The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

How Worried Should the LGBT Community Be?

Mark Lee, at the Washington Blade, takes on some hysteria being pushed by GLAAD, which is chirping there has been significant losses for the LGBT community in support. Lee says:

“GLAAD’s annual survey showed only minuscule fluctuations of two or three percent on ‘comfort questions’ presumably within the margin of error, although that information is not revealed in the poll publication. These tiny shifts are instead called ‘significant declines’ for the ‘personal interaction scenarios’ measured. They include whether the respondent felt either ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ uncomfortable upon ‘“learning my doctor is LGBT,’ ‘learning my child’s teacher is LGBT’ or ‘learning a family member is LGBT.’”

GLAAD’s panic set off a series of other publications repeating the claim of a significant increase in anti-LGBT opinions, even though the survey in question did no such thing. “These ballyhooed-with-alarm findings produced blaring headlines in some publications, such as, “It’s Official: America Suddenly Isn’t Comfortable with LGBT People,” “In Three Years, LGBT Americans Have Gone from Triumph to Backsliding,” “America Is Growing Less Tolerant on LGBT Rights” and “Acceptance of LGBT People Sees ‘Significant Declines’ in Troubling Shift.”

I looked at the original poll and Mr. Lee is correct. GLAAD is hyping the normal fluctuations you find in most polls. There has been no significant shift in support for LGBT people and their rights. In any poll year-to-year changes tend to be unimportant unless they are huge and sustained, small fluctuations are common and often within the margin of error. It is the trend that is important not the fluctuations. Even random polls can lead to some opinions getting slightly more support in the poll than they have in the general public. You can’t make much from small year-to-year changes, yet GLAAD got hyperbolic over them.

In addition to the fluctuations being insignficant GLAAD pushes the panic-sounding claim “This is the first time the Accelerating Acceptance report has shown a drop in acceptance for LGBTQ people.” It sounds really bad until you remember this is just the fourth time the poll was done. That is hardly enough time to think something unusual is happening.

I looked at Pew polls for support for marriage equality. The first time that poll was conducted was 2001, ending in 2017 with the last one. Support in 2001 was 35%. The poll showed decreasing support for the next two years. Was that a trend or a fluctuation we should expect as normal? Well, in 2005 it went to 36% and then back down to 35% the next year. It went up in 2007 and 2008 and then down in 2009. From 2001 to 2010 there were frequent fluctuations and depending on how short term your focus is you could get quite bereft over the results, but on a whole, from 2010 to 2017, the results were increasing.

Up and down in such polls is normal. In fact, when support for marriage equality continued to rise year after year it amazed pollsters who had not seen such a rapid rise in support for a position in so short a period of time. By 2017 the poll showed support at 62%. Fluctuations don’t matter! I suspect GLAAD knows fluctuations don’t matter but there is fund-raising that needs to be done.

Let’s look at all three major areas of the survey to see what is happening.

GLAAD says there was a “significant decrease in comfort in personal situations” with LGBT people. Was there? There is virtually no change of signficance in any of them.

In 2014 26% said they were uncomfortable with LGBT individuals in their church, and in 2017 it was 24% — a small improvement over all. In 2014 27% said they would be uncomfortable seeing a co-worker’s same-sex wedding photos, exactly the same as in 2017. In 2014, 32% said they would be uncomfortable learning a family member was LGBT, and it was 30% in 2017. 31% were uncomfortable learning their doctor was LGBT in 2014 and it was still 31% in 2017; 37% of the public said they were uncomfortable learning their children learned LGBT history in school and 37% said so in 2017. On these issues there was either slight improvement or no change whatsoever over the four years of the poll.

One issue saw slight decrease in support: in 2014 30% said they would be uncomfortable with their child having an LGBT teacher and in 2017 it was 31%. Call out the militia!!! Panic, panic, send in your donations today! A one point fluctuation is noise not a trend.

One area showed some statistically significant improvement: in 2017 36% said they were uncomfortable seeing same-sex couples holding hands, which is now down to 31%. A five point move may have meaning.

GLAAD’s error was thinking the small fluctuations of improvement from 2014 to 2015, or from 2015 to 2016, meant anything. They don’t. The fluctuations were too small to be significant and the time period in question far too short.

The second area of the GLAAD report is about how GLAAD interprets the results. They classify people, based on answers, as either “Allies,” “Detached Supports” or “Resisters.” Well, such classifications in themselves don’t mean much. It is GLAAD’s spin on data but it isn’t data.

I will get to the third area shortly, but the fourth was support for equal rights. GLAAD found that 79% support equal rights for the LGBT community in 2017, the same as in 2016, the first year they released a number.

One area alone shows a problem and that is increased discrimination. They report that an increasing number of people said they were discriminated against because of the sexual orientation or gender identity. It was 44% in 2016 and 55% in 2017. That is consistent with numerous polls and hate crime statistics.

While we aren’t seeing an increase in people hating LGBT people, we are seeing those who hate them becoming more emboldened. I suggest this is combination of two factors. One is Religious Right bigots KNOW the culture war is over and they lost. They are desperate. They declared a war they couldn’t win. All public opinion polls show consistent support for more libertarian social policies among the general public. Often the most fierce fighting is done before surrender.

A second factor is the presence of a toxin in American politics: Donald Trump. Trump is hateful, bigoted, Narcissistic authoritarian. He remains the perfect anti-Libertarian. He has encouraged hate and emboldened bigots. What sitting president would say of demonstrations led by Nazis, and counter-demonstrations, there were good people “on both sides?”

Trump ran a campaign pushing hate. He has given every small-dicked fratboy permission to act out his own insecurities. There is no indication there are more of these jerks, their numbers may have actually shrunk. In recent years most American bigots were closeted, and now some have come out of the closet. That doesn’t mean there are more of them.

Long term trends matter and those are positive for social freedom. The reality is most Americans are mushy-libertarians — inconsistent, flawed and sometimes wrong. But, in general they support social freedom: they don’t want to bash gays, don’t want Jim Crow revived and most are supportive of immigrants — Trump be damned.



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James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.