Many Students Still Opposed or Neutral to LGBT Rights, Study Finds

Student support is higher than the general population, but many still don't favor LGBT civil rights.

American University students participate in a rally for rights for gay couples in front of the Supreme Court on June 26, 2013. A new study found many students are still opposed or neutral to LGBT civil rights issues.
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Although a majority of students support civil rights and protection policies for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, a significant amount remain neutral or opposed to certain ideas, such as same-sex marriage and civil unions, according to a new study from the University of Michigan.

The influence of "heterosexism," a bias in favor of opposite-sex relationships and sexuality, is still apparent among college students, according to lead author Michael Woodford, a professor of social work. Of the more than 2,500 heterosexual students surveyed, one in five were opposed or neutral to LGBT policies involving employment protection, and nearly one in three were opposed or neutral to same-sex marriage and civil unions, according to the study, published Tuesday in the Journal of Community Practice.

[READ: DOMA Ruling Means Cheaper Health Benefits for Some Same-Sex Couples]

Still, student support of LGBT issues remains higher than that of the general population. In the study, Woodford and his team found that 78 percent of students supported employment protections, 71 percent supported civil unions and 68 percent supported same-sex marriage. By comparison, a recent poll from the Pew Research Center found that nearly half of Americans think engaging in homosexual behavior is a sin.

Woodford said in a statement that in addition to people's personal prejudices that can influence students, heterosexism can be perpetuated on a social level through state policies that have become institutionalized, such as laws that prohibit the government from recognizing same-sex relationships. In Michigan, Woodford notes, same-sex couples cannot legally marry, and the state's employment laws do not provide protection based on sexual orientation and gender expression.

[ALSO: University of Michigan Elects First Openly Gay Student President]

"Though important advances have occurred in LGBT rights, especially this past year with the Supreme Court's ruling recognizing same-sex marriage federally, LGBT people throughout the country do not necessarily have the same rights as their heterosexual neighbors and friends," Woodford said.

Another important finding of the study, Woodford said, is that students who admire LGBT people for being open about their sexuality and gender expression are more likely to support LGBT civil rights. That's because those students have more knowledge about the challenges and risks LGBT people face, according to the study.

"Therefore, by educating students and the public about everyday heterosexism and its consequences, groups advocating for LGBT rights might help to sway some people to support LGBT equality," Woodford said.

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