The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Margins Upon Margins: Racial and Sexual Stigma Management Among Gay Asian Men

Friday, January 17, 2014
HBG Convention Center, Bridge Hall Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Scott Edward Rutledge, PhD, Associate Professor, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
Chong-suk Han, PhD, Assistant Professor, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT

Purpose:In recent decades, research on stigma has expanded to include how various groups manage their stigmatized identities. Yet, despite a number of studies that have documented widespread experiences of racism and homophobia among gay Asian men, there is currently little research examining how gay Asian men manage the stigmatized statuses of race and sexuality. This study describes the experiences of gay Asian men in the mainstream gay community and in the larger Asian communities to explore ways that they address issues of racism and homophobia. In doing so, we argue that stigma management involves not only managing the stigma but also redefining what it means to be a member of a stigmatized group.

Methods:The data for this study come from in-depth qualitative interviews with 55 gay Asian men in Seattle and San Francisco. We conducted line-by-line open coding in order to identify emergent themes as outlined by Strauss and Corbin (1998). We identified several codes including, “racial stereotypes in the gay community,” “reaction to racial discrimination,” “influences of stereotypes on self-esteem,” and “attempts to manage racial stigma,” “attempts to manage homophobia,” “instances of homophobia in Asian communities,” among others. By examining these narratives, we found two broad categories for managing and negotiating racial and sexual stigma, personal and relational. Rather than attempt to calculate a reliability coefficient, we met to discuss the codes and arrive at an agreement regarding our findings. Our rationale for doing so was to provide a description of the data, rather than to make inferences from the data.

Results:The analysis revealed that gay Asian men attempt to manage the stigma of race and sexuality in a number of ways. These included, passing, distancing and affiliating, ignoring, reconceptualizing, and building racial solidarity. While all the methods were used to manage both racial and sexual stigma, some methods were more prevalent and successful for racial stigma while others were more prevalent and successful for sexual stigma. Also, different ways of stigma management depended on the situation and were often not mutually exclusive, with men engaging in multiple forms of stigma management in different and same situations.

Conclusion and Implications:  Most studies about stigma management assume that there is a stigmatized group and a dominant group. However, this study demonstrates that individuals are often further stigmatized within their own stigmatized groups. Thus, we demonstrate that the stigmatized can also simultaneously be the stigmatizer. While our specific findings are confined to gay Asian men, the larger theoretical picture can offer valuable insights into various programs that attempt to provide assistance to members of stigmatized groups. Particularly in terms of social services, our findings highlight the importance of ensuring that service providers are aware that not all members of marginalized groups are well integrated into those groups or feel welcome and comfortable in those groups. When working with people who are multiply marginalized, it will be important to ensure that providers do not further alienate members of sub-groups by targeting only to the majority members of these groups.