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“I can hear it in the way they look at me...”: Gay and Lesbian University Students’ Lived Experiences with Blatant and Subtle Interpersonal Discrimination



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In certain contexts (e.g., university campuses), it seems that subtle, rather than blatant anti-gay/lesbian behaviours are more likely to be perpetrated by heterosexuals (Jewell & Morrison, 2010). However, the nature of subtle discrimination, including gay and lesbian persons’ experiences with these behaviours, is not well understood. As such, a hermeneutic phenomenological approach was used to investigate 10 gay and 10 lesbian Canadian university students’ lived experiences with blatant and subtle homonegative behaviours. Participants were recruited through an electronic university bulletin board and participated in open-ended interviews. Nineteen participants also kept a diary for 10 days, in which they submitted nightly entries describing any encounters with discrimination experienced that day. All data were analyzed using van Manen’s (1990) hermeneutic phenomenological approach and four lived existentials (i.e., lived other, space, body, and time) were used to guide the analysis. Findings indicated that participants were often more confident that discrimination had occurred when they were the target of blatant homonegative behaviour, while their experiences with subtle homonegativity were characterized by ambiguity and doubt as to whether they had been discriminated against. Consequently, participants spent more time ruminating about subtle anti-gay/lesbian behaviour, doubting their own interpretations of an event, and questioning how they should respond to these occurrences. Perhaps the most striking aspect of what it meant to be the target of homonegativity was the feeling of not belonging or being “other.” Participants’ experiences with homonegativity also suggested to them that their comfort, opinions, experiences, and identities were not as important or valid as those belonging to heterosexuals and they were not free to be themselves. Subtle homonegative behaviour was experienced as being especially invalidating, demeaning, and dehumanizing. Participants’ experiences in relation to each lived existential are discussed in detail, and a framework for categorizing various types of homonegative behaviour that may be perpetrated is provided.



homonegativity, discrimination, gay men, lesbian women, anti-gay/lesbian behaviour, phenomenology



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




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