Purpose: Homophobic attitudes and resulting bullying have been linked to school and health problems for sexual minority youth, including suicide. While school-based policy and curricular interventions to reduce homophobia have been suggested, only correlational evidence has been published to date. This quasi-experimental longitudinal study examined the effects on homophobic attitudes in an urban high school in Vancouver, Canada after the theatre class decided to perform “The Laramie Project” play, with supportive lessons integrated through fine arts, humanities, sciences, and mathematics courses. The lessons and related assignments focused on respect and tolerance for individual differences and the implications of persecution arising from prejudice such as homophobic attitudes.
Methods: Two-year repeated measures study among students in grades 8 to 12 (n = 544, 57% female); a survey at baseline (November, 2004), 1 year later (1 month prior to the performance), and repeated again 1 year later (November, 2006), assessed homophobic attitudes among boys and girls using a 4-item measure adapted for adolescents from the Index of Homophobia. Analyses included t-tests comparing mean homophobia scores by gender, and by newcomer (to the school) status; gender-X-time repeated-measure ANOVAs, with paired t-test follow-up, compared scores over time. With incoming students in grade 8, student transfers in other grades, and attrition from graduation, only 68 students had data for all 3 waves, so changes over time primarily compared years 1-2, and 2-3 to maximize observation points.
Results: Boys scored significantly higher on homophobia than girls in all three years (p < .001); newcomers at Year 2 had higher scores than those who had attended the school for one or more years (t = −2.65, p = .008), as did those at Year 3 (t = −3.328, p = .001). The homophobia scores of the 68 students with data for all 3 waves dropped significantly each year, F(2,66) = 16.64, from 2.55 to 1.99. Girls had a stronger early response to the intervention (d = .38), although homophobia scores declined from Year 1 to Year 2 for both genders (boys: 2.76 to 2.65; girls: 2.33 to 2.06, F(1, 217) = 11.57, p = .001). At Year 3, homophobia scores declined further for boys but not girls (boys: 2.59 to 2.25, t = 2.99, p = .004; girls: 2.12 to 2.01, t = 1.48, p = .14). The medium effect size for boys (d = .56) at the Year 3 post-test, 11 months after intervention, is noteworthy.
Conclusions: A school-wide anti-homophobia curriculum and performance of The Laramie Project provided measurable, sustained reductions in homophobic attitudes among students, even a year later, although girls attitudes changed sooner than boys. Interventions and programs to reduce stigma for sexual minority students should be more widely tested, and outcomes for all students documented.