Research has well documented the negative impact of homonegative behavior on the well-being of homosexual youth, adolescents who still feel uncertain about their sexual orientation, and heterosexual adolescents, who are affected by this behavior. This study aimed to assess the prevalence of homonegative behavior among adolescents, focusing not only on microaggressions, but also on conscious negative behavior against gay boys and negative behavior toward gender nonconformity among boys.
From September 2019 to January 2020, we visited 151 high school classes in 30 public schools of a cluster sample in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, and asked the 8th and 9th year students to participate in the survey. We collected the data using an anonymous self-administered questionnaire filled in during class. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics. For group comparisons, we performed independent t-tests.
To capture the homonegative behavior during the previous 12 months, we used a scale for direct homonegative behavior including five items, a scale for indirect homonegative behavior (microaggressions) comprising 5 items, and a single item question to assess to negative behavior toward gender nonconformity. Response options on the five-point Likert scale were (0) never, (1) rarely, (2) sometimes, (3) often, and (4) very often. The internal consistencies of the two scales were good (Cronbach’s alpha=0.81 and 0.77).
The sample consisted of 2210 heterosexual adolescents, aged 12–18, 1149 in the 8th and 1061 in the 9th year, 45.9% female, 54.1% male, and 50.1% with an immigration background.
An overview of the various forms of homonegative behavior in the previous 12 months makes clear that 84.5% of the participants reported having engaged in indirect homonegative behavior (M=0.95, SD=0.82), 26.2% reported having engaged in direct homonegative behavior (M=0.13, SD=0.34) and 44.7% reported they had made fun of a boy who ‘behaved like a girl’ (negative behavior toward gender nonconformity) (M=0.69, SD=0.95).
A proportion of 51.0% of the participants reported that they had called someone they did not like ‘faggot’, 67.6% called a friend ‘faggot’, 70.0% had used phrases such as ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘no homo’, 40.9% had made jokes about gays, 19.6% used these expressions on social media, 10.8% spread a rumor about someone being gay, 6.8% have excluded someone because he is gay, 19.6% had made fun of a person who is gay, 3.3% hit and 2.0% threatened someone because the person is gay.
A significant gender difference was found for all three behaviors. Boys have higher scores in indirect homonegative behavior (M=1.25, SD=0.81; t(2208)=-20.50, p<0.001), direct homonegative behavior (M=0.18, SD=0.41; t(2208)=-7. 65, p<0.001), and in negative behavior toward gender nonconformity (M=0.83, SD=1.05; t(2208)=-7.49, p<0.001), than the girls (M=0.59, SD=0.67 / M=0.07, SD=0.20 / M=0.53, SD=0.78).
Findings evidence high prevalence of indirect homonegative behavior and negative behavior toward gender nonconformity among the responding adolescents. Even though the prevalence of direct homonegative behaviors is significantly lower, the findings underscore the importance of interventions and that social workers are called to take action need to act urgently.