How to Measure Homophobia

HSX Newsletter Item Fall 2014

By Szalma J Takács

The possibilities of empirically measuring homophobia in internationally comparable ways are central issues in our present study. One of our main goals was to test whether different homosexuality-related variables of the European Social Survey (ESS) and the European Values Study (EVS) can be considered valid measurement instruments of homophobia. In order to come up with an at least indirect solution for testing the validity of homophobia-measurement we wanted to compare three different variables within two large scale longitudinal surveys (the ESS and the EVS) that have been used as homophobia-indicators in previous research. More precisely: while still being aware of our inability to determine the exact scope and meaning of what they measure, but assuming that at least one of them, which can be any of the three, measures homophobia – we wanted to check whether they measure more or less the same thing. In the course of our measurement-validity testing activities we have constructed multilevel fixed-effects linear regression and multilevel logistic regression models in order to test our hypotheses regarding the effects of socio-demographic, attitudinal and country-level variables on homophobic attitudes, too.
During the last few years we could encounter various variables that were assumed to measure homophobia by authors who previously examined them in homonegativity-related analyses – and probably by those who developed the actual questionnaires that included the examined variables. In general it would be great to have more insight into the “genealogy of variables” in the sense of potentially reconstructing the meaning attribution processes and assumptions on the basis of which the questionnaire development of large-scale quantitative cross-national surveys work – but unfortunately we do not have too much insight into these processes. In any case it seems that frequent users of large-scale survey data, like us, often dream about much more refined measurement instruments – with much more (gender- and otherwise) sensitive wording – than those that are usually available…
The first attempt to measure homophobic attitudes worldwide was provided by the first wave of the World Values Survey (WVS) and the European Values Study (EVS), where the following variable was used in 1981: Please tell me whether you think homosexuality can always be justified, never be justified, or something in between.[1] Since this is the oldest homophobia-indicator in the history of large-scale international survey research programmes, this variable was our first choice. However, we have to admit that one can never be sure what this variable actually measures, or what the exact understanding of the respondents is regarding the potential denotations and connotations of the given statements.
To cut a long story short: according to our findings there is quite a high probability that the agreement level with the statement that gay men and lesbians should be free to live their own life as they wish (ESS) and the – let’s face it, not only prima facie, utterly meaningless – “justification” of homosexuality (EVS) variables as well as the non-preference for homosexual neighbours (EVS) indicator can be used for measuring homophobia, or indeed, genderphobia. Yes, genderphobia – i.e. breaking-gender-norms-phobia – is a more telling term, referring to the strategic avoidance of addressing non-normative gender issues in everyday life and in policy-making practices.
For the full story, click here:
Takács J – Szalma I (2013) How to Measure Homophobia in an International Comparison?
Družboslovne razprave XXIX (2013), 73: 11–42.    

[1] Since then this question has been included in all the EVS (1981, 1990, 1999, 2008) and WVS (1981-1984, 1989-1993, 1994-1999, 1999-2004, 2005-2008, 2010-2014) data collection rounds that can enable researchers to examine longitudinal changes in homophobic attitudes in several non-European countries, too.