A blog post

Gender equality and gay rights

Posted on the 13 November, 2014 at 6:18 pm Written by in Books, Research

A new study of attitudes to gay rights has been published, with more coverage than before, combining data from several international surveys and country statistics. The report shows that generally, gay rights have gained some more acceptance over the last decades, but the main picture is one of strong global variation.

Testing for predictors of attitudes to gay rights, the researchers found that attitudes are more positive in richer countries and less conservative religious countries (but more negative in post-socialist than other European states). Generally, higher education, lower age, and female gender predicted more positive attitudes to gay rights.

The study included testing for income, education, religion and other variables – but strangely enough, no social equality variable was included. Income equality (like the Gini index) and gender equality (like the Gender gap index) are missing in action, so to speak.

I checked this for Europe, using the Gender Equality Statistics database (see Holter, Ø 2015), including a gay acceptance measure from the Gallup world poll: Is the city or area where you live a good place or not a good place to live for gays and lesbians?



Good place to live for gays lesbians (Gallup 2013) Gender gap index inc US states
Good place to live for gays lesbians (Gallup 2013) Pearson Correlation 1 ,603
Sig. (2-tailed) ,001
N 28 28
Gender gap index inc US states Pearson Correlation ,603 1
Sig. (2-tailed) ,001
N 28 116


Among 28 European countries, there is a .60 correlation between gender equality and that the area is a good place to live for gays and lesbians. This is very strong.

Of course these numbers by themselves say nothing about what causes what, but historically, there is little doubt that gender equality has helped pave the way for gay/lesbian acceptance and rights.

Therefore, gender equality and other forms of equality should be included, in models trying to explain gay, lesbian and trans acceptance. Other variables that probably would help develop these models include quality of life, and social trust and cohesion.

This is also a theory issue. Is gay acceptance and rights explained mainly by tradition, culture and religion? Or are there also more “sociological” forces at hand, causing changes in acceptance? Many theories to this effect exists, especially, theories of how gays and other “outgroups” can become scapegoats for wider system problems.

If we look at historical developments over the last hundred years, it is not religion per se that creates the well-known tendency of authoritarian regimes to deny gay rights. Rather it is part of the working of the authoritarian system. In tendency, gay rights and gender equality disapper – across very different regimes like Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany, communist China, non-democratic Moslem states, etc. Gays (and to some degree, lesbians) become scapegoats, embodying a kind of freedom that the regime does not want, their rights declining in societies with rising authortarianism, inequality and conflict. If social inequality becomes large, others will have to suffer, as a system tendency – and this will hit on gays and other outcasts.

Besides income, education, less fundamentalist religion etc there are probably two main factors contributing to gay rights – class equality and gender equality. Ethnic equality is probably important too – racism and homophobia are well-known twins in social science. Possibly, gender equality is the most important of these factors, at least in a direct sense, since gender equality is the type of social equality that is most closely connected to sexuality.

This is a very important research area and hopefully, new research will be funded, to tell us more.

Even if gender equality historically has paved the way for gay rights, at some stages, the cause and effect may be different. In a superficial view, gay rights only concern a small minority. Yet it concerns very important majority freedoms too. In some contexts, gay lesbian and trans rights may be crucial gender equality issues, even more than the “traditional” majority issues.


Further reading

New gay acceptance study:


Gender equality statistics data base:

Holter, Øystein Gullvåg 2015: “What’s in it for men” – old question, new data. Journal of men and masculinities (in print)

Gallup world poll:


Authoritarian regimes, aggression and gender related discrimination:

Holter, Øystein Gullvåg 2004: A Theory of Gendercide. In Jones, Adam, ed.: Gendercide and genocide. Vanderbilt University Press, Norman, p 62-97