New Connections Research Spotlight: Amy Adamczyk
New Connections is excited to launch our new website series— Research Spotlight! The Research Spotlight highlights the latest achievements of our growing network of grantees. We will feature their recent publications, articles, and projects that address how to build a Culture of Health in communities across the U.S. In this spotlight, Dr. Amy Adamczyk discusses her new book about cross-national public opinions about homosexuality. Dr. Adamczyk is a professor of sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Programs of Doctoral Study in Sociology and Criminal Justice at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology from the Pennsylvania State University. She holds MA degrees from the University of Chicago and the Graduate Center/ Queens College. Dr. Adamczyk is a Cohort 4 New Connections Grantee.
Could you share a summary of the book?
In this book, I try to explain why cross-national public opinion about homosexuality varies across the globe. What people find acceptable about LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus) relationships and identities and sex-related behaviors differs substantially, not just in public opinion, but in legal codes and policies. In the United States, same-sex marriage is legal, and we have a lot of protections against discrimination, but things are very different in other countries. In a country like Uganda, you can be imprisoned for 10 years for being in a same-sex sexual relationship, and public opinion about homosexuality in Uganda is very negative; well over 90% of people say that it is never acceptable. And so, I wanted to examine why there are these huge differences across the globe in how people see this issue.
The book is grounded in mixed methods, so there are some quantitative, heavy statistics in there, including hierarchical linear modeling, so we can shift out the individual factors like gender and personal religious beliefs from macro-level country effects, like living in a democracy, or living in a rich country. I found that there are primarily three things that shape differences across nations in terms of how people perceive homosexuality: economic development (rich countries tend to be more tolerant), democracy (more democratic nations tend to be more supportive), and religious environment, (and that includes whether the nation is dominated by Islam, or in the United States’ case, Christianity, and it also includes overall levels of religious belief). So, if you live in a country where everyone says that religion is super important, the odds are, in general, people are going to be more opposed to homosexuality. These are effects that influence individual views over and above their own personal characteristics, like, gender, or how rich or educated they are, or how they see religion. So, if you take someone who is not very religious and relocate them to Saudi Arabia, we would expect that over time they’re going to become more opposed to homosexuality, even though they don’t personally believe that religion is important.
What motivated you to write the book?
I wrote the book when I felt like I had something to say. I’ve worked in this area for some time. A handful of years ago, I wrote an article that ended up becoming my most referenced study. I remember seeing all of those citations and thinking, “wow, people are really interested in this, and I think I have something more to say about it. I think I can help explain this and not only might academics be interested, but also the public.” I also thought policy-makers and government officials might be interested, especially as they’re starting to consider same-sex legislation and other similar policies.
What motivates you to do the work that you do?
I was always curious about the effects of religion. Religion can have great health-related consequences for individuals. Religion can keep people connected and contribute to a longer life through social and health-related support and lifestyle practices. But it can also do terrible things, like make people feel really awful about getting an abortion, or it can be so hard on the mental health of LGBTQ+ individuals, who are already dealing with a lot. I think a lot of people are passionate about these issues, and as an academic I can break it down and examine what we can do to create an inclusive environment.
Who should read your book and why?
Everybody! Academics who are interested in deviance, religion, and possibly LGBTQ+ health-related issues should definitely take a look, but it doesn’t stop there. I think that there’s a real audience for public policy makers, government officials, and to some extent newspaper reporters, who have to try to contextualize and make sense of these very divergent views across nations. I think to some extent religious leaders will be interested, so they can understand where people are coming from, especially the LGBTQ+ community. And the general public, if they’re curious about why opinions vary so much, LGBTQ+ issues are a big concern these days.
What was your favorite thing about writing your book?
I am not a book writer. I’ve made my career off publishing lots of articles, and when you write those articles, you are really hemmed in. You are limited in the number of words you can use, and your audience is academic, so every statement you make, you’ve really got to back up—not that there’s anything wrong with that—but it really forces you into a certain way of thinking and a certain way of using other peoples’ research. But with the book, I could really expand things. So, it was fun to just write for pages and pages and not worry about the types of limitations that come with writing journal articles. My favorite thing was the writing process, and being able to speak in a way I’m not normally able.
Are there any next steps for this work?
For this work, there is a lot of relevance for the mental health of LGBTQ+s. I’m doing more work in this area now, so that once you know how friendly or unfriendly an environment is, you can determine how the environment affects the mental health of LGBTQ+s. I think there is much more work that can be done in the area on mental health.
How does this work relate to a Culture of Health?
I think that this book is very much focused on contextual effects, meaning regardless of how you think about a particular thing or your status in society, you are affected by the larger culture. And I think that overlaps well with RWJF’s focus on the Culture of Health—most clearly with regards to LGBTQ+s who have to live in these cultures. When people are very opposed to homosexuality, they will do a lot of things to affect the health outcomes and ability of LGBTQ+s to pursue healthy behaviors and get into systems where they can make healthier choices and receive the resources they need. And certainly, communities where homosexuality is discouraged will have fewer resources for LGBTQ+s. On top of that, those communities may be more discriminatory, and LGBTQ+s will have to think about whether they’re going to reveal their identity to other people, and what the consequences of that might be. From a mental and physical health perspective, that could be really problematic.
To learn more about this book and Dr. Adamczyk’s work, check out her piece in The Conversation.