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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 5, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 27
Gay Asian-Americans seen as more 'American,' UW study says Whites are seen as 'American' regardless of sexual orientation
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Gay Asian-Americans seen as more 'American,' UW study says Whites are seen as 'American' regardless of sexual orientation

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Gay Asian-Americans are seen as more 'American' than Asian-Americans who are assumed to be straight, according to a new study from the University of Washington.

'Research on race is often separate from research on sexual orientation. Here we bring the two together to understand how they interact to influence judgments of how American someone is considered,' said Sapna Cheryan, a UW associate professor of psychology and lead researcher for the study.

The new research by Cheryan and her students, a collection of four studies, was published June 27 in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The UW research involved four separate groups of participants, 1,336 people in all, drawn from the UW student population, all of whom were asked to answer questions related to brief, written descriptions of hypothetical people or scenarios.

In the first study, participants were randomly assigned to read a brief descriptive phrase of a person named John, identified either as 'an Asian-American man' or 'a Gay Asian-American man.'

They were then asked to rate how American they considered him, using a seven-point scale to answer questions like 'How fluently do you think this person speaks English?' and 'How integrated is this person in American culture?'

Researchers found that the hypothetical 'Gay Asian-American man' was perceived as significantly more American than the hypothetical 'Asian-American man,' whose sexual orientation wasn't specified.

The second study used similar questions but included a greater variety of hypothetical people, including men, women, whites, and Asian-Americans. Sexual orientation was noted as 'Gay' or was omitted. Researchers assigned names to the fictional people that were popular in the US in the 1980s - Matt, Chris, Michael, Jessica, Jennifer, and Ashley.

The same results emerged. Asian-Americans identified as Gay were perceived to be more American than Asian-Americans whose sexual orientation was not identified.

Whites were perceived as American no matter what sexual orientation was attributed to them.

'These studies demonstrate once again the widely held assumption that whites are the most American. Though being Gay increased perceptions of Asian-Americans' 'Americanness,' it was still not nearly enough to close the gap in perceptions between Asian-Americans and whites,' said Linda Zou, a UW graduate student and study co-author.

The other two studies focused on perceived differences between supposed 'American culture' and 'Asian culture,' and how LGBTQ-friendly the cultures appear to be to the study respondents.

In one study, researchers wrote descriptions of fake countries that were either presented as less welcoming and accepting of gay people than the US or equally welcoming and accepting. Participants rated Asian culture as less LGBTQ friendly and a Gay person as more American if they were associated with a country of origin that was less LGBTQ friendly.

'American culture is perceived as more accepting of Gay people compared to Asian culture. As a result, Gay Asian-Americans are perceived as more likely to be American than their straight counterparts,' the authors wrote.

Prior research has shown that Asian-Americans - and people of color in general - are seen as less American than white Americans, and face prejudice and discrimination in many aspects of their lives.

Compared to countries such as Japan and South Korea, the United States has implemented more civil rights and anti-discrimination legislation, and is seen by Americans as more LGBTQ-friendly.

But that doesn't mean LGBTQ Asian-Americans face less discrimination, Cheryan said. While sexual orientation may affect a person's perceived 'foreignness,' it doesn't protect against other forms of discrimination and harassment, she added.

'One possible extension of this work is that Gay Asian-Americans may be less likely to have their American identities questioned than straight Asian-Americans,' said Cheryan. 'At the same time, being Gay puts people more at risk for other forms of prejudice based on sexual orientation.'

Cheryan in 2017 authored a related study, which showed how sharing stereotypically American traits - being overweight, for example - made Asian-Americans seem more 'American.'

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