High School Rugby photo by Phillip Capper via flickr.com

High school rugby photo by Phillip Capper via flickr.com

Based on a year of field-work with 16- to 18- year olds, Mark McCormack, a sociologist at Brunel University (UK), argues that homophobic attitudes are on the decline in British secondary schools. As The Economist explains, McCormack’s new book, The Declining Significance of Homophobia, “describes an atmosphere of affection between male students both gay and straight, who no longer feel they need to act like sport-mad brutes to be accepted by their peers.”

Admittedly, some pupils still use the word “gay” to express disapproval -but they apply it to things like homework, and it is rarely a dig even when directed at people. Among these boys homophobia bore the same stigma as racism.

McCormack points to the media and the Internet as sources of the shift in attitudes:

First, there are many more openly gay performers, politicians and TV characters, which helps to normalise homosexuality. Second, the internet lets lonely provincial teenagers reach beyond their town limits. Social-networking websites encourage frankness about sexual orientation, and YouTube is a fount of videos featuring transgender confessionals and boys coming out to their mothers.

McCormack does not claim that harassment or bullying based on homophobia is no longer an issue, but that the situation has improved. And, he argues, “it is wrong and counter-productive to harp on about the dangers gay teenagers face, if it prevents many from coming out of the closet.”

In related research, our own Kyle Green reported late last year in Contexts‘ Discoveries section on research from Eric Anderson, who tracked high school athletes’ attitudes toward openly gay teammates over time, finding a dramatic drop in homophobia even in contact sports in just 10 years. It appears this trend is bearing out “across the pond.”