Should I come out to my students? An empirical investigation

J Homosex. 1997;34(2):79-94. doi: 10.1300/j082v34n02_04.


Lesbian, gay, and bisexual educators have faced many barriers in their professions, including harassment, discrimination, and even nationwide antigay political campaigns. Recently, lesbian, gay, and bisexual educators, particularly on college campuses, have challenged such stigmatization by coming out. Because previous research has demonstrated that interpersonal contact with lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals is related to less heterosexist attitudes, the current study investigated the impact of a gay instructor's coming out on his students' attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. Data were collected from 156 undergraduate students enrolled in an Introductory Psychology course, 40 of whom were taught by a gay instructor. Herek's (1984, 1994b) Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gay Men (ATLG) scale was used to measure students' relative levels of heterosexism and was administered to students at the beginning and end of the semester. Midway through the semester, the gay instructor disclosed his gay identity to his students as part of a lesson about sexual orientation. Results from the postcourse survey indicated that students in the gay instructor's course section exhibited improved attitudes. Conversely, students enrolled in the same course in sections taught by heterosexual instructors demonstrated no change in their attitudes. Implications of these findings are discussed, and it is argued that gay instructors' coming out may positively affect their students' attitudes toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. However, these efforts by individual instructors must only be a small part of more comprehensive institutional efforts by university communities to address homophobia and heterosexism in educational settings.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude*
  • Female
  • Homosexuality / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Midwestern United States
  • Persuasive Communication
  • Self Disclosure*
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Perception
  • Students / psychology*
  • Teaching*