prevalence of negative attitudes about homosexuality among African-Americans
than among whites may help to account for why the US AIDS epidemic has
disproportionately struck African-American men who have sex with men (MSM).
Two US researchers
have proposed this association on the basis of their analysis of a long-running
annual survey of US households. Their study appears in as an advance online publication of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency
Study data were
drawn from the General Social Survey (GSS), a recurring cross-sectional survey
that began asking respondents about their perspectives on same-sex sexual
activity in 1973.
found that starting in the 1990s, there has been a sharp divergence in the
proportions of blacks and whites who think that homosexuality is “always
wrong.” By 2008, 72.3% of blacks held this view (95% confidence interval[CI], 65.2% – 78.5%)
while only 51.7% of whites did so (95% CI, 48.7% to 54.7%).
among respondents who identified themselves as MSM in surveys conducted between
1991 and 2008, twice as many black MSM as white MSM expressed the belief that
homosexuality is “always wrong.”
At the same
time, MSM who viewed homosexuality as “always wrong” were less likely than
other MSM to undergo HIV testing.
these findings raise important questions about how homophobia may indirectly
increase black men’s vulnerability to HIV. Although African-Americans make up
only 13% of the US
population, a quarter of all MSM diagnosed with HIV in 2007 were
For much of the
1970s and 1980s, about three-quarters of all GSS respondents thought that
homosexuality was “always wrong.” A rapid decline in negative attitudes was
observed during the 1990s, and by 1996, only 61.0% of respondents still held
that view (95% confidence interval [CI], 58.5% – 63.5%).
viewed homosexuality more negatively than whites have from the earliest years
onward, but the gap between the two groups began to increase steadily in the
mid-1990s. While there was a 6.6 percentage-point difference between the
proportions of blacks and whites who disapproved of homosexuality in 1990, the
difference widened to 25.3 points by 2004, then declined slightly.
The GSS is a
nationally representative survey that has collected information about US
adults’ attitudes and behaviors since 1972. The GSS dataset analysed in this
study included 30,837 white and black respondents from 22 study cycles, the
most recent in 2008.
further investigated the relationship between race and attitudes about
homosexuality by conducting multivariate analyses that controlled for year of
survey and demographic variables.
respondents and male respondents were significantly more likely than their
white and female counterparts to think homosexuality was “always wrong.” This
negative view was also associated with a number of other demographic factors
including older age, less education and lower income.
onward, the GSS asked a subset of survey participants about the gender of their
sexual partners in the previous five years. Among men who reported having
same-sex partners, there was again a racial difference in attitudes about
homosexuality, with about twice as many black MSM as white MSM reporting that
it was “always wrong” (57.1%
versus 26.8%, p = 0.003).
If, as findings
from this study and other studies have suggested, MSM with negative attitudes
about homosexuality are less likely to undergo HIV testing, then racial
difference in attitudes about homosexuality may have important HIV prevention
implications, since receiving an HIV-positive diagnosis can lead people to
modify behaviors that might transmit the virus to others.
much uncertainty remains about the dynamics of racial and sexual identity,
sexual risk-taking, health-seeking behavior and health outcomes. A 2007
literature review concluded that black and white MSM in the United States
did not have significantly different HIV testing histories or levels of sexual
risk behavior. Other research has shown that HIV-positive black MSM learn their
status at a more advanced disease stage and use antiretroviral therapy less than
HIV-positive white MSM.
black MSM may thus be more infectious overall, and as the authors of the study
discussed here observe, “The fact that MSM, like heterosexuals, preferentially
choose sex partners of the same race further magnifies the population-level
impact of what might otherwise be relatively small differences in behavior.”
Glick SN et al. Persistence of racial differences in
attitudes toward homosexuality in the United States. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr, advance online publication, September 16, 2010. (Link to abstract and full text article here).