Periodic Reporting for period 1 - TheGayVoice (Beyond “Straight Talking”: The Consequences of Vocal Cues to Sexual Identity for Modern Prejudice)
Reporting period: 2016-10-01 to 2018-09-30
The second objective was to describe the targets’ perspective on auditory gaydar. Recently anecdotes about gay men being discriminated against because of their voices hit the headlines and became a topic of debate. We conducted a systematic survey of these experiences, finding that they were far more common among gay men than among lesbian women.
The third objective examined whether vocal cues of sexual orientation can trigger discrimination. In modern societies where discrimination laws that protect LGBT people exist, auditory gaydar may trigger subtle, and possibly unconscious, discrimination. We tested this in the workplace context, focusing on whether having a gay- or lesbian-sounding voice prompts discrimination against individuals applying for leadership positions. Experiments found a robust pattern of discrimination against women who sound lesbian. Finally, in our forth objective, we investigated whether being labelled with a homophobic slur can be interpreted differently depending on the guessed speakers’ sexual orientation.
Overall this project paints a richer intersectional picture of auditory gaydar in which target’s perspectives loom larger than they do in the literature on gaydar accuracy. Auditory gaydar is linked to prejudicial beliefs, and is a cue to discrimination and stigmatisation. It commonly impacts the lives of gay men and impacts lesbians in situation-specific ways. Auditory gaydar has more limited effects on the power to “reclaim” homophobic language than previous research has suggested. Auditory gaydar is a more robust prompt to modern homophobic prejudice than previously thought, and those who sound gay/lesbian, rather than identify as gay/lesbian are its targets.
The first objective of the project was to investigate people’s beliefs and experiences related to the voice as a cue of sexual orientation. First of all, we examined the types of beliefs individuals have about voice. We asked participants to report whether voice is an “immutable” (e.g. gay/lesbian individuals have a voice that is different from the straight one and they cannot change it), “intentional” cue (e.g. people can decide to communicate or conceal their sexual orientation through voice), and a “discrete” cue (e.g. it is possible to detect sexual orientation from vocal cues). Results showed that straight individuals believe voice is a more informative cue of men’s than women’s sexual orientation, and that discreteness beliefs were related to prejudice and stigma among heterosexual participants. However, such beliefs were not predictive of accuracy in judging sexual orientation of male and female speakers.
Second, we described targets’ experiences. 41% of the gay men in our study reported at least one episode where they had been identified as gay because of their voices. Most episodes were narrated as discriminatory experiences and elicited coping strategies among gay men such as trying to change their voices. Only 6% of the lesbian participants reported such kind of experience, and they explained that this never happened to them potentially because a “lesbian voice” stereotype does not exist.
The third objective directly examined discrimination in the hiring process. Across different studies, we found that gay- and lesbian-sounding speakers are at risk of being discriminated when applying for jobs, especially if those represent leadership positions. These discrimination was even stronger for lesbian-sounding women, indicating that voice conveying sexual orientation information highlights their double minority status (as women and as lesbians) that make them victims of stigmatisation.
In the last objective, we examined whether the perception of homophobic labels were perceived as “reclaimed language” if used by gay- and lesbian-sounding speakers. Results showed that homophobic labels referring to gay men being perceived as overall less offensive if used by gay- than straight-sounding speakers. But we did not replicate earlier effects with non-vocal stimuli showing that gay speakers who use reclaimed language were seen as more empowered. Language reclaiming is risky and partial.
Overall our research shows the importance of vocal cues in everyday interaction and their potential role in discrimination. The dissemination activities as well as the research findings drew us into dialogue about how this phenomenon affects people’s lives. The knowledge provided by this project is precious as it allows us to create interventions that get at the distinction between folk beliefs about gaydar and its actual effects. Psychologists working with LGBT clients could support individuals who are discriminated because of the sound of their voices by using our research findings. Campaigns against bullying could be informed when tackling stigmatization based on vocal cues and intervene. Unconscious bias training for employers could include our research findings to exemplify how implicit bias occurs even among people who are motivated to act fairly.