New study finds gay men discriminate against feminine gay men

New study finds gay men discriminate against feminine gay men
Photo: Ben Gerrard

According to a new study out of the University of Sydney, both heterosexual men and gay men discriminate against gay men with feminine characteristics.

The study conducted by gender and sexuality researcher Ben Gerrard at the university’s School of Psychology found gay and straight men prefer masculine over feminine gay men for a high-status role, an indication feminine gay men may face implicit discrimination in the workplace.

Gerrard says it’s the first study of its kind.

“Gay men are potentially blocking each other from positions of power and leadership due to this implicit bias,” Gerrard explained to the University of Sydney news site. “Men are still expected to conform to more traditional masculine styles of leadership, and if they fail to sufficiently project masculine traits, they are at risk of status penalties. This is an example of internalized homophobia among the gay community and it impacts opportunities for these gay men.”

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Sex Roles. 

Gerrard’s research took the form of auditions for a faux TV campaign promoting tourism in Sydney. The ad aimed to sell Australia abroad, with a spokesman who could be viewed as a “leader” and someone to be “admired” by the audience.

A group of 256 gay and straight men were invited to watch casting videos and identify an actor who could fill the role. Gerrard cast six different men to play both feminine and masculine versions of actors auditioning for the spot.

The researcher defined feminine-presenting traits as a more feminine vocal quality, body language and posture. The actors, all gay men in real-life, recited the same script.

Gerrard found that both groups of viewers preferred the more masculine candidate for the ad. Predictably, both straight men with higher reported “homonegativity” and gay men higher in reported misogyny showed a stronger preference for the “masculine” gay actor over the “feminine” gay actor.

The finding in favor of “straight-acting” gay men for high-status roles is disappointing, says Gerrard, and evidence of a gay glass ceiling in the workplace.

“We operate in teams-based workplaces now where effective leadership qualities – warmth, empathy and good communication – are all considered feminine traits, and a more feminine-presenting gay man might be an ideal candidate for a leadership role,” Gerrard says. “And yet we still value traditional masculinity at a senior leadership level as a measure of the capacity to lead, because traditional feminine traits are considered too soft or not authoritative enough.”

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