An Examination of Aversive Heterosexism in the Courtroom: Effects of Defendants’ Sexual Orientation and Attractiveness, and Juror Gender on Legal Decision Making

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Abstract

The current study addressed whether defendant sexual orientation, defendant attractiveness, and juror gender influences juror decisions. Two competing theories were assessed as the primary mechanism for any potential negative bias sexual minorities may experience in the legal system: heterosexism and aversive heterosexism. Heterosexism is a form of bias toward gays/lesbians that appears more blatant in displays of discrimination, whereas aversive heterosexism appears as more of an implicit form of bias, only appearing when sexual orientation is paired with another perceived negative characteristic. Participants were randomly assigned to receive a trial transcript of either a heterosexual or gay/lesbian and attractive/unattractive defendant. Participants were asked to render a verdict, recommend a sentence, and provide guilt and culpability ratings. The theory of aversive heterosexism gained partial support from the results. When the defendant was gay/lesbian and coupled with other another negative attribute (unattractive) male jurors demonstrated bias.

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