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Nationalism increases support for LGBTQ+ community: Enemy of enemy is my friend

9 September 2023
An anti-gay protest by Muslims elicits more sympathy for the LGBTQ+ community than when it is organized by natives. This is especially true if the observer already held a negative view of ethnic minorities, according to an experimental study conducted by political scientists Alberto López Ortega and Stuart Turnbull-Dugarte (University of Southampton) among over 2,300 British and Spanish citizens.

The researchers attribute the results, which they also anticipate in other liberal democracies, to the principle of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend': people distance themselves from 'outsiders' who appear to contradict national norms and values. However, the subsequent support for LGBTQ+ individuals is fragile and possibly temporary, López Ortega warns.

Participants in the study were randomly assigned to one of two experimental conditions. Everyone received a news article about a protest against LGBTQ+ educational materials, but in one article, the protester had an Arabic name, while in the other, the name was Spanish or British. Participants were then asked to what extent they supported LGBTQ+ educational materials. What was found? People who had read about an Arabic protester were much more supportive of LGBTQ+ educational materials than those who had seen a Spanish or British name. And this effect was further amplified when participants already had a negative perception of ethnic minorities.

A noteworthy outcome, according to Turnbull-Dugarte, but the more positive attitude is not as robust and crystallized. "After all, it emerged in a day, through a simple news frame." People are drawn to information that confirms their own beliefs. "And if you already have a low opinion of immigrants, you see extra evidence for your negative attitude in such a news article. You think: see, the borders must be closed."

López Ortega regards the outcome of people suddenly supporting LGBTQ+ educational materials after reading about a non-Western protester "self-interest". "I consider it unlikely that they suddenly become ardent advocates for LGBTQ+ rights and start participating in demonstrations." The researcher also expects the mechanism of selective information consumption to apply to other polarizing topics, such as the climate debate or feminism. "For example, that more people become supporters of feminism if they get the impression that all immigrants are sexist."

According to the researchers, the stability and sustainability of the resulting support need further investigation. In the meantime, López Ortega hopes that the media are aware of the consequences of news frames. "News often links immigration to the threat it poses to LGBTQ+ individuals. Shed more light on how many immigrants are part of the LGBTQ+ community in the news, to present a more complete story."