Americans have grown dramatically more accepting of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in recent years, but America's LGBT population is still far from feeling entirely accepted, both by society and those closest to them.
That's a key finding from a new survey of the LGBT population by the Pew Research Center. Of a sample of nearly 1,200 LGBT adults, the survey finds that 92 percent say society is more accepting of them now than 10 years ago, and the same percentage expect society to be yet more accepting 10 years down the road. Yet LGBT Americans clearly also see many barriers to fitting into American society. While a majority, 59 percent, of LGBT adults say there is "some" acceptance of the LGBT population, only 19 percent say there is a lot of social acceptance. Nearly the same share, 21 percent, say there is "little or no" acceptance.
"This population obviously recognizes the change that's going on around them in terms of attitudes towards them, and there's a very positive recognition of that," says Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center. "But balancing into that is as we asked about the lives they've led, their perceptions of discrimination and stigma, they're pretty sharp."
Those perceptions of discrimination stretch across all areas of life, from careers to religion to personal safety. By far, perceived anti-LGBT discrimination most commonly comes in the form of jokes and slurs, which 58 percent of LGBT adults say they have experienced. Smaller but sizable shares of the population say they have been pushed away by loved ones or victimized in other ways. Thirty-nine percent say a family member or friend has rejected them over their identity, and 30 percent say they have been threatened or physically attacked. Over one-fifth also say that their sexual orientation or gender identity has also led an employer to treat them unfairly.
In addition, large shares of LGBT people report self-censorship around the people they know best. Only around half, 54 percent, of all LGBT people say that all or most of the most important people in their lives know they are LGBT. Only 56 percent have told their mothers about their sexual orientation or gender identity, and only 39 percent have told their fathers.
The survey reveals a few topics on which most of the LGBT community agrees -- most believe society is becoming more accepting, and 93 percent are in favor of same-sex marriage. However, the survey also uncovers clear demographic divisions within the LGBT community. Bisexuals, for example, are far less likely than other LGBT people to say all or most of the important people in their lives know of their sexual orientation. Only 28 percent of bisexuals report this is true, compared to 77 percent of gay men and 71 percent of lesbians. Fifty-three percent of bisexuals say being LGBT is not important in their overall identities, compared to just 21 percent of lesbians and 25 percent of gay men.
There are also age divides in the population. Younger LGBT people tend to have come out earlier than their older counterparts, and younger LGBT adults are also less likely to see growing societal acceptance of LGBT people. Forty-six percent of LGBT adults age 18 to 44 say society is more accepting of LGBT people today than 10 years ago, compared to 61 percent of adults 45 and older.
"They have less of a sense of sort of an increase in social acceptance," says Taylor. "If you stand back and think about it, of course that's the case. They haven't lived the experience that the middle-aged and older folks in this community have."
Despite all of the diversity among LGBT Americans, survey respondents identified two primary LGBT community leadership figures, one of whom is straight. When asked who are the most important public figures in advancing LGBT rights, 23 percent of LGBT respondents named President Barack Obama. He was followed closely by talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, at 18 percent. No other figure came close — in a distant third place were Anderson Cooper and Hillary Clinton, with 3 percent each.