of this issue of Public Opinion Pros has to do
with what Americans think about gay people. We lead
off with an article by Patrick J. Egan and Kenneth Sherrill,
examining the trends in public attitudes toward gays
and lesbians over the past few decades. Next up is Susan
Pinkus, who breaks down the findings of a
recent Los Angeles Times poll about gays
into demographic groups, and speculates on how the relationship
of these groups to the electorate might have affected
the outcome of the presidential election.
When I first started thinking about
what more I could write on this subject by way of introduction,
I was drawn to the data that had not found a place in
either of these articlesAmericans' answers to
questions like, "If you had a child, would you
permit or not permit your child to read a book that
contains a story about a same-sex couple?"; "If
you had a child who told you he or she was gay or lesbian
would you be upset or not?"; "Do you think
a person's homosexual orientation can be changed?"
And then I realized there was a county
not heard from. By getting wrapped up in the views of
everyone in general I had, as we so often do when we
single out particular individuals or groups for scrutiny,
been treating the subjects of discussion as though they
were not in the room; invisibleor, in this case,
need not be. There have been several surveys conducted
in recent years with samples of gay, lesbian, and bisexual
was done in 2000 by the Kaiser Family Foundation,
with fieldwork by Princeton Survey Research Associates.
As the Kaiser folks are careful to
tell us in their report, the challenges of sampling
and interviewing a population of indeterminate size
whose status in American society is marginal at best
and subject to condemnation at worst are considerable.
But, handled with the appropriate caution, the findings
of their poll of 405 randomly selected, self-identified
gay, lesbian, and bisexual adults lend some preliminary
insights to the attitudes and experiences of gay people
in the United States that we otherwise might not acquire.
Let us allow the numbers to speak for
- 53 percent of the respondents to
the Kaiser survey said they had experienced some or
a lot of prejudice and discrimination because they
were gay, lesbian, or bisexual; only 25 percent had
- 32 percent said they had been targeted
for physical violence against their persons or property
because they were gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
- 39 percent were worried about being
physically assaulted or beaten by someone who dislikes
- 74 percent had been targeted for
verbal abuse, such as slurs or name-calling.
- 34 percent had had their families
or a family member refuse to accept them because of
their sexual orientation.
are sad numbers. They are sadder still if we surmise
that many, if not all, of these respondents began having
these experiences at quite a young age. (Remember junior
high school?) And it is my guess that they are also
underreported numbers, when we take into account the
absence from the sample of those who would not reveal
themselves to an interviewer as gay, perhaps out of
recollection of such experiences or fear of them.
In this issue of POP, Humphrey
Taylor, David Krane, and Randall K. Thomas report the
findings of an investigation of social desirability
bias that began when they discovered that respondents
to their online surveys were consistently more likely
to identify themselves as gay than were those talking
to human interviewers in telephone surveys.
And the supposition that we are not
hearing in the Kaiser survey from the more leery members
of the gay population is perhaps borne out by the fact
that 88 percent of those who did choose to participate
said they had been open about their sexual orientation
with family members, and 93 percent with their heterosexual
friends. Surely their responses paint a brighter picture
of gay life in America than actually prevails.
like the ones above add a new dimension to the results
of the general population L.A. Times survey,
in which 44 percent of respondents said they would not
permit a child of theirs to read a book containing a
story about a same-sex couple, 60 percent said they
would be upset if a child of theirs told them that he
or she was gay, and 61 percent believed that, in at
least a few cases, a person's homosexual orientation
could be changed.
Eighty-eight percent of the gay people
in the Kaiser survey believed their sexual orientation
could not be changed.
In a society where love is the answer,
the many-splendour'd thing that makes the world go 'round,
and the force that conquers all as it makes a house
a home, such findings and differences in perspective,
along with the results of other surveys of and about
gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans, say something
enormously important about the things we choose to judge
about other people, the assumptions we make about their
lives, and the ways in which we treat each other.
It remains for us to determine what
that something is, and what we will choose to do about
Ferraro Parmelee, Editor