Homo for the Holidays

by Dr. Greg Cason

Rage Monthly

Sunday December 17, 2017

I'm going to tell you a secret I rarely say out loud and have never told my family-my dissertation was a failure-and my failure is my holiday gift to you.

For the uninitiated, a dissertation is the crown jewel in one's PhD education. It is the culmination of years of work and can help define someone's career. My dissertation research set out to find a way to improve mental health providers attitudes toward LGBT people -- and it flopped.

This was especially upsetting to me because aside from being gay myself, I wanted to test a theory that homophobia could be lessened in about two hours... and that wasn't the most outlandish part. What was worse? I thought I could hone my message of peace, love and political correctness and finally educate my peaceful, loving and homophobic family. Again, wrong.

A funny thing about doing research, you have to run a lot of analyses. Much like arriving home with the last person at a bar on a Saturday night, sometimes when you dive beneath the surface, you find a big surprise. My big surprise? Attitudes change from the top (no pun intended) down.

What was truly unexpected is that in my training of over 50 mental health organizations, the factor that lead to the most significant change was not the presentation, but from the words from the organization's leader. Leaders could do more to change attitudes in 30 seconds, than I could do in two hours.

When a leader made pro-LGBT remarks before or during the presentation, the organization tended to express less homophobic attitudes in an anonymous survey after the presentation. When the leaders made homophobic remarks before or during the presentation (shocking, but that happened several times), attitudes also followed suit. No matter what the leader said, it appeared that people really did "Follow the leader."

This is especially concerning now, in 2018, as we have a leader and White

House administration who has signaled to an entire country that it's okay to

be racist, sexist and homophobic. Emboldening not only hate groups and Fox News anchors, but according to my research, it will gradually change attitudes in the same bad direction. Until the prevailing winds change, it seems we are in for some rough seas.

My holiday gift to you is that I want my failure and my findings to guide you when you join your more "Trumpy" relatives this holiday. First, it's best to drop the delusion that you are going to change anybody with your wise words or scientifically-proven facts. People only hear words that confirm what they already believe; that's called confirmation bias. Unless you read scripts from the Sean Hannity show, your lectures will just sound like a barking dog. So, take the evening off.


1. Show Yourself And Be Yourself

Knowing someone who is gay gives people more positive beliefs about gay people overall. Even my family has shown some movement as they repeatedly tell me that I'm the only gay person they know. (Yes in 2018. In Southern California. Seriously.)

The most powerful weapon in your arsenal of attitude change is you. If you are out to your family, then just hanging around, cooking, eating, helping clean up, listening to others with a modicum of interest and even tittering at your uncle's inappropriate off-color jokes, will do more to help change their attitudes than a weekend of Power-Point presentations on the advancement of LGBT-rights. But you have to be out to your family to be effective. If you are not, then you have some remedial work to do.

2. Cozy Up To The Leader Of Your Family

Every family has a leader: A matriarch, a patriarch or a golden child. If you engage anyone, engage that person. If that person is pro-gay, find ways to bring that out. If not, keep your thoughts to yourself. Rather, just ask

that person questions about his or her beliefs and where those beliefs came from. (auction: You may need to squeeze a ball or take an extra blood pressure pill to get through this).

The process of talking about a belief system they know is counter to yours will cause them to think. They will compare and contrast without you having to say a word. So, don't tell them what you think (unless, of course, they ask).

This may not change their mind today, or tomorrow, but it will loosen their rigid belief system and cause them to become more open and curious. That may lead to real change. Don't expect miracles, but if you remain a present force for change, change will happen.

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