People who say they are repulsed by gay people are often repressing their own same-sex attraction, a new study has found.

A team of researchers in New York, Essex and California found evidence that homophobes are likely afraid of gay men and lesbians because they remind them of themselves.

The research will be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, reported.

“Individuals who identify as straight but in psychological tests show a strong attraction to the same sex may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves,” said Netta Weinstein, a lecturer at the University of Essex and the study's lead author.

“In many cases these are people who are at war with themselves and they are turning this internal conflict outward,” added Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester.

The researchers based their findings on a series of experiments on students in the United States and Germany.

They found that participants with authoritarian parents were less in touch with their implicit sexual orientation.

“In a predominately heterosexual society, 'know thyself' can be a challenge for many gay individuals. But in controlling and homophobic homes, embracing a minority sexual orientation can be terrifying,” explained Weinstein. “These individuals risk losing the love and approval of their parents if they admit to same sex attractions, so many people deny or repress that part of themselves.”

Pointing to the murders of Matthew Shepard and Lawrence King, Ryan noted that “Homophobia is not a laughing matter.”

“We laugh at or make fun of such blatant hypocrisy, but in a real way, these people may often themselves be victims of repression and experience exaggerated feelings of threat,” he said.