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Polling data from the past 40 years shows a growing acceptance of gay and lesbian individuals in our society in the United States. In the last two posts, I've focused on polling regarding same-sex marriage. While looking for that data, I found a document compiling the results of many types of questions related to LGBT rights. Here's a graph of public opinion on some of the most frequently polled questions, on workplace discrimination, personal relationships, and the morality of same-sex sexual relations:

Discussion below.

It's nice to see that there appears to have been some baseline amount of decency in our society even in the 1980s, in that a majority has always supported equal rights in the workplace. (Are you listening, Washington DC? Hello? Hellooooo????) However, this support is actually greater in the abstract than for many individual professions.

We also see that through the 70s and 80s there were consistently 10-15% of the population who said that same-sex relations are Not At All Wrong. We might guess from this that if pollsters had asked more frequently about same-sex marriage back then, somewhere around 10-20% would have supported it, as these two datasets track each other fairly closely.

Support for the legality of "homosexual relations between consenting adults" has always steered right between the two other questions shown on the graph, and generally above support for same-sex marriage. Note, again, the appearance of The Great Panic of '03 following Lawrence v. Texas.

The interesting thing this graph shows us is the large number of people who support workplace equality but not legal sexual relations (love the sinner, hate the sin). There is an additional group who support both workplace equality and legal sexual relations, but find homosexuality to be wrong (what you do in your bedroom is none of my business, but don't expect me to approve of it). The question is, how do people move from one of these more restrictive categories of support to a more supportive stance?

One possible answer is by finding out a friend or relative is gay. Indeed, of those who say they have a close friend or family member who is gay or lesbian, 63% support same-sex marriage. Below, a graph showing the results of polling questions that basically ask, "Do you know any gay people?" (%Yes - %No is plotted, for consistency with the other graphs in this post.)

There's not too many polls, and there's a lot of scatter because of question wording variation, but we can see that whereas in the mid-80s the vast majority of respondents did not say they knew any gay people, by the late 90s the majority of people did know they had friends or relatives who were gay. Then, there may be a pause - the numbers in 2008 are only a little higher than in the late 90s. This would be approximately the same pattern we see in support for same-sex marriage, although far less detailed. Finally, starting in 2008, there is arguably an increase, coincident with the recent dramatic increase in support for marriage equality. The patterns are consistent with the idea that coming out of the closet, or increasing visibility, has resulted in increased support for LGBT civil rights.

So what happened around 2008 that would have precipitated an increased awareness among the public that their friends and family were gay? Perhaps it was the 18,000 marriages in California. (You may not have seen Cousin Jane since you were 8, or know anything about her life, but news of a wedding is something that will make its way through the family gossip network.) With the recent burst of states recognizing same-sex marriages, we may have set up a virtuous cycle where supporting LGBT rights leads to greater awareness that leads to greater support.

Note: only the longest data series (GSS) was included in the question on the morality of same-sex sexual relations because of the difference in format of the questions from one pollster to another. GSS uses a four-answer question, "What about sexual relations between two adults of the same sex - do you think it is always wrong, almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all?" The number plotted is the last minus the sum of the first two. This question format, not surprisingly, generates more negative responses than others.  

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Comment Preferences

  •  Facebook sez "kill all gays" is humor not hate. (7+ / 0-)

    So, just what must one say in order to constitute hate speech on Facebook?

  •  This was one of the themes of NN 13 (8+ / 0-)

    How we succeed in gaining civil rights is by telling our stories, because that's one of the ways that we increase (I'd even say maximize) our status (I was going to say "acceptance" but, damn it, it better be more than that) in public opinion. I was trying to say that last weekend in my diary that prompted the weekend meta, but I was too busy pushing back against a meme to make that point.

    Every other group that presented said they wanted to do what lesbians and gay men were doing, and it would probably work on all issues except the one that we know has been based on telling stories that the NRA blots out with massive spending and threatening our lawmakers.

    Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall

    by Dave in Northridge on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 02:15:11 PM PDT

  •  Nice visual representation of that arc. Y'know.... (4+ / 0-)

    ...the one that bends towards justice?

    "So, am I right or what?"

    by itzik shpitzik on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 02:21:57 PM PDT

  •  A couple other factors . . . (5+ / 0-)

    I wouldn't discount the impact of popular culture.  I think that tv shows like Will and Grace -- as much as they were criticized for their avoidance of overt gay male sexuality -- were also significant.  I recall more than a couple of conversations with people who didn't think they knew anyone gay, but were fans of the show.  This "pseudo-relationship" with fictional characters was still a "relationship" that changed minds and softened attitudes.  

    A second factor . . . AIDS and the building of the gay community around that.  Suddenly, we were people experiencing tragedy and those stories kept being told.

    Don't have data to make my case . . . just life experience.

    Think about the baby Jesus. Up in that tower, letting His hair down so that the three wise men could climb up and spin the dreidle and see if there's six more weeks of winter. -- Will and Grace

    by Rikon Snow on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 02:25:28 PM PDT

    •  I agree (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Rikon Snow, foresterbob

      and there's a snowball effect.  After a few celebrities bravely came out when it was taboo, it became easier for more and more to do the same.  And as portrayals of LGB (and more recently, T) people in popular culture become unremarkable, the ones in real life seem less "Other."

      I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

      by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 02:39:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We have made so much progress (5+ / 0-)

    Its taken a lot of time, and literally a lot of lives. We can never get complacent. Bigotry and hatred and ignorance still exist and probably always will. Heck, it even exists on this blog and crops its ugly head up time to time. We can never give up.

    KOS: "Mocking partisans focusing on elections? Even less reason to be on Daily Kos."

    by fcvaguy on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 02:35:40 PM PDT

  •  Josh Marshall says it well (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There is one area he doesn't touch on. The science has advanced over the same period of time. We now know that sexuality isn't a life style choice and no one is going to pray away the gay.

    I'm a Vietnam Era vet. I'm also an Erma Bombeck Era vet. When cussing me out and calling me names please indicate which vet you would like to respond to your world changing thoughts.

    by Just Bob on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 02:51:20 PM PDT

  •  graph needs some tweaking (0+ / 0-)

    The top graph appears to be misleading.   For the first two questions, a "yes" is pro equality, but for the third question, "no" indicates pro equality.  I know the graph is labeled correctly and after a second of reading it makes sense, but I would still change it for increased clarity.  As it is, it looks like there's an increase in "yes, gays and lesbians should have equal rights in job opportunities," and an increase in "yes, gay and lesbian relations should be legal."  And then also looks like there's been an increase in "yes, same-sex relationships are wrong."  

    The paraphrased questions should be either:
    -Should gays and lesbians have equal rights in job opportunities? Yes for equality
    -Do you think gay or lesbian relations should be legal?  Yes for equality
    -Are same same-sex sexual relations ok?  Yes for equality

    Or flip them, which would mean the chart would be flipped to show decreasing prejudice:
    -Should gays and lesbians be excluded from equal job protection? No for equality
    -Do you think gay or lesbian relations should be illegal? No for equality
    -Are same-sex sexual relations wrong? No for equality

  •  Back in the 1980's (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Basically, transitional between the 1970's and the 1990's, even though this was the age of Ronald Reagan. It was also the age of AIDS. Many gay men did get more cautious about sex.
    Attitudes have always varied in different parts of the country and different segments of the population. Certainly among different religious groups.
    I have watched elections from Houston. Mayor Fred Hofheinz in the 1970's was subject of some vicious gossip and retired after 2 2-year terms. He had been elected by a coalition of minorities. He was gay-friendly but not gay. Kathy Whitmire had a runoff in 1981 that excluded the incumbent. She was viciously attacked for having glbt support, but won. She served 10 years and was finally defeated, for other reasons.

    Censorship is rogue government.

    by scott5js on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 03:20:34 PM PDT

  •  Still, I just got fired cuz Gay (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hamjudo, sfbaytransplant, kimoconnor

    and it deserves its own diary but the wound is still very raw. I started a new job in Northern Wisconsin and as soon as the employer got my socsec# within a day I was banned from ever returning to the property.

    I had to move 250 miles to take this job, and as rentals as sparse I ended up buying my first home. After making one mortgage payment and feeling like I had finally touched on the American Dream, everything has been thrown to hell.

    After only 3 days on the job no less.

    There are 3 things the employer might have found out about me but only 1 factor would be enough to put The Fear in them. Its not my 25-year old felony drug sales conviction, and its probably not my orientation, as I come across more as a DeadHead than a Drag Queen. But Factor #3 is my HIV status - in a workshop full of sharp tools, sooner or later there will be blood and I suspect this was what did me in.

    I have filed a discrimination complaint with the State of WI but in the meantime I am 250 miles from friends, and no "real" income to pay off my brand-spanking new 30 year mortgage.

    Mortgage? more like prison sentence now....

    -8.25, -7.13 "Well, on second thought, let's not go to Camelot -- it is a silly place." "Right"

    by leathersmith on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 03:41:53 PM PDT

  •  recent monumental changes in our (0+ / 0-)

    collective attitue toward same-sex relationships makes me remember, fondly, a teacher i had in junior high school in the west-of-denver metro area in the early-middle 1960s.

    she lived openly with her partner, in a home they owned together in a solidly middle-class, suburban neighborhood. she was very popular with students, including those who did not actually take her elective specialty classes. she frequently invited students, parents, and other teachers to their home for school-related get-togethers. her house was also a relatively frequent target for tee-pee attacks. when the attackers were discovered in the act, as we... er... they often were, they were invited in for soft drinks or hot chocolate.

    i think about and wonder at her and her partner's courage. surely they suffered malicious gossip and snide comments. the area in those days was pretty conservative (as it still is, i think), though certainly not of the rabid-idiot stripe that has become characteristic of conservatives of late. some of our parents and some of her neighbors must have suspected the truth about their relationship and disapproved. but she made no apparent effort to present herself publicly as other than a fine, junior-high-school teacher who had a "house mate."

    she was, in retrospect, an even better teacher than i could understand at the time.

    The NRA is a terrorist organization.

    by one you can live with on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 08:26:14 AM PDT

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