When arguing for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, many cite the "gay gene" theory or idea that those apart of the LGBT community were "born this way." It's been a pillar of LGBT advocates in their fight for civil liberties, such as same-sex marriage and equal access to health care. However, new research published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology finds this may not be the best way to fight against LGBT discrimination.

"We believe that the key to tackling pervasive homophobia in society is to better understand what molds a person’s beliefs about sexual orientation itself," Patrick Grzanka, an assistant professor of psychology from University of Tennessee, said to Medical Daily. He and his colleagues think negative attitudes might be the symptom — "beliefs are the problem."

In the study, Grzanka and his team — Joe Miles, another psychology professor at UT, and Katharine Zeiders from the University of Missouri — surveyed two groups of college students. The first group consisted of men and women, while the second group was only women. The researchers asked participants to answer questions based on a sexual orientation belief scale — a statistical scale Grzanka developed a few years back.

The beliefs were categorized into four groups: homogeneity, the belief that members of sexual orientation groups are more similar to each other than other groups; discreteness, when an individual thinks that sexual orientation groups are fundamentally different and nonoverlapping, including the idea gay men are completely different from straight men; informativeness, a belief that sexual identity is indicative of who someone is as a person; and naturalness, the belief that individuals cannot chose or change their identity; they're born with it.

The study found almost everyone believed in the gay gene theory, that sexual orientation is natural and not a choice. Yet, those who scored higher on homogeneity, discreteness, and informativeness on Grzanka's scale were more likely to be homophobic, even if they believed in the theory.

"These identities are more rooted in society and politics, so when you understand that a diversity of experiences make a person who they are it's much easier to conceptualize rather than define them as one dimensional," said Grzanka.

And even with race and culture, sexual orientation has massive differences around the world. There is no clear-cut definition of what it means to have a sexual identity — it's just one part of a person's self and doesn't provide a complete piece of who they are.

"So rather than continue only to promote these 'born this way' ideologies, we think by targeting these other beliefs, such as homogeneity and discreteness, we may be able to cultivate more positive attitudes toward sexual minorities," said Grzanka.

However, Grazanka does make the point that sexual minorities can and should define themselves as they want.

"But when the majority group reduces a marginalized group of people to one identity, that's when prejudice and discrimination arise."

Source: Grzanka, P, Miles J, Zeiders K. Beyond "Born This Way?" Reconsidering Sexual Orientation Beliefs and Attitudes. Journal of Counseling Psychology. 2015.