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Lay (Mis)Perceptions of Sexual Harassment toward Transgender, Lesbian, and Gay Employees


LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identified) employees commonly experience sexual harassment at work. The perceptions of lay observers of this harassment, such as their coworkers and managers, likely influence beliefs about appropriate individual and organizational responses to harassment. Thus, we conducted an experiment (n = 279 U.S. college students) to examine (a) whether four motivations (power, prejudice, gender policing, and sexual attraction) were perceived to underlie harassment toward LGT individuals; (b) how these motivations were related to perceived acceptability of the harassment; and (c) and how acceptability was related to recommended responses to the harassment. We found that compared to lesbian, gay, or cisgender heterosexual targets, participants perceived harassment toward transgender targets as less acceptable when they viewed it as more motivated by power and prejudice and less by attraction. Compared to male targets, participants perceived sexual harassment toward female targets as less acceptable when they viewed it as more motivated by prejudice. Finally, perceiving the harassment as less acceptable was associated with recommending that the target report the harassment. These results suggest that harassment targeting men and gay and lesbian employees may be minimized, underlining the need for organizations to protect against employees’ mistreatment and challenge beliefs about sexual harassment motivations and acceptability.

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Portions of this manuscript were completed while NiCole T. Buchanan was on sabbatical leave as a Senior Visiting Scholar with the University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender and the Department of Psychology.

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Correspondence to Sheila T. Brassel.

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All APA standards for the treatment of participants were followed when conducting the research upon which this manuscript is based (including informed consent). Additionally, this manuscript has not been published elsewhere in whole or in part. The authors have no known conflicts of interest.

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Brassel, S.T., Settles, I.H. & Buchanan, N.T. Lay (Mis)Perceptions of Sexual Harassment toward Transgender, Lesbian, and Gay Employees. Sex Roles 80, 76–90 (2019).

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  • LGBTQ employees
  • Sexual harassment motivations
  • Sexual harassment perceptions
  • Organizational responses to harassment
  • Harassment intervention
  • Harassment policy