Research has well documented the impact of direct homonegative behavior and indirect homonegative behavior (microaggressions) on the well-being of gay adolescents. To reduce homonegative behaviors among adolescents, there is a need for multi-perspective prevention and intervention strategies. To develop such strategies, it is important to understand the factors responsible for homonegative behavior.
Against this background, the present study aimed to identify predictors of direct and indirect homonegative behavior by developing and testing a comprehensive explanatory model.
The multifactorial theoretical model consisted of twelve individual-level factors and six context-level factors. Hypotheses included prediction of direct as well as indirect effects mediated by homonegative attitudes or general aggressive behavior toward peers. We controlled the model for gender, migration background, age, urbanity, and formal school level.
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.
Data were collected using an anonymous, self-administered questionnaire completed during school lessons. To capture direct (e.g. had made fun of a person who is gay) and indirect (e.g. had used phrases such as ‘that’s so gay’) homonegative behavior, we used two scales comprising five items each, that had proved to be adequate in a German-speaking context and showed good psychometric characteristics. Response options ranged on a five-point-Likert scale from 0="never" to 4= "very often". The internal consistency of these scales was good (Cronbach’s α=0.77/0.81).
Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and structural equation modeling (maximum likelihood estimation).
The sample included 2210 heterosexual adolescents, aged 12–18, 1149 in the eighth and 1061 in the ninth year of school, 45.9% female, 54.1% male, and 50.1% with an immigration background.
The following seven individual-level factors were found to be significant: negative cognitive attitudes toward gay men, aggressive behavior toward peers, religiosity, social dominance orientation, importance of one's sexual orientation, attitudes toward traditional masculinity, and empathy. At the contextual level, there are four factors: expectations of parents, expectations of best friends, homonegative school climate, and norms of respect in the classroom. In addition, the control variables gender (male) and migration background have a significant effect. All of these variables have direct and/or indirect effects on direct and indirect homonegative behavior. Together, they form the explanatory model for homonegative behavior in adolescents. (SRMR=0.0183, RMSEA=0.03 und TLI=0.98, adj.R2=0.25/0.48). Most of the predictors of the explanatory model showed medium to strong effects.
This is the first study that tested such a complex and comprehensive theoretical model. The tested model explained 25% of the variance in direct homonegative behavior, 48% of the variance in indirect homonegative behavior (microaggressions), 24.0% of the variance of aggressive behavior toward peers, and even 64.0% of the variance of negative cognitive attitudes toward gay men.
The findings provide a well-founded understanding of the mechanisms underlying homonegative behavior and provide leverage points for developing intervention and prevention strategies for adolescents.