Social change and perceptions of norms, a virtuous circle for greater tolerance of sexual minorities

In Switzerland, sexual minorities are increasingly tolerated and recently passed laws are bringing equality closer. However, according to Dr Léïla Eisner's thesis, it is not yet certain whether this change in perception is actually being perceived.
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In Switzerland, sexual minorities are increasingly tolerated and recently passed laws are bringing equality closer. However, it is not yet certain whether this change in perception is actually being perceived. Dr. Leïla Eisner focused her thesis on the dynamics between the perception of tolerance towards sexual minorities and legal changes in this area and shows a virtuous circle.

In her work entitled "Social Change and Perceived Societal Norms: an Application to Sexual Minorities in Switzerland", Dr Leïla Eisner first shows that intolerance towards sexual minorities is overestimated. The social psychologist measured the participants' opinions and their estimation of the social norm on gay and lesbian parenting and marriage for all. In all three cases, the perceived norm was judged to be less favourable than personal opinion. Unfortunately, this discrepancy has an impact on minorities themselves and on those around them.

Dr Eisner then turned her attention to the effect these perceptions may have on social activism. In this context, the study conducted among 1220 persons belonging to a sexual minority through LGBTIQ associations allowed her to observe an ambivalent effect. On the one hand, the increase in anger at the injustices suffered by LGBTIQ people also increases the willingness to engage. On the other hand, the feeling that society remains intolerant demotivates collective action. For Léïla Eisner, activists must take this paradoxical effect into account.

Legal changes and perception of the standard - Which came first?

In her last study, legal changes were introduced into the equation. It appears that changes in the legal situation of sexual minorities help to adjust perception. The new laws thus provide a new system for this population. And according to Léïla Eisner, society as a whole benefits from this new system, as it changes not only the perception of sexual minorities, but also the perception of the norm itself.

The jury members congratulated Dr Eisner for the quality of her work, which shows the impact of beliefs on individual behaviour and, through a snowball effect, on public policy actions and decisions. In addition, Dr. Eisner's personal commitment to working with, and not just about, sexual minorities in the canton of Vaud was commended. Léïla Eisner concluded her defense by emphasizing the importance of raising awareness of the results obtained by university researchers to the general public. It is important to have this perspective as a researcher," she concluded. "It's a way to give something back to those who fund us."