The LGBT rights movement has had considerable victories this year -- the demise of Prop 8 and DOMA, large increases of elected officials coming out of the closet, the sixth season renewal of RuPaul's Drag Race, etc. But a new study shows that we might not have come as far as we think in terms of how Americans actually feel about gay rights.
Researchers at Ohio State and Boston Universities
asked over 2,500 Americans how they felt about topics like gay
marriage, adoption, discrimination in the workforce, and so on, using a
technique called the
"veiled elicitation method," which corrects for social desirability
bias, i.e. giving answers respondents think they are supposed to say.
The veiled method asks indirect questions about sensitive social topics
that we're more likely to lie about, rather than something direct like,
as the authors note, "Yes, I cheat on my spouse."
The results were surprising in two ways.
One, self-reports for non-heterosexual identity increased by 65 percent, and reports of same-sex sexual experiences increased by 59 percent. So far, more people are tasting the rainbow than are reporting it, which is not surprising, considering the second highlight of the study that shows far more people have anti-gay feelings and sentiments than previously thought.
"Respondents were 67 percent more likely to express disapproval of an openly gay manager at work (p<0.01), 71 percent more likely to say it should be legal to discriminate in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation (p<0.01), and 22 percent less likely to support gay marriage."
Respondents were also less likely to support same-sex adoption (46 percent) and far more likely to believe gays "can change their sexual orientation if they choose to do so." So while traditional opinion polls show favorable increases in gay acceptance, research like this suggests that unconscious anti-gay sentiments are still widespread, despite lip service to the contrary.
The obvious and recent example is with Barilla Pasta's chairman, Guido Barilla, whose public views against gay adoption and claims that he'd never feature a gay couple in advertisements put him in, well, hot water, and caused a backlash of international proportions. A day later, he issued various apologies, including a video where he said, "I have always respected every person I've met, including gays and their families, without any distinction. I've never discriminated against anyone."
We're surprised he didn't mention his "many gay friends" as proof of his commitment to equality, but no matter. No one actually believes that Barilla pulled a 180 on his views toward gays in 24 hours. He was responding to tremendous social pressure from media outlets, gays, and their straight allies.
While such pressure is vital in making people with anti-gay beliefs eat their words, studies like this show we have a long way to go in countering the discrimination and deep-seated biases in regard to gays.
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