Public support of the rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBT) people in the United States has increased significantly and rapidly over the last three decades. This report presents the national trends on public opinion on LGBT rights by aggregating the results from over 325 surveys from 1977 to 2014. It also explores why support has increased so rapidly.
The issues covered in this brief include the national polling trends on:
- General attitudes toward LGBT people
- Public support for lesbians and gay men has doubled in the past three decades, more so than for any other group surveyed over the same time period.
- While it is generally assumed that this shift is largely because younger supportive generations are replacing less supportive older ones, this analysis in fact shows that a broader cultural shift impacts people of all ages. In particular, since the mid1990s, the positive impact on attitudes from increased LGBT visibility from more LGBT people being out, the growing number of LGBT characters on television, and the national discussion of, and policy advances toward, marriages equality has appeared rapidly to increase support among people of all ages.
- While very few surveys have asked about support for transgender people, from the two surveys that have, there is a 40% increase in support between 2005 and 2011. The reported feelings the public has toward transgender people remains less supportive, or comfortable than reported feelings toward lesbians and gay men.
- While few surveys have independently asked about attitudes regarding bisexual people, the two surveys that have demonstrate more support for bisexual women than men, with the majority reporting more favorable than unfavorable feelings towards “bisexual people” in 2011,
- Sodomy laws
- While support for the legality of same-sex sexual relations decreased from the beginning of the Reagan Administration to the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold such laws in 1986, support doubled from then to the present day–with only one-third of Americans supporting legality at the time of Bowers v. Hardwick and two-thirds supporting today.
- However, there was a temporary dip in support just after the Supreme Court declared the remaining sodomy laws unconstitutional in 2003. That 7.6% dip was erased within 3 years.
- Marriage equality
- While support for marriage equality remained constant from the 1980s to the early 2000s, it has increased rapidly since then. Public support has more than doubled in this time period.
- Since opinions have changed at an accelerated rate, it is most likely the case that people are changing their minds on the issue as opposed to generational change. When states introduce marriage equality, it has the tendency to further encourage greater support among residents of that state.
- Support for marriage equality continues to accelerate, and it is unlikely that this acceleration is tapering off.
- Parenting rights
- A majority of the public supports adoption rights for samesex couples and support has more than doubled since 1992. Since 2008, the majority has supported these rights and currently stands around 63 percent.
- While public support for adoption rights for samesex couples has exceeded that of marriage equality, the policy environment in many states remains uncertain. For example, it is uncertain in twentynine states whether LGBT parents can have access to secondparent adoption.
- Nondiscrimination policies
- The public perceives that LGBT people face a lot of discrimination. More than twice the amount of people report that lesbians and gay men face a lot of discrimination from 30 percent in 1978 to 68 percent in 2013. Additionally, 71 percent of the public believes that transgender people face a lot of discrimination.
- In comparison with other minorities, the public tends to rate LGBT people as a group that experiences some of the most discrimination.
- Even though the public believes that LGBT people experience a lot of discrimination, a national nondiscrimination law has yet to be passed and twentynine states do not have nondiscrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity. This is in contrast to the 72 percent of the public that supports laws protecting lesbians and gay men from job discrimination and 75 percent for transgender people.
- Open military service by LGBT people
- There are about 48,500 LGB people actively serving in the military and reserve. There is broad public support for open military service for lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals, which has increased from about 50% in 1993 to about 70% in 2012.
- There is little known about public attitudes about open service for transgender people, and studies find that transgender people are discriminated against in the military despite a desire to openly serve.
On all of these issues, public support has increased significantly over the past three decades and today a stable majority supports each of them. Support of LGBT rights has not only increased because younger, more supportive generations have replaced older ones but because a cultural shift towards acceptance has impacted people of all ages and ideologies albeit to varying degrees.