Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in the United States but one that is consistently perceived as “foreign” by other Americans. Now a new study from the University of Washington finds that the sexual orientation of Asian Americans may affect others’ perceptions of their cultural integration. In fact,the findings show that LGBTQ Asian Americans are seen as significantly more “American” than those who are perceived as straight.
The new study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, is the latest to examine stereotypes, identity and ideas about who is “American.” Specifically, the researchers focused on how sexual orientation and race come together to influence others’ perceptions.
“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 Dr. Sapna Cheryan, a UW associate professor of psychology.
In 2017, Cheryan authored a similar study, which showed how stereotypically American traits, such as being overweight, made Asian Americans seem more “American.” The new research is a collection of four studies.
Previous work has shown that Asian Americans, and people of color in general, are seen as less American than white Americans, and face prejudice and discrimination throughout various aspects of life.
But when it comes to sexual orientation, the United States has implemented more civil rights and anti-discrimination legislation and is seen as more LGBTQ-friendly, compared to Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea.
The new UW research involved four separate, diverse groups of UW students, all of whom were asked to answer questions related to brief, written descriptions of hypothetical people or scenarios.
In the first experiment, 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, using a seven-point scale, how American they considered him through questions such as “How fluently do you think this person speaks English?” and “How integrated is this person in American culture?”
The results reveal 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: men, women, whites and Asian Americans. Sexual orientation was noted as “gay” or wasn’t listed.
Researchers gave “American” names to the fictional people — names that were popular in the United States 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 their sexual orientation.
“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 “American culture” and “Asian culture,” and how LGBTQ-friendly the cultures appear to be. In one study, researchers wrote descriptions of fake countries that were either presented as less welcoming and accepting of gay people than the U.S. 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.
Source: University of Washington