Over the last 40 years, attitudes regarding the LGTBQ+ community have shifted exponentially in the American public perspective. Opinions regarding the origin of non-traditional sexuality and the roles that such relationships play in society, such as support for same-sex marriage and professional inclusion, are becoming more accepting. The shift in opinion has occurred in large due to activism from and on behalf of the LGTBQ+ community, demonstrating and educating the public on sexual tolerance, focusing on more positive media coverage and expressing opinions, as well as making a push for equality from a policy perspective.
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In an article by Maya Salam in the New York Times, the author presents statistics from opinion polls comparing 1977 to the modern day in regard to American public attitudes on LGTBQ+ rights. One of the biggest and arguably most important statistics is the number of people that believe that people are born gay rather than adopting it as some sort of façade or sexual preference as many homophobic groups believe.
In 1977, just 13% believed that one is born gay, while today, the number is 49%. In 1977, only 27% supported same-sex marriage, with an even 43-43% split on whether non-traditional sex should be legal at all. Today, 63% support same-sex marriage, and 83% maintain that non-traditional intimate relationships should be legal. Finally, in 1977, 14% believed that gay couples should be allowed to adopt, and 56% thought they should have equal employment opportunities, including clergy, doctors, and teachers. In the modern-day, there is 75% support for adoption, and 93% believe in equal access to jobs for LGBTQ+ individuals (Salam, 2019).
Despite significant political and social gains for the LGBTQ+ community in the United States, it often faces tremendous pushback, often at the state and local levels in geographical locations that are known for highly conservative or religious worldviews. Even at the federal level, with the Trump administration, there have been rollbacks for LGBTQ+ rights in various aspects, such as transgenders allowing to serve in the military.
Furthermore, there are numerous loopholes and vulnerabilities in federal and state law which do not adequately offer explicit protections for such individuals lacking a clear recourse in cases of discrimination. The primary claim by anti-LGBTQ individuals and lawmakers is that supporting such equality and sexual tolerance is a violation of their religious and moral beliefs (Thoreson, 2018).
Since freedom of religion is a fundamental, almost revered Constitutional right in the United States, it is used to blockade any efforts by LGBTQ activism. Therefore, it is common for lawmakers, especially in Republican majorities, to pursue legislation that creates religious examinations, essentially legally allowing for discrimination based on the grounds of religious or moral beliefs, which is being challenged in an evenly divided Supreme Court currently alongside the Obama era legislation of allowing same-sex marriage (McKelvey, 2019).
The original article by Salam (2019) demonstrates partly the status quo of the issue regarding LGBTQ+ acceptance today. However, it is important to consider not only statistics of opinion polls but real-world anecdotal evidence. Nevertheless, numerous polls from all sources demonstrate almost an unprecedented flip of opinion, even from two decades ago. This amazes both sociologists and policymakers since historically, there has never been an issue where attitudes have shifted so rapidly. At this point in time, support for same-sex marriage and relationships has increased among all demographics, generations, partisan lines, and even religious faiths. Evangelical Christians, which have historically been adamantly opposed to LGBTQ+ recognition, saw an increase of support from 11% to 29% in the last 15 years (Schmidt, 2019).
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The LGBTQ+ community holds a unique position in comparison to other minorities and issues over the years, in the fact that it affects everyone; there are gay individuals, openly or not, in every socioeconomic and racial group. Sexuality is a dimension that is not segregated. As a result of this connection, known as the contact hypothesis, people knowing personally LGBTQ individuals have grown to become more accepting and overcoming cognitive dissonance.
In combination with popular media, including more LGBTQ figures and policy changes, not only are explicit attitudes being affected where people are now feeling pressure to publicly support the issue but implicit attitudes as well when they actually believe in it. There is growing political support, even from Republicans, whose children are gay. Furthermore, when the U.S. Supreme Court officially ruled that same-sex marriage bans were unconstitutional, resulting in same-sex marriage policies coming into place in various states, it was a societal tipping point since the institution of marriage, one of the highest regarded aspects, put a “stamp of legitimacy” on same-sex couples around the country (Schmidt, 2019).
Attitudes regarding sexual tolerance and the LGBTQ+ community have shifted in recent decades towards being more inclusive and supportive. This occurred due to greater public activism, exposure, education, and understanding. However, discrimination still remains at some levels, and there are legal challenges to active policy attempts to establish protections for LGBTQ+ individuals. It is a matter of politics and ideology, which will continue to exist, but current trends have shown significant progress for acceptance of homosexual individuals and a growing understanding of support for other groups such as transgenders. While it is not easy, especially for those facing discrimination and abuse, social patterns show that with time, the American public is ultimately supportive of change and equality.
McKelvey, T. (2019). US top court divided as it ponders LGBT rights. Web.
Salam, M. (2019). Americans’ shifting attitude on gay rights. The New York Times. Web.
Schmidt, S. (2019). Americans’ views flipped on gay rights. How did minds change so quickly? The Washington Post. Web.
Thoreson, R. (2018). “All we want is equality” religious exemptions and discrimination against LGBT People in the United States. Web.