The received wisdom is that younger people are more accepting when it comes to LGBTQ people and issues. Progressives place their hope in “the next generation” when it comes to shifting the goalposts around equality and political change.
This morning, GLAAD published research that shows that young people—apparently overwhelmed by the “newness” of the variety of sexual orientations and gender identities, and the anti-LGBT animus of the Trump administration—are becoming less accepting of LGBTQ people.
In its fifth annual Accelerating Acceptance Index, GLAAD found that the only age-group to post a decline in acceptance of LGBTQ people was 18- to 34-year-olds.
The study, conducted by the Harris Poll, looked at acceptance levels across seven areas: learning a family member is LGBT, learning one’s doctor is LGBT, having LGBT members at one’s place of worship, seeing an LGBT co-worker’s wedding picture, having one’s child placed in a class with a LGBT teacher, seeing a same-sex couple holding hands, and learning one’s child has a lesson on LGBT history in school.
GLAAD found that the number of U.S. adults ages 18-34 who reported being “very” or “somewhat” comfortable across these situations dropped from 53 percent to 45 percent. “This reflects a continued erosion in comfort among this age group over the past two years,” GLAAD reported. “This year, the significant erosion is being driven by females ages 18-34, where comfort levels fell from 64 percent last year to 52 percent this year.”
Across all age groups, 18 percent of Americans know a transgender person; 31 percent know a bisexual person; and 75 percent know a gay or lesbian person.
GLAAD also found that the majority of non-LGBTQ Americans (80 percent) support equal rights for the LGBTQ community. The eight-in-10 statistic has been consistent since 2016, and will bolster campaigners’ hopes for ultimately passing legislation like the Equality Act.
Breaking down the statistics further, GLAAD found more young people ages 18-34 responded that they were “very” or “somewhat” uncomfortable in three personal scenarios including learning a family member was LGBTQ (36 percent uncomfortable in the 2019 report vs. 29 percent in the 2018 report); learning one’s doctor was LGBTQ (34 percent vs. 27 percent); and learning one’s child had a lesson on LGBTQ history in their school (39 percent vs. 30 percent).
Forty-three percent of males ages 18-34 reported that they were uncomfortable learning a family member was LGBTQ (up from 32 percent in 2018) and 42 percent of males ages 18-34 reported that they were uncomfortable learning their child’s teacher is LGBTQ (up from 37 percent in 2018).
Forty percent of females ages 18-34 reported that they were uncomfortable learning their child had a lesson on LGBTQ history in school, an increase of 13 percentage points from the previous year’s findings.
GLAAD also found that that nearly half of non-LGBTQ adults (49 percent) are classified as “allies,” meaning they are “very” or “somewhat” comfortable with LGBTQ people across all of the seven situations. This has not changed from the 49 percent reported in 2018, which was down from 53 percent the year prior. Twelve percent of the survey reported to be LGBTQ themselves.
Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, told The Daily Beast that GLAAD had conducted focus groups after the main statistical survey to see what factors had led to a decline in acceptance for 18-34-year-olds.
“The statistics are counterintuitive to what we believe. But if we stop and think about it for a second, newness takes a while to turn into acceptance. They’re interfacing with new gender identities and sexual orientations, so that takes a minute to get used to.
Ellis sought to emphasize positives in the survey—such as that last year GLAAD had seen roll-backs on all seven indicators, which this year had stabilized.
The group plans to target young men with pro-LGBTQ messaging in the arena of video games. But this year, in terms of gender, the decline was seen most in women, aged 18-34. Ellis said that GLAAD would start targeted messaging aimed at that demographic in the arena of country music.
GLAAD maintains an updating list of (what is currently) 114 attacks on LGBTQ people by the Trump administration, in both policy and rhetoric. Ellis said the presence of high-profile LGBTQ supporters and stories in pop culture helped “stem” the anti-LGBTQ actions of the White House.
“Imagine how bad it would be if they didn’t step up, and we just had hate spewing out of the most powerful office in the country and world,” Ellis said.
She added that two consecutive years showing a decline in LGBTQ acceptance was concerning, though not in her view “a movement or beginning of a trend. I don’t think we’re ever going to give up on the next generation.”
Ellis said the Trump administration’s actions and words were key. “If we had an administration helping people, making them understand, and bringing together, not dividing people, we’d be in a much more different position than we are now.”
That said, Ellis accepted that “we progressives have taken young people, the next generation, for granted, while conservatives have targeted and tried to pull them in. They have robust college-level programming where they go after millennials on college campuses to incite hate and discrimination. As an organization driving acceptance, we have to look very closely at this.”
Contrasting with younger people, there has been an uptick in acceptance among older generations, said Ellis, which again progressives had misjudged. “They thought millennials were in their pockets, and they didn’t have to worry about the older generation because they wouldn’t be in power much longer. But they are coming to us as supporters.”
Whether the general LGBTQ acceptance level can rise over 50 per cent again, and whether young people rebound as supporters is down to one big thing, said Ellis. “Hopefully this is a two-year blip, until we have a turnover in the administration.”
Put more bluntly: If the administration continues on its anti-LGBTQ course, and if Trump wins re-election in 2020, expect to see those LGBTQ acceptance figures drop even further.