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Parent Messages about Sexual Orientation and Youths’ Attitudes toward LGB People


Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth are a vulnerable population. Research has shown that LGB youth are at risk for discriminatory interpersonal victimization and social exclusion based on sexual orientation (D’Augelli et al., 2002). Heterosexual youth can have a range of attitudes toward LGB people, which may exacerbate or improve LGB youths’ social environments. It is important to understand how youths’ sexual orientation attitudes form, as this ultimately has an impact on LGB youths’ experiences. This study explored the relationship between parent messages about sexual orientation and the development of youths’ attitudes toward LGB people.

Participants in this study included 23 mother-child dyads. Participants completed video-recorded prompted conversations, during which they discussed topics related to sexual orientation. Parents’ messages related to sexual orientation were coded using qualitative content analysis (Morgan, 1993) in order to identify parents’ positive, neutral, heteronormative, and negative messages about LGB people. In addition, parents and youth both completed measures of explicit attitudes about LGB people (Modern Homonegativity Scale; Morrison & Morrison, 2002) and implicit attitudes about sexual orientation (Implicit Attitude Test; Nosek et al., 2007). Youth also completed a measure of behavioral attitudes (LGBT Ally Identity Development measure; Ji & Fujimoto, 2013).

The results of the study showed that the ratio of positive to negative messages parents provided during the prompted conversations were associated with youths’ explicit and behavioral attitudes toward LGB people with medium to large effect sizes, but did not relate to youths’ implicit attitudes. Parents’ implicit attitudes did not reach significance as a moderator to the relationship between parent messages and youth explicit attitudes, however the pattern of the moderation model was in the expected direction. Youths’ explicit and behavioral attitudes significantly correlated with one another and their implicit and behavioral attitudes approached significance with a medium effect size, whereas youths’ explicit and implicit attitudes did not correlate significantly. Mothers’ explicit attitudes significantly correlated with their explicit attitudes, suggesting that their verbal messages reflected their explicit attitudes.

This study empirically demonstrated that parent messages about sexual orientation relate to youths’ attitudes and behaviors toward LGB people. This provides a rationale for developing psychoeducational interventions aimed at supporting parents’ LGB-affirming parenting skills, regardless of their children’s current sexual orientation identity. Supporting parents in providing positive messages about LGB people could promote the development of LGB allies and a more positive social environment for LGB youth.

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