Feature story

Measuring homophobia to improve the lives of all

08 March 2018

A new index to measure levels of homophobia that can show the impact that homophobia has on countries has been developed.

Homophobia—defined here as any negative attitude, belief or action towards people of differing sexual orientation or gender identity—has long been known to affect public health. Gay men and other men who have sex with men who face stigma are more likely to engage in sexual risk behaviours, are less likely to adhere to antiretroviral therapy and have lower HIV testing rates. Knowledge of levels of homophobia, especially in low- and middle-income countries, is scant, however.

The new index, published in the European Journal of Public Health, combines both data on institutional homophobia, such as laws, and social homophobia—relations between people and groups of people. Data for the index were taken from a wide range of sources, including from the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. More than 460 000 people were asked questions on their reactions to homosexuality through regionwide surveys that were also used as sources for the index.

The Homophobic Climate Index gives estimates for 158 countries. Western Europe was found to be the most inclusive region, followed by Latin America. Africa and the Middle East were the regions with the most homophobic countries, with the exceptions of South Africa and Cabo Verde, which were among the top 10 most inclusive low- and middle-income countries. Among low- and middle-income countries, Colombia was the most inclusive, and Sweden was the most inclusive of all countries.

From comparing the results of the index with other data, the researchers found that countries with higher levels of homophobia were the same countries that face higher levels of gender inequality, human rights abuses, low health expenditures and low life satisfaction. Increases in a country’s Homophobic Climate Index were found to be associated with a loss of male life expectancy and a lower economic output.

The index therefore shows the damaging effects that homophobia has on the lives and well-being of everyone in a county, not just gay men and other men who have sex with men. “This index provides communities with sound data that can help them in their advocacy for more inclusive societies,” said Erik Lamontagne, Senior Economist Adviser at UNAIDS.

With knowledge of the harmful effects of homophobia, countries will be in a much better position to respond to it and improve the lives of all.