July 26, 2019

Americans' Acceptance Of LGBTQ People Is In Decline—Here's How You Can Help

Even though more and more young people are identifying as LGBTQ, the percentage of 18- to 34-year-old allies of the LGBTQ community has shrunk at an alarming rate since 2016.
Written by
Caitlin Mohney
Published on
July 26, 2019
Updated on
What's changed?
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While young people are identifying as LGBTQ in higher rates than ever before, the percentage of 18- to 34-year-olds who consider themselves allies of LGBTQ individuals and issues has declined significantly since 2016.

For the last five years, GLAAD has partnered with The Harris Poll to conduct the Accelerating Acceptance Index, which uses a sample of about 2,000 non-LGBTQ adults to measure American attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals and issues. 

The survey evaluates the percentage of non-LGBTQ adults reporting being ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ uncomfortable with LGBTQ people across seven scenarios:

  • Learning a family member is LGBTQ 
  • Learning a doctor is LGBTQ
  • Having LGBTQ members in a place of worship
  • Seeing an LGBTQ coworker’s wedding picture
  • Having a child in a class with an LGBTQ teacher
  • Seeing a same-sex couple holding hands
  • Learning a child had a lesson on LGBTQ history in school

Until 2017, the surveys showed Americans were increasingly more comfortable with the LGBTQ community and more supportive of LGBTQ issues. Last year’s survey, however, illustrated a sharp drop in the percentage of non-LGBTQ young people aged 18-34 who identified as allies of LGBTQ individuals and issues. 

Why are we seeing less support of the LGBTQ community?

“2017 brought heightened rhetoric toward marginalized communities to the forefront of American culture,” stated president and CEO of GLAAD, Sarah Kate Ellis, “Policies and headlines ran that were anti-LGBTQ including the president’s proposed ban on transgender people entering the U.S. military, confirmation of a Supreme Court justice opposed to marriage equality, and the passage of a state law in Mississippi which allows businesses to legally deny service to LGBTQ families.” 

These stark shifts in the national conversation surrounding LGBTQ communities seemed to give permission for heterosexists to display behavior they felt was acceptable, given the change in the political climate. 

The survey released in 2019 found a similar trend among millennials, with the percentage of allies dropping by 18 points since 2016. Among men, the contrast is even more stark, with the percentage of allies dropping from 63 percent in 2016 to 35 percent in 2018. Without focusing on millennials and viewing the survey as a whole, this year’s data demonstrates stabilization of comfort-levels among non-LGBTQ adults across all seven situations. 

“We typically see in our surveys that younger Americans can be counted on to advocate for issues like gender equality, immigration and climate change,” said John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll. “So it is surprising to see a notable erosion of acceptance for the LGBTQ community, which counters many of the assumptions we make about their values and beliefs. In this toxic age, tolerance –– even among youth –– now seems to be parsed out. Nothing today should be taken for granted.” 

This contrast is paired with an increase in LGBTQ people reporting discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, hate crime statistics for 2017 (the most recent data available), there has been a five percent increase from the previous year in reported hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation bias.

A bright spot in this year’s survey shows 80 percent of non-LGBTQ Americans support equal rights for the LGBTQ community. This number has remained stable since 2016 and, according to this year’s survey, “should be seen as validation of the desire to end discrimination against LGBTQ people and as a platform for rekindling comfortability and acceptance.”

“Closing the gap to full acceptance of LGBTQ people will not come from legislation on judicial decisions alone, but from creating a culture where LGBTQ people are embraced and respected,” stated Ellis in response to the 2019 survey, “This year’s results demonstrate an urgent need for GLAAD to reach younger Americans with stories and campaigns that build acceptance.”

Here’s how you can help

Building acceptance can happen in small, everyday interactions as well. By simply voicing and showing your support, you can be a role model for others. 
But if you aren’t sure where to start, there are many resources on how to be a better LGBTQ ally. 

Learn to be an LGBTQ ally and friend.

The Human Right’s Campaign outlines the first steps you can take to support the LGBTQ community. It all starts with being honest with yourself and others that you may not be fully informed about the subject matter — and that’s OK. You’re here to learn and be open-minded. Joining your local PFLAG chapter can help inform you of the issues. 

You can also use GLAAD’s guide to learn how to support and care for our LGBTQ friends and community. This includes not assuming all of your friends, acquaintances, and co-workers are straight, and never, ever making jokes at the expense of someone’s identity. 

Know what to say if a friend comes out to you. 

Use O.school’s guide to navigate what to do if a friend comes out to you. There are questions you can ask, such as “How can I support you?” or “What pronouns and name should I use for you?”

Be an ally to students.

If you work at a school or know someone who does (or attends one), GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit is a great way to provide guidance on how to educate students about the LGBTQ community, as well as making sure the correct policies are in place that protect students who identify as LGBTQ.

Create an inclusive workspace and environment.

Stonewall’s Stand Up as an Ally guide offers everything from legal advice to teaching folks how to make their workspace and environment a more inviting place for all.

From being an open-minded good listener, to ensuring you aren’t making assumptions about your friends’ and coworkers’ sexual orientation, to challenging your own prejudices and biases, there are many ways to consciously and actively show your support. Doing all these things can hopefully help raise our country’s support for the LGBTQ community overall.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Caitlin Mohney is a freelance writer, educator, and yoga instructor on a mission to strengthen the mind/body connection.

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