Prejudice, discrimination and hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning or queer (LGBQ) individuals are particularly problematic within the public school system (Bochenek & Brown, 2001; Harris Interactive & GLSEN, 2005). Efforts to reduce prejudiced attitudes and discrimination against LGBQ individuals have had limited success (Tucker & Potocky-Tripodi, 2006). Public school teachers are important to target as students report they do not intervene in anti-gay bullying, and teachers significantly influence school culture and the creation of safe learning environments for their students (Lamme & Lamme, 2003; Phoenix et al., 2006). Intergroup dialogue is a promising method for reducing polarized relationships and prejudice-based conflict (Gurin, Peng, Lopez & Nagda, 1999; Nagda, 2006). However, intergroup dialogue has not been applied to the challenging topic of affirming sexual orientation diversity in the public schools. Intergroup dialogue has also not been evaluated using an experimental mixed-methods design and established protocol in a field setting.
This study measured the effects for heterosexual public school teachers of participation in nine hours of intergroup dialogues with lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) community members. A convenience sample of thirty-six heterosexual teachers in the southeastern U.S. was randomly assigned to participate in intergroup dialogues with LGB community members, or to a comparison group that read educational material on LGBQ issues in public schools. Quantitative data collection used previously established and reliable measures such as the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Knowledge and Attitudes Scale for Heterosexuals (Worthington, Dillon & Becker-Shutte, 2005). Dependent variables of attitudes, feelings, intended behaviors, critical self-reflection and perspective-taking were measured with pre and posttest quantitative surveys. Post-dialogue qualitative interviews were conducted with eleven teachers. An established dialogue protocol was used (Herzig & Chasin, 2001). Data analysis included descriptive statistics, multiple regression, and grounded theory and thematic network development (Attride-Stirling, 2001).
Teachers in the dialogue groups reported statistically significant positive changes in feelings about LGBQ students and parents. Qualitative analysis indicated teachers reported positive changes in attitudes, feelings, and intended or actual supportive behaviors regarding LGBQ students and parents. Analysis of interviews revealed empathy, positive emotions, reductions in stereotypes, recategorization of outgroup members and the potential for friendships were all generated as a result of the dialogues. Additionally, teachers reported that the dialogues facilitated critical self-reflection on their own thoughts about LGBQ issues and being more affirming, and perspective taking of LGBQ people.
A significant quantitative positive change in feelings, and positive changes in all variables as reported qualitatively, has important implications for the use of intergroup dialogue by social workers in school and community settings. Challenges to recruitment for research on stigmatized topics in field settings will be discussed. The Social Work Code of Ethics is explicit about preventing and eliminating discrimination based on sexual orientation (NASW, 1999). Future evaluation research is needed on this topic and recommendations will be made.