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ED 351 618 

CG 024 618 






C^nt or , James ; P i 1 k i ngt on , Neil 

Homophobia in Psychology Programs: A Survey of 

Graduate Students. 

T6 Aug 92 

10p«; Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the 
American Psychological Association (lOOth, 
Washington, DC, August 14-18, 1992) • 
Reports - Research/Technical (143) — 
Speeches/Conference Papers (150) 

MFOl/PCOl Plus Postage. 

Doctoral Programs; ^Graduate Students; ^Graduate 
Study; Higher Education; ^Homosexuality; ^Lesbianism; 
Masters Programs; Psychologists; ^Psychology; ^Social 
Bias; Textbook Bias 


Students experience homophobia in both covert and 
overt forms. Covert homophobia exists through the neglect of gay, 
lesbian, and bisexual topics in graduate psychology programs. Overt 
homophobia exists through the misinformation and perpetuation of 
stereotypes by faculty^ textbooks, and program administrators. 
Unfortunately little data exist regarding the prevalence of overt 
homophobia in psychology programs. In this study psychology graduate 
students (N-79) were surveyed about experiences of homophobic bias 
they encountered in their programs. The survey asked students 
questions about their exposure to anti-gay, -lesbian, and -bisexual 
content in textbook passages, instructor comments, and other facets 
of graduate training. All but two of the respondents identified as 
lesbian, gay, or bisexual. These were the implications of the 
results: (1) psychology programs not only fail to make appropriate 
mention of gay topics, they also at an alarming rate, misinform, 
miseducate, and mislead people who will educate others regarding 
sexuality issues; (2) in nearly all cases course instructors fail to 
refute the misstatements of textbooks; (3) students* attempts to 
expand curricula, to further research, and to fill the existing void 
of information ere thwarted not only by instructors, but also by 
practicum advisors, administrators, and thesis advisors; and (4) the 
burden of educating other students currently lies with gay, lesbian, 
and bisexual students, with the student, rather than the instructor 
or program becoming the vehicle for advancement of the field. 

* Reproductions supplied by EDRS are the best that can be made ^ 

from the original document. * 

^ Homophobia in Psychology Programs: 

^ A Survey of Graduate Students 


August, 16 1992 

Presented at the Centennial Conference of the 
American Psychological Association. Washington, D.C. 

James Cantor, M. A. 
Boston University 


Neil Pilkington 
McGill University 


Office o( Educational Raaaarcn and improvemeni 


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Cantor, J. M. & Pilkington, N. W. Homophobia in Psychology Programs 

Students experience homophobia in both covert and overt forms. Covert 
homophobia exists through the neglect of gay, lesbian, and bisexual topics in graduate 
programs. APA's ethics policy requires practitioners to "maintain knowledge of 
current and professional information related to the services they render." Since 
nearly all psychologists will encounter clients with sexuality concerns, psychology 
education programs are ethically bound to include information relevant to lesbian, 
gay, and bisexual identities. However, the APA Ck)mmittee on Lesbian and Gay 
Concerns has found that very few programs offer clinical training in the area of 
sexual orientation. Education and training in graduate schools of psychology 
inadequately prepare students for work with sexual minorities. 

Overt homophobia exists through the misinformation and perpetuation of 
stereotypes by faculty, textbooks, and program administrators. Unfortunately, little 
data exist regarding the prevalence cf overt homophobia in psychology programs. To 
gain insight into these questions, Neil and I surveyed psychology graduate students 
about exiieriences of homophobic bias they encountered in their programs. Should a 
substantial nimiber of graduate students report having encountered such 
discrimination, then we would argue that the first steps to correct the neglect would 
be to remedy the prejudices of psychology trainers. 

Neil and I prepared a survey that asked students about their exposure to anti- 
gay, -lesbian, and -bisexual content in textbook passages, instructor comments, and 
other facets of graduate training. We distributed this survey to the graduate student 
members of APA Division 44, the Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian and 
Gay Issues. We felt this group would be the most likely to be sensitized to these 

To maintain the confidentiaUty of the individuals, the Division 44 Membership 
Chair performed the mailing on our behalf. In ^ril, the survey was sent to the 167 
graduate student affiliates, with a reminder card following three weeks later. 79 
surveys, or 48%, were returned. A demographic comparison of our sample to the 
division's student membership revealed that we had a representative sample. 
Surveys were returned by an equal number of men and women from 24 states and 1 
Canadian province. All but two of the respondents identified as lesbian, gay, or 
bisexual. Hie sample had an age range of 23 to 50, with a median value of 31. 


- 1- 


Cantor, X M. & Rlkington, N. W. 

Homophobia in Psychology Programs 

Students tended to be in the fourth or fifth years of their program, most often a Ph.D. 
or Psy.D. candidate in Clinical or Counselling Psychology. 

The survey breaks down into five parts: part 1 requested demographic 
information from the respondents; part 2 asked them to provide information 
regarding homophobic passages they may have encountered in textbooks; part 3 was 
similar, but referred to statements made by course instructors; in part 4, we 
assessed how frequently relevant sexual orientation issues were incorporated into 
graduate courses; and part 5 solicited descriptions of discrimination from other 
sources in the psychology program, including being discouraged from research of gay, 
lesbian, or bisexual issues. 

The results are disturbing by their magnitude. Combining all parts of the 
survey we found that 84% of the respondents encoimtered homophobic 
misinformation or outright discrimination ftt)m their graduate psychology program. 

We appreciate the possibility that students with such experiences were more 
lik<jly to have returned the survey. But, if we assume that most of the return failures 
were due to lack of homophobic experiences, then we still have nearly half of this 
rciinority population reporting this problem. Neither is an acceptable situation. 

The types of homophobia and heterosexism break down as follows: 

• 51% of the respondents report encountering homophobic 
misinformation in a textbook at least once. 

• 56% of the respondents report encountering homophobic 
misinformation directly fit)m a course instructor at least once. 

• 55 .7% of the respondents report discouragement from pursuing 
lesbian/gay research topics or experiencing overt discrimination or bias. 

Part 2 of the survey asked graduate students to provide iriformation regarding 
homophobic passages they encountered in textbooks. In addition to describing the 
passage itself, the survey asked for: details about the student's response to the 
passage, the instructor's response, the class' response, and, if possible, the author, 
title, and publisher. We received reports of 54 such homophobic passages. 



Cantor, J. M. & Pilkington, N. W. 

Homophobia in Psychology Programs 

The topics varied greatly, but four themes account for most of the passages: 
(A) Pathologizing homosexuality. Despite APA's formal position to the contrary, 
many texts continue to describe homosexuaUty as either a failure in development or a 
lack of healthy functioning. (B) Detecting homosexuality. In spite of the current 
research, texts stiU include information aUeging the ability of psychological testing to 
detect "sexual inversion.^ (C) Conversion techniques. Many behavioral texts 
contmue to claim the ability to convert people to heterosexuals through aversive 
techniques. Usually there is no discussion of the context or ethics of such a 
procedure. (D) Discussing homosexuaUty in the context of sexual disorders. Texts still 
group bisexuality and homosexuality with incest and fetishes. 

Let me share with you one passage we received. After detailing zoophiHa and 
pedophilia, the author illustrates homosexuality: 

There are many homosexuals whose personaHty development and ego 
tunctiomng appear intact and who conduct themselves both effectively and 
consti^ctively m society. [Yet,] these individuals . . . have diffiLculty in 
reconahng dependent and assertive drives, an ambivalent maternal 
relationship, and a high frequency of being reared in a broken home. 

In general, confirmed lesbians differ fiiom healthy women in giving histories of 
exp^ure to severe abusiveness and alcoholism, the development of 
indifference toward men tiie lack of gratifying relations with others, and 
lonebness. A considerable percentage become involved in health care work. 

Such homophobic statements in psychology texts do more harm than offend 
the gay, lesbian, or bisexual stiident reading them. In addition to having the statiis of 
f: published work, tlie particular text had been selected, and therefore endorsed, by 
the course instiiictor. A stiident witiiout sufficient exposure wUl take this type'of 
information at its face value. It is also possible for this information to be used by 
people outside of psychology to support homophobic agendas. Imagine a lawyer 
reading the above passage to a jury. 

The m^ority of our respondents encountering homophobic passages in their 
textbooks reported feeling too uncomfortable to respond in any constructive manner. 
In 2/3's of the cases, the student never brought the issue up in class (n=35/53, or 
66%). They brought their concerns to the course instinctor in fewer than 15% of the 
cases (n=7/53, or 13.2%). Of the students who did make an overt reaction to the text, 



Cantor, J. M. & Klkington, N. W. 

Homophobia in Psychology Programs 

they most commonly did so only by talking about it privately with other students. 
The low rate of challenging the text may be due to fear of rejection by classmates, 
fear of discrimination from faculty, or the students own lack of resources with which 
to contradict the text. Each motivation is likely to play a part. 

Course instructors were even less likely to correct the text than were the 
students. Instructors failed to refute the homophobic passage in 85% of the reported 
cases (n=44/52). In fact, the instructors were just as likely to endorse the passage, as 
they were to refute it (15.4% refute vs. 13.5% endorse; n=8 refute vs. n=7 endorse). 
Some students noted that not only did instructors fail to reject the passage, but they 
told the student not to overreact! In 21% of the cases, the instructor responded by 
inviting class discussion rather than by making a direct statement (n=ll/52). Some 
may argue whether such neutrality is appropriate. 

Like class instructors, class members were unlikely to reject the passage; 83% 
failed to do so. If the topic were brought up by the gay or lesbian student, the class 
was still most likely not to respond (37%, n=13/35). When they did respond and 
discuss the topic, they most often did so without resolution (28.8%; n=10/35). This, 
seems to indicate that class instructors would be well advised to point out the 
faUacies of the texts explicitly rather than to remain neutral. 

Part three of the survey asked students to provide information about 
homophobic statements made by their instructors. In addition to descriptions of such 
statements, the survey asked the student to provide details about their own response 
and that of the instructor. 56% of the survey respondents (n=44/79) reported 
encountering such homophobic remarks fh)m an instructor at least once. 

TTie content and nature of the statements varied considerably and included: 
the use of derogatory language such as "faggot" and "queer" when referring to clients, 
making use of stereotypes in class, minimizing the significance of coiring out, 
pathologizing or even ridiculing homosexuality, condemning lesbian and gay parenting, 
refusing to include same-sex a. sues in the com^ sj^labus, and describing 
homosexuality as an impediment to professional competence. These are a few of the 
responses that we received from students: 



Cantor, J- M. & Pilkington, N. W. 

Homophobia in Psychology Programs 

**While discussing neurological aspects of gait impairment, the instructor 
walked in f5ront of the class with a limp wrist and a side-to-side swish motion, 
demonstrating what the instructor called the *stereot5rpical fag walk.*" 

"The instructor said that one must always intervene therapeutically with 
effeminate gay men because research shows that these people will have more 
difficulties and pathology later in life." 

"In a course in psychological testing, the professor repeatedly connected 
homosexuality with pathological narcissism.*" 

"The professor said, 1 don't mind faggots...! just don't want them recruiting 
children into their clan."* 

"In a discussion of lesbian parenting, the professor expressed concern for the 
safety of the young girls.** 

"My professor taught that adolescents who are coming out are experiencing a 
panic and a re-emergence of unsuccessfully negotiated oedipal stage issues.** 

Neil pointed out that respondents seldom felt comfortable responding to 
offensive passages in textbooks. In contrast, they challenged instructors* statements 
in the m^ority of the cases (76%; n=44/58). In half of the reported instances, the 
respondents raised the matter during class (n=29/58). In 35% (n=20/58), they 
discussed it privately with other students or class members. But only in 10% of the 
cases did they discuss the matter privately with the instructor (n=6/58). 

Although the students tended to respond to the instructors* remarks, the 
instructor seldom retracted the statement (in 74%, they did not; n=26/35). On more 
than half of the occasions when a student voiced an objection, the instructor 
proceeded to defend the remark further (n=20/35 or 57%). Hie instructor invited 
class discussion around the matter following 20% of voiced objections (n=7/35), and 
retracted or qualified the statement only 23% of the time (n=8/35). 

In part 4, we assessed how frequently relevant sexual orientation issues were 
incorporated into graduate courses. We designed a list of 22 issues and then asked 
students whether each was included in their courses. As a summary of them, let me 
hig^ght the following observations: 

(A) For any given topic, most of the students never received relevant 
information fix)m the course. For example: of the students who took Social 



Cantor, J. M. & Pilkington, N. W. 

Homophobia in Psychology Programs 

Psychology courses, 87% received no information regarding psychological correlates 
of homophobia; of the students who took courses in Behavioral Psychology, 91% 
received no information regarding sex therapy issues for homosexual behavior. (B) A 
few topics were covered somewhat more frequently. However, of the outliers, most 
were likely to consist o£ homophobic coverage. Hiat is, even though half of the 
students reported that psychoanalytic interpretations of homosexuality v?ere 
covered, the context is likely to have been one of pathologizing homosexuahty, as 
pointed out earlier. The only situation when the m^'ority of students encountered 
homosexuality was in psychopathology classes! (C) If these situations are removed 
from the analysis, then students reported that relevant topics were excluded from 
courses 84% of the time. 

As a final note, these numbers likely ouerreport the frequency with which gay 
and lesbian topics are addressed. Although the survey specifically asked students to 
report only the gay and lesbian material included in course syllabi, several 
respondents noted on their form that some of their references arose fix)m their own 
presentations, questions, or comments in class. 

In part 5, we asked students if they had experienced any other form of overt 
homophobia fi-om administrators, instructors, advisors, or placement supervisors. 
47% (n=37/79) reported such experiences, i^klthough there was considerable 
variability across students' experiences, a number of key themes emei^ed, including: 
derogatory references towards clients, pathologization of homosexuality, lack of a 
safe atmosphere for students, verbal abuse, harassment and discrimination, lack of 
information and resources, discouragement from faculty, inappropriate or undesired 
disclosure, offensive remarks, and blocking of student initiatives. Allow me to share 
with you some of the students' responses... 

"My clinical supervisor referred to my client as the queer.*" 

"In group superviLUon at a school-run clinic, the instructor said, 'All gay men 
have sex with one partner after another. They never have long-term 

"My practicum supervisor presented a study in which he said gays were cured 
through behavioral treatments. He used this as evidence that gays should be 
treated as pathological." 



Cantor, J. M, & PUkington, N, W, 

Homophobia in Psychology Programs 

"I am in the closet at school becaiise of the experiences of another openly gay 
student in the department. When her supervisor, also the chair of our 
subprogram, found out that she is gay, he gave her negative evaluations. He is 
very homophobic and misogynistic. He has a great deal of power. So I feel I 
must watch my step.** 

"When asked to include gay and lesbian issues in the syllabus, a professor 
responded, 'If the students want changes, let them go through my syllabus and 
rewrite the lectures."" 

"Tlie director of my program has known since I began the program that I am a 
lesbian. In my first year review, he told me I would never make it in this field. 
When I asked why, his response was, Tou are one of them.. .like those black 
paiither3...a fucking feminist...and offensive to people.' Since then, he has gone 
out of his way to make it difficult for me in terms of being unavailable, not 
accepting course selections, and shooting me down in class discussions." 

"As part of my application to the clinical psychology program of a prestigious 
university, I was interviewed by an influential senior professor. In the written 
statement of purpose included in my application, I had stated that I was gay. 
During the interview, the professor stated that regardless of changes in the 
DSM (politically motivated, she believed), she and her fellow faculty members 
all considered homosexuality a m^or character disorder, and she wondered how 
I would handle their statements to that effect during my training. She also told 
me that no openly gay man had completed this particular program in ten 
years •" 

**One member of my thesis committee asked to be excused because of his 
'moral objections' to my research. Hie topic involved sampling a lesbian group. 
I had to replace him with another faculty member who did not have that 

**I was told to not *act gay and make waves.'*' 

classmate and I decided to do a Coming Out Support Group for our 
community service project. Hie head of the psychology department called the 
Director of Clinical Training and told him that he would not approve of 'sex 
parties* at the Psychological Services Center. My classmate and I had to 
threaten to call APA to get our group approved.** 

Also in part 5, we asked students if they had been discouraged fit>m pursuing 
research in gay, lesbian, or bisexual issues, and if so, to describe their experiences. 
25% (n=2(V79) reported such discouragement Major themes included: having 
difficulty finding supervisors, warnings from faculty of adverse career consequences, 
interference and direct sabotage with research, and homophobic responses to 
dissertation topics. One student wrote: 




rantor, J. M. & PUkington, N. W. Homophobia in Psychology Programs 

**When I was lining up a committee to serve on my Master's thesis, I 
approached a faculty member and asked her to serve. Before I even had a 
chance to tell her what my topic was, she said. No, I'm not interested in what 
you study,'" 

"A professor told me that my dissertation on lesbians was not 'real science' and 
that a dissertation on 'regular folks' would be better," 

"The faculty at my program would not support research on gay-related issues. 
Also, I was told that under no circumstances would I be permitted to do a 
dissertation on adolescent AIDS," 

"I was told that this is an unfundable, stigmatized area of research, and that I 
would never get a decent job if I pursued this area," 

"1 am currently doing my dissertation on lesbian relationship satisfaction. I 
know that I am placing myself at risk. Hie head of tJie department runs a 
dissertation seminar where we are required to present our proposals in class. I 
was warned not to present my real topic, and so I didn't. As a result, I did not 
get feedback on what I'm doing. I'm still anxious about the possibility of him 
trying to sabotage my completion of the dissertation, although I recognize that 
he does not truly have the power to do so." 

"Hie instructor who taught our Review of the Literature course made a 
homophobic attack in response to my proposed dissertation topic. He acted so 
inappropriately that I reported him to my advisor and filed an informal 
complaint with the dean," 

The unfortunate implications of these data are: 

(A) Psych ology programs not only fail to make appropriate mention of gay 
topics (as has been previously pointed out), they also at an alanning rate, misinform, 
miseducate, and /Mislead the very people who will educate others regarding sexuality 
issues. (B) In nearly aU of the cases, course instructors fail to refute the 
misstatements of textbooks. Instructors themselves fi-eqi- ntly misrepresent 
information regarding lesbian and gay topics, and are recalcitrant when challenged by 
students, (C) Students' attempts to expand curricula, to further research, and to fill 
the existing void of information are thwarted not only by instructors, but also by 
practicum advisors, administrators, and thesis advisors. (D) The burden of educating 
other students currently lays with gay, lesbian, and bisexual students. Hie student, 
rather than the instructor or program, has become the vehicle for advancement of 
the field. 


Cantor, J. M. & Pilkington, N. W. 

Homophobia in Psychology Programs 

Psychology as a field cannot hope to alleviate human suffering when its very 
soiu*ces of information cause it. 

We thank all of the students who took time to complete and return our survey. 
We also thank you for the support you volunteered in your comments. As a final note 
to the officers of Div. 44 and NALGP, we would like to point cut that it was clear to us 
from the responses that this survey has been perhaps the only outlet for students, 
including us, to express the frustration we feel in graduate programs. There is clearly 
great need for action, not only for ourselves, but for all the clients who will ever seek a 
Thank you.