Other factors to consider include the time and reasons for immigration and the degree of acculturation (Greene, 1994). These factors can vary both across and within racial and ethnic minority groups. Thus, just as the attitudes of African Americans and Asians toward lesbians may differ, so may those among Latinos from Puerto Rico, Mexico, and South America. How their culture views homosexuality influences how lesbians view themselves.

Empirical data are limited on attitudes toward lesbians and the differential experiences of lesbians across cultures. However, these data can be supplemented by discussions, often by ethnic minority lesbian or gay authors, about the impact of culture on lesbian experience that illustrate the complexity involved in understanding these influences. In East Asian cultures (i.e., Chinese, Japanese, and Korean), the existence of Asian American lesbians and gay men is sometimes denied and homosexual activity is rarely disclosed to society at large (Liu and Chan, 1996). Collectivism and interdependence are highly valued, and coming out to family is made more difficult by the lack of a cultural framework for homosexuality. Understanding the cultural context for how homosexuality is viewed in these cultures can be greatly enhanced by taking into consideration the influences of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, religions that have influenced East Asian societies for many hundreds of years (see Table 1.1).3

Similar influences help form attitudes toward being lesbian in other cultural groups. For example, African-American cultures typically have a strong religious and spiritual orientation that sometimes reinforces homophobic attitudes (Savin-Williams, 1996). At the same time, traditionally strong family ties can make it less likely that a family member will be rejected because of sexual orientation, even if the family does not approve of one being lesbian (Savin-Williams, 1996). Strong gender role stereotypes are often found in Latino cultures, with distinct differences between male and female roles (Morales, 1996). Lesbian sexual orientation can be seen as threatening the cultural value of marianismo, which refers to the traditional responsibility of a woman to provide for and nurture her family


Confucius lived from 551 to 479 B.C., Taoism was developed in the fifth century B.C., and Buddhism was first introduced into China in the first century A.D. (Liu and Chan, 1996).

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement