Published: August 30, 2019

While there has been an unprecedented rise in the socio-legal acceptance of homosexuality across Western countries, it is not yet a global phenomenon.

The ‘gap’ in attitudes towards homosexuality between Western and non-Western countries is the focus of a new collaborative study by researchers from The University of Queensland and the University of the West Indies. This research, currently in its preliminary stages, will use data from over 80 countries to explore differences in attitudes towards homosexuality in Western and non-Western countries, and evaluate explanations for these differences.

The study aims to build on previous research by Dr Mahalia Jackman, of the Department of Economics at the University of the West Indies in Barbados, which examined same-sex laws in Commonwealth Caribbean states. Her research found that 9 of these 12 states still penalise same-sex sexual behaviour, in laws described as “relics of British imperialism”. She said while these laws are largely unenforced, “that does not mean they are harmless”.

Dr Jackman recently spent four weeks visiting The University of Queensland’s Institute for Social Science Research to collaborate with Life Course Centre researcher Dr Francisco Perales, whose research interests include social disadvantage by sexual orientation. “Mahalia’s research on the Caribbean and my work on Australia have produced very different findings, so we decided that together we could take a broader global view of public support for same-sex rights,” Dr Perales said. Their collaborative study will provide an international analysis of same-sex attitudes, with a focus on the divide between the ‘West’ and the ‘Rest’. “While there is a narrative that acceptance of gays and lesbians is on the rise throughout the world, when you look at the data it is not a global phenomenon,” Dr Jackman said. She said broad acceptance of homosexuality has been recorded in much of Western Europe and North America, the UK and Australia. However, there are still 68 UN member states – predominantly in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Oceania – that still penalise same-sex sexual behaviour.

This new study aims to address the sparse body of research that explicitly focuses on sexual prejudice outside of Western countries. Dr Jackman’s previous research on Caribbean states found only a small percentage of differences in attitudes to homosexuality could be explained by differences in individual characteristics, such as age, education and gender. She said these results raised questions about the universality of Western theories on sexual prejudice, and pointed to the importance of local context. The new international study will expand on this by investigating the influence of context, including a country’s economic, religious and democratic context, in seeking to explain the global divide in attitudes towards homosexuality.


Dr Francisco Perales and Dr Mahalia Jackman on her visit to Queensland.