GLAAD survey shows majority of Americans want equality for GLBT people

A new survey conducted in the wake of the passage of California's Proposition 8 reveals that 75 percent of Americans support marriage, adoption and inclusive hate-crime laws for GLBT people.

The Pulse of Equality survey was commissioned by The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and conducted by Harris Interactive. Results showed that three quarters of U.S. adults (75%) favor either marriage or domestic partnerships/civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Only about two in 10 (22%) respondents said gay and lesbian couples should not have legally recognized marriages or unions.

The survey showed a nearly even divide among respondents on the specific issue of same-sex marriage with 47 percent favoring and 49 percent opposing its legalization. Gay and lesbian couples are able to marry in Connecticut and Massachusetts and comprehensive civil union or domestic partnership laws exist in only five other states and the District of Columbia.

The survey showed a rapid and significant shift in favor toward GLBT people. Nearly 20 percent of respondents said that their feelings about gay and lesbian people have become more favorable during the past 5 years. According to GLAAD President Neil G. Giuliano, the shift is enormous in terms of the large body of research on attitudinal shifts in public opinion.

"When I was an elected official, if someone told me I could move 19 percent of people over five years, I would be amazed," Giuliano said.

There were several factors that contributed to this shift, including: knowing someone who is gay or lesbian (79%), the fact that laws have been passed that protect gay and lesbian people (50%), opinions of family or friends (45%) and religious leaders (21%), news coverage of gay and lesbian issues (41%), and seeing gay or lesbian characters on television (34%) and in movies (29%).

The survey showed that nearly three out of four respondents (73%) personally know or work with a gay or transgender person, and half of those know five or more gay or transgender people. Knowing someone who is gay or lesbian was the most significant factor contributing to the favorable shift.

"Knowing that two out of ten Americans are feeling more favorable toward us is a very good sign," Giuliano said. "It is encouraging that by just being out that makes a difference."

Giuliano said there currently is no particular religious leader in the GLBT civil rights movement whose voice might compare to that of Dr. Martin Luther King’s, but there are many religious leaders on the horizon who are influencing this rapid shift in public opinion.

"We had many religious leaders, but certainly the visibility of Gene Robinson has been a significant voice within the religious community," Giuliano said. "There have been more and more local religious leaders who have been willing to be with us and stand with us for equality."

News coverage and characters on television and in movies have also contributed to the massive shift in public opinion. Giuliano said the survey proved what many GLBT people have intuited for years - the media does influence peoples' perceptions and people’s beliefs.

 "Certianly in the last five years you’ve had Desperate Housewives, Brothers and Sisters, and Ugly Betty, and in film, Brokeback Mountain," Giuliano said. "What those pop culture activities do is cause reason for conversation, and when people have conversations it leads to people being more supportive. So, it is a subtle but important opportunity that we have to live open lives."

Rich Ferraro, Director of Public Relations for GLAAD, said, "The survey shows that greater acceptance is tied to conversations with family and friends and what people see in news and entertainment media. But most importantly, it's tied to personally knowing someone who's gay or lesbian."

The survey also shows that more than half of respondents support gay- and transgender-inclusive hate-crimes laws and non-discrimination laws, believe that openly gay service members should be allowed to serve in the armed forces, and oppose laws that would ban adoption by qualified gay and lesbian couples.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adults favor allowing openly gay military personnel to serve in the armed forces. The current "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law bans military service by openly gay citizens.

According to the survey, about six in 10 (63%) U.S. adults favor expanding hate crime laws to cover gay and transgender people. African Americans tend to be the largest segment in this group. Hate crimes laws cover gay and transgender people in 11 states and the District of Columbia, and an additional 20 states' laws cover sexual orientation but not gender identity.

The survey showed a slight majority of U.S. adults (51%) favor protecting gay and transgender people under existing laws that prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Existing non-discrimination laws cover gay and transgender people in only 12 states and the District of Columbia, and eight other states' laws cover sexual orientation but not gender identity.

Nearly seven out of 10 U.S. respondents (69%) oppose laws that would ban qualified gay and lesbian couples from adopting children. In several states, gay and lesbian couples are banned from adopting.

"The visibility of the past several years, and the intense conversations of the past few weeks, seem to have galvanized a majority of Americans' support of equality for gay and transgender Americans," Giuliano said. "While this expression of support is encouraging, particularly after the setbacks we experienced on Election Day, it's not something we can rest on. There is a lot of work to be done. We must all do what we can to sustain and expand this emerging wave of grassroots activism so that it leads to laws and policies that extend full equality under the law to all Americans – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight."

Across the GLBT-related policy proposals, there were statistically significant differences in support with respect to age, gender, race/ethnicity and religion. People under 65, and especially those 18-34, were more supportive than people over 65. Women were generally more supportive than men, with women age 18-34 often being more supportive than other segments.

Among African American respondents, 45 percent favored and 52 percent opposed same-sex marriage.

Hispanics were more supportive than Whites and African-Americans in showing strong support for allowing openly gay military personnel to serve in the armed forces. African Americans were more strongly supportive than Whites and Hispanics of expanding existing hate crimes laws to cover gay and transgender people.

Mainline Christians (a category that includes, among other denominations, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians) and Catholics were more supportive than Evangelical Christians on a variety of issues.

Giuliano suggested that one of the crucial issues facing GLBT people is that many Americans are not aware of the injustices that they face.

"Majorities of Americans clearly favor equality for gay and transgender people," Giuliano said, "But we've seen that too many still mistakenly believe that the intolerance and injustices we face are things of the past. So it's more vital than ever that we tell our stories, illustrate the injustices we face, and remind people of the common ground we share."

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