By Luke Morales
Generational differences in attitudes toward homosexuality are common. The reasoning behind this is complex in Latin America, and it can be the result of a network of factors, including religiosity, education, and generational and cultural influences. These differences between age groups could also be reflective of a historical change toward widespread acceptance—or at least more tolerance—of sexual diversity (Villar et al., 2019). A study published by 11 researchers in the Journal of Homosexuality in 2019 examines the attitudes of younger and older generations toward homosexuality in eight Latin American countries, and it begins to explain why these generational differences exist.
The study surveyed 1,539 participants (619 men and 920 women) belonging to three different age groups (18-29 years, 60-69 years, and 70+ years). The study used sentence completion tasks to reveal attitudes toward homosexuality. Analyzing the responses, researchers assigned them to one of 10 different categories. The most frequently assigned categories were: Not my business, Normal, Antipathy, and Sympathy.
The researchers found that “among the younger group (18-29), phrases falling into the four positively inclined categories (Sympathy, Normal, Compassion, and Rights), taken together, amounted to slightly more than two-thirds of the responses…” (Villar et al., 2019, p. 1562) Additionally, within this group, Antipathy consisted of 7% of the responses, and Not my business about 10% (Villar et al., 2019). Among the oldest group (70+), the positive categories accounted for only one-third of the responses, with Antipathy accounting for 27%, and Not my business 30% (Villar et al., 2019).
Religiosity has historically been related to sexual prejudice. A study published by two researchers in 2012 found that, when compared to their nominal counterparts, devoted Catholics are significantly more likely to hold judgment against homosexuality and are also more likely to oppose same-sex civil unions (Ogland & Verona, 2014). In addition, both devoted followers of historical Protestant denominations and Pentecostal faiths were found to express strong disapproval of homosexuality (Ogland & Verona, 2014). The study revealed that those with no religious affiliation are significantly less likely to disapprove of homosexuality and same-sex unions (Ogland & Verona, 2014). Prejudice within religious populations is more common because of “the association of non-heterosexual sexual orientation with sin and, specifically, the condemnation of non-heterosexual sexual orientation as a violation of God’s law” (Villar et al., 2019, p. 1549).
A study by van den Akker et al. that was published in 2013 examined disapproval of homosexuality in 20 European countries and revealed that less-educated people disapprove of homosexuality more than those who are more educated. They argued that educational systems are considered to “increase people’s general knowledge, to stimulate critical thinking and to expand people’s frame of reference, which might include tolerance for those who differ from traditional norms” (van den Akker et al., 2013, p. 68). Furthermore, educational systems inherently teach or strengthen liberal attitudes such as gender equality (van den Akker et al., 2013). The study found that, in countries with higher educational levels, homosexuality is likely to be more acceptable. Interestingly, the researchers also mentioned how “a more permissive climate due to a higher average educational level will affect all inhabitants of a certain country, regardless of their own educational attainment” (van den Akker et al., 2013, p. 70). In other words, generally positive attitudes toward homosexuality among inhabitants of a country will foster acceptance even among inhabitants who are less-educated.
In addition to religiosity and educational levels, variation of beliefs among different populations and generations change with cultural values (Villar et al., 2019). Currently, there is a growing trend toward reducing sexual stigmas, partially because older generations are being replaced by younger generations, who typically tend to have a more positive stance on sexual diversity (Villar et al., 2019). However, overall, “Latin American countries are generally more attached to traditional values emphasizing the importance of religion and family” (Villar et al., 2019, p. 1550). Latin American culture places less emphasis on self-expression values, which are related to the tolerance of minorities and a rising demand for gender equality (Villar et al., 2019). While overall attitudes towards homosexuality have improved in younger generations of Latin Americans, they are still less positive than attitudes in Western Europe or the United States (Villar et al., 2019). One factor contributing to the differences in support includes lingering machismo in the region: the ideas of masculinity are more prevalent in Latin America, and men, dominating the countries, tend to hold more negative attitudes toward non-heterosexuals when compared with women (Villar et al., 2019).
Although the 2019 study surveyed people from multiple Latin American countries, we must also consider limitations that may have affected these results. For example, it is important to consider the differences in attitudes between people from urban environments and people from rural or Indigenous environments. Since the data was collected in urban areas, the findings cannot be applied to attitudes among rural and Indigenous populations (Villar et al., 2019). Additionally, the younger group only consisted of university students. This lack of educational diversity could have affected the results (Villar et al., 2019). The same can be said among the older samples, as they were comprised of people attending community centers: their high levels of social involvement and education may have impacted their attitudes as well.
Despite the limitations in the study, the research provides important perspectives from a large group of people in Latin American countries and likely represents many others living in these urban environments. The study also acts as a model for future research on the same topic, which could be used to further examine the generational trends regarding attitudes toward non-heterosexual people. The researchers argue that “actions designed to promote acceptance and normalization of older LGBT collectives (and especially LGBT elders) should be explicitly addressed to an older demographic, a group that is frequently neglected by such actions but that… is particularly prejudiced” (Villar et al., 2019, 1565). In other words, targeting older populations when educating on LGBTQ+ issues could work toward decreasing prejudices and promoting favorable attitudes toward non-heterosexuality worldwide.
Ogland, C. P., Verona, A. P. (2014). Religion and the rainbow struggle: Does religion factor into attitudes toward homosexuality and same-sex civil unions in Brazil? Journal of homosexuality, 61(9), pp. 1334-1349. https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2014.926767
van den Akker, H., van der Ploeg, R., Scheepers, P. (2013). Disapproval of homosexuality: Comparative research on individual and national determinants of disapproval of homosexuality in 20 European countries. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 25(1), 64–86. https://doi.org/10.1093/ijpor/edr058
Villar, F., Serrat, R., de Sao José, J. M., Montero, M., Giuliani, M. F., Carbajal, M., da Cassia Oliveira, R., Nina-Estrella, R., Curcio, C.-L., Alfonso, A., & Tirro, V. (2019). Disclosing Lesbian and Gay Male Sexual Orientation in Later Life: Attitudes of Younger and Older Generations in Eight Latin American Countries. Journal of Homosexuality, 66(11), 1546–1569. https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2018.1503462