Servicing the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community

OUT provides direct health services to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, MSM, sex workers, and injecting drug users, including HIV testing, counselling, treatment and general lifestyle advice and support.

OUT has been in existence for more than 21 years and is dedicated to the building of healthy and empowered LGBT communities in South Africa and internationally, while reducing hetrosexism and homophobia in society.

Challenging the validity of “gaydar”

William Cox, an assistant scientist in the Department of Psychology and the lead author of the new study, claims that gaydar isn’t accurate and is actually a harmful form of stereotyping.

“Most people think of stereotyping as inappropriate,” Cox says. “But if you’re not calling it ‘stereotyping,’ if you’re giving it this other label and camouflaging it as ‘gaydar,’ it appears to be more socially and personally acceptable.”

Cox and his team questioned the validity of the previous research, citing differences in the quality of the photos used for the gay and straight people featured in the study.

The gay men and lesbians, according to Cox’s studies, had higher quality pictures than their straight counterparts. When researchers controlled for differences in photo quality, participants were unable to tell who was gay and straight.

Another reason people’s judgments of sexual orientation are often wrong, Cox says, is that such a small percentage of the population – five percent or less – is gay.

“Imagine that 100 percent of gay men wear pink shirts all the time, and 10 percent of straight men wear pink shirts all the time. Even though all gay men wear pink shirts, there would still be twice as many straight men wearing pink shirts. So, even in this extreme example, people who rely on pink shirts as a stereotypic cue to assume men are gay will be wrong two-thirds of the time,” Cox says.

In one of their studies, Cox and his team told one group of participants that gaydar is real, told another that gaydar is stereotyping, and did not define gaydar for the third group.

The group that was led to believe gaydar is real stereotyped much more often than the other groups, assuming that men were gay based on the stereotypic cues – statements such as “he likes shopping.”

“If you tell people they have gaydar, it legitimises the use of those stereotypes,” Cox says.

That’s harmful, he says, because stereotypes limit opportunities for members of stereotyped groups, narrowing how we think about them and promoting prejudice and discrimination – even aggression.

In a 2014 study on prejudice-based aggression, Cox had participants play a game with a subject in another room that involved administering electric shocks to the subject. When the research team implied that the subject was gay using a stereotypic cue, participants shocked him far more often than when the research team explicitly told them he was gay.

“There was a subset of people who were personally very prejudiced, but they didn’t want other people to think that they were prejudiced,” Cox says. “They tended to express prejudice only when they could get away with it.”

Cox hopes his research counteracts the gaydar myth and exposes it as something more harmful than most people realise.

“Recognising when a stereotype is activated can help you overcome it and make sure that it doesn’t influence your actions,” Cox says.

Published in the Journal of Sex Research, the paper was co-authored with professors Patricia Devine and Janet Hyde and UW-Madison graduate Alyssa Bischmann.

Services
Have you been threatened, hit, raped or had your property damaged or stolen because you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI)? Then you have been a victim of a hate crime.
OUT offers exciting training to mainstream service providers and other interested parties. The training assists individuals to understand themselves as sexual beings.
Currently OUT distributes safer sex packs to a range of venues in Tshwane that are utilised by gay men and lesbian women. These packs also include responsible sex messaging, appropriate barrier methods and lube.
OUT's Engage Men’s Health project offers free and confidential sexual health services to gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM).