Socio-Cultural Factors of LGBT Segregation

Public discussion of sexual orientation in Russia is significantly less active than in the West. However, the problem of homophobia does exist, and what is most important, there also exist problems of people who throughout their whole life have to prove their right to organize their personal lives contrary to the dominant point of view. In this regard, it is important to understand how life of these people is going, how they feel their social exclusion, and what its mechanisms and factors are.

 

I have carried out a small research to find out factors of LGBT segregation in Russian society. Respondents were chosen by snowball sampling method due to the sensitivity of the topic. Complexity of the topic led to the fact that I had a chance to interview only 43 respondents from different cities of Russia.

 

The first question was: “How does your family accept you and your personal life?” Only one person responded: “With no worries. Family is on my side”. Only two persons broke off relations with their family completely because it did not accept their choice, and two persons said that their family had rejected them. The most popular answers were “Relatives do not know anything” and “Parents know about it and accept me, other relatives do not know”. Each of these options was chosen by 15 respondents. Four respondents said that “relatives are displeased, but they accept my choice”, the rest decided upon the option “my family does not reject me, but I constantly hear reproaches”. Thus, almost 70% of respondents have to hide their sexual orientation to some extent.

Relations of my respondents with their friends are less dramatic. Only two people said that they did not have friends, one emphasized that at the moment his only friends were people with a non-traditional sexual orientation, five of them chose the answer “A few faithful friends stayed with me; I have a few friends”. The most popular was the answer “With some friends we broke off peacefully, some of them stayed with me, but I got new friends as well”. This answer was chosen by 19 respondents (about 44%). The next most popular response was “The circle of my friends has changed imperceptibly after my old friends learned about my orientation”. Nine respondents reported that old friends turned their backs on them, but there appeared new ones. Six respondents stated that they had kept all their old friends and gained new ones. Only one respondent in “Other” column wrote that after a close friend turned back on him, he began to hide his sexual orientation from his surroundings. It is necessary to mention that my respondents were people not older than 28 years; therefore, among the youth it is easier to keep relationships without hiding features of personal life than within family.

The second question was “Were there any facts of discrimination against you because of your sexual orientation?” Six respondents answered “Never” and five – “Always”. Five respondents said that they prefer to hide their sexual orientation and that is why in their case there were no facts of discrimination. The most popular answer was: “We faced it a few times” (15 respondents chose this answer). 12 respondents answered that they faced the facts of discrimination periodically.

In response to the question about the difficulties associated with a non-traditional sexual orientation only three respondents stated that there were no such difficulties in their lives. The question supposed multiple choices of answers; it was possible to specify not more than three options that best reflected the situation of a respondent. The most popular answer was “I often feel lonely”. It was chosen by almost all of the respondents – 41 persons. The second most popular answer was the statement “I have difficulties in communicating with my relatives” – it was selected by 37 respondents. 25 respondents said that they experience difficulties in finding a sexual partner, 11 respondents indicated that they had difficulties in communicating with colleagues or group mates. Seven respondents worried about the hostile attitude of people, four of them confessed that “It is difficult to keep a job, if my orientation is disclosed”. None of the respondents chose option “It’s hard to get a job”. In their interview, respondents also talked a lot about their loneliness, about lack of understanding, lack of space for self-expression.

The respondents said that the main reasons that cause people to have hostile attitude towards LGBT were dominant social stereotypes and image created by mass media. Each of these options has received 32 votes of the respondents. The next most popular answer was “Aversion of something unusual, associated with age”; this option of answer was marked by 24 respondents out of 43; nineteen of those interviewed believe that the cause of negative attitude towards LGBT is media hype. Answers like “Religious beliefs” and “Physical hostility” received three votes each and two respondents believe that hostility can be caused by behavior of individual members of the LGBT community.

 

In the opinion of the interviewed the main reasons that cause people to have hostile attitude towards LGBT are dominant stereotypes in the society and image created by mass media.

 

Answering the question “In your opinion, what is it about you that might cause rejection by others the most?” respondents most often chose the option “The fact of my sexual orientation itself”. 11 respondents (i.e. a little over 25%) chose this answer. 10 respondents believe that the aversion is based on deep-rooted stereotypes, and 9 people believe that the main reason is an image created by mass media. Five respondents think that aversion of the surrounding society can be caused by appearance and manners of people with a non-traditional orientation, three respondents chose an option “general appearance as a whole”. Two respondents think that surrounding society can be annoyed by the way people with a non-traditional orientation dress; two respondents chose the option “Nothing”. One respondent did not answer this question. Interviewees emphasized that today the clothes and manners practically do not cause specific aversion of surrounding society. They noted that modern society is quite adapted to stylistic variety of people’s appearance. Rejection can be caused only by the behavior emphasizing a special sexual orientation, or having features running counter to the stereotypical conception about “correct” male or female behavior.

The interviews substantially confirmed the data obtained by the questionnaire. In the opinion of my respondents, the main factors of LGBT rejection by society are social stereotypes reinforced by regular unreasoned sensational mass media reports about gay parades, speeches and actions of members of the LGBT community. Interviewees also emphasized that they rarely met the rejection by their peers, more often problems arose in relationships with older generations. A significant factor of LGBT segregation is a place of residence. There is much less tolerance in province, especially in small towns and rural settlements, than in large and capital cities. In addition, in province it is much more difficult to find a congenial community that can support and help to solve problems of relationship with oneself and society.

I should stress that the vast majority of respondents, approximately 70%, believe that the causes of hostility from surroundings are external, not dependent on their personal behavior or appearance – the prevailing prejudice and image, replicated by mass media. The mechanisms of formation of social stereotypes remained beyond the borders of my research, as it was focused on the question of how the LGBT community itself takes its position in society, whether it feels its rejection or not, and how it takes reasons of rejection by society. And although most of my respondents have shown themselves as people quite integrated into society and not feeling like outcasts, from their answers it can be concluded that they perceive their position as special, as a possible factor of discrimination and rejection. But they believe that the main strategy to solve this problem is to search for their social circle or – in some cases – to conceal their sexual orientation.

The interviews confirmed the main conclusion on the results of a questionnaire survey. Discrimination, according to a dominant opinion of my respondents, confines to the hostility from surroundings. Only one of the interviewees talked about real harassment she had undergone at school, and one respondent declared that he had to quit his job because his boss did not want to put up with a sexual orientation of his employee.

The feeling of loneliness was called by my respondents the main difficulty of life related to their sexual orientation. In their interviews, respondents confessed that within a narrow circle of friends and acquaintances they could face no rejection at all, at least, it was quite possible to create such a community, and it did not have to include only people with a non-traditional sexual orientation. But, nevertheless, the majority of my respondents believe that to a certain degree they should hide their sexual orientation. And the most common argument is delicacy, unwillingness to display their private live.

 

The feeling of loneliness was called by my respondents the main difficulty of life related to their sexual orientation.

 

It is noteworthy that all the interviewees had different perception of the facts of representatives of sexual minorities demonstrating their lifestyle, especially by public, well-known personalities. On the one hand, all the interviewees believe that LGBT people have to declare themselves for their interests to be taken seriously by society. On the other hand, they expressed their concern about the hype mass media creates around the LGBT. My interviewees emphasized that they would like to have a constructive public debate that could lead to elimination of prejudices most people have about LGBT people and to solving their problems. However, all my respondents are sure that Russian society is not ready for any decisive actions in this area, for example in the area of legalization of same-sex marriage. Today the only thing to strive for is a gradual change in opinion of society regarding the problem of sexual orientation, elimination of the prevailing stereotypes.

Nevertheless, my respondents stressed in their interviews that they consider it necessary to participate in actions carried out by the LGBT community. Most of them, however, are quite reluctant to politicization of LGBT problems, believing that the main function of the community is cultural, socializing one. Thus, the majority of respondents, 22 out of 43, in response to the question “Do you participate in actions for the rights of LGBT people?” chose the option “Occasionally, as I consider it my duty to support the community”. Ten people chose “Sometimes, when an cause is worthy”, only two respondents answered “Yes, always”, and two respondents never participated in such actions. Two respondents chose “Very rarely, I think such actions are meaningless, society cannot be convinced”; and one person said that he had never participated in such actions because he had considered them harmful to the image of the LGBT community. The remaining respondents said that they took part in the actions from time to time.

Although my study does not claim to be representative, it allows drawing some conclusions with a certain degree of confidence. A sexual orientation of a person, recognized in society as a non-traditional one, causes him/her to rethink his/her position in society, to seek his/her place, to form a new circle of friends in search of support and understanding. The hardest thing is to build relationships with older relatives, generally a lack of understanding and rejection more often are manifested by older generations. Most of my respondents believe that the main factors of LGBT segregation are social stereotypes and inadequate representation of the problems of sexual minorities by mass media.

 

Author: Anna Ochkina

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