Singapore, several well-known celebrities in Hong Kong have shown courage to announce their gay identity. That may also have contributed more acceptance of gays here.

We still have to work on and gain social respect to show we are just as normal as heterosexuals.
Comment #5 was deleted by its author on 2013-01-12 18:24
Comment #6 was deleted by its author on 2013-01-11 23:30
Comment #7 was deleted by its author on 2013-01-13 06:50
Comment #8 was deleted by its author on 2013-01-13 06:47
9. 2013-01-13 06:50  
Frankly, it always shocks, and puzzles, me as to why Singapore, as one of the most developed economies in Asia, chooses as a society to criminalize sexual relations between men. One of this research's results is that people influenced by Western values tend to be more accepting of homosexuality. One may wonder what constitutes these Western values. What then holds Singapore back from more widely and deeply embracing these values? I would speculate—without having a sound knowledge about the country, though—that at the foundation of the Singaporean society still lies the deep-rooted Confucius values and customs, which I understand to be much more collective and hence less plurally minded. The fundamental acceptance of homosexuality, in other words, is predicated on a kind of pluralism that needs to shape a given society on a cultural level where individuals are treated with respect and dignity regardless of their sexuality. I was surprised therefore that the research did not inquire into the role that the Confucianism plays in Singapore and how this profoundly influential value system, both epistemologically and existentially, will evolve next—or perhaps not.
10. 2013-01-14 03:19  
Western values criminalised homosexuality a few decennia ago and it were those western values which were implemented in the law of many Asian countries. Mainly those that were colonised by western countries.

Remnants of gay life as it was can still be seen in many Asian countries. The warok in Ponorogo for instance. My country the Netherlands fought hard to eradicate those 'Homosexual Gangs' as they were called by the authorities.

Homosexuality has over the ages found more acceptance in Asia than in the west. It is saddening to see that many Asian people now cling on to those values that they perceive as traditional..... Which by no means are traditional since traditional values had a more accepting attitude towards homosexuality.

Now again it is 'the west' that brings the 'right' values. And it saddens my heart to see that again those traditional values of acceptance are even more under threat. Ways to live with gay people and that are truly traditional and sometime centuries old vanish. Now also threathened by gay rights activists. But I am afraid that it is too late to restore them and that there is no other way for gay ppl to get acceptance than to fight for their rights the 'western' way.

The only thing that we can do is not forget the gay emperors of China, the gay Samurai from Japan and the Warok from Ponorogo!
11. 2013-01-14 03:30  
maybe some reading stuff and if you are curious about gay life in the world of Allah:

http://www.gay-art-history.org

Click on the guided tour of just browse around that magnificent site! See hundreds of years old gay pictures from China, Japan and many more!
12. 2013-01-14 10:55  
Do we really need a team of researchers to tell us what everyone knows, and is totally common sense: that people with gay friends are more open to homosexuality?? That religious attitudes create bigotry??

Go Nanyang Technological University (NTU)!!!

Can we do the next study on why testicles hang to the left, or something really useful???? A cure for cancer, maybe, a cheap and portable water desalination plant? Dontcha love social 'sciences'?
13. 2013-01-15 01:27  
Keep Your Laws off my Body!!

The last survey that we heard about around 2007 was a bunch of students phoning up people in an HDB block. It didn't sound very professional. I don't know exactly how this one was carried out.

I hope it isn't an attempt to sway the judges in the upcoming constitutional cases, by playing the majority card. The point about Constitutional protections is that they are there precisely to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. If a minority is facing a lot of prejudice, it is even more important that the Courts protect them from unfair laws designed to target them, as in the case of 377A and gay men.

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