In Gay America, Optimism Abounds As Stigma Persists, Pew Says

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David McNew

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans say they feel more accepted in society than they did 10 years ago, and they're overwhelmingly optimistic that the trend will continue. But a sweeping new Pew Research Center survey also finds persistent levels of stigmatization and secrecy in the community.

"The Pew Research Center finds some 90 percent of LGBT people feel more accepted now than a decade ago, and believe that will continue," reports NPR's Jennifer Ludden. "They credit more personal interactions between gays and straights, high-profile advocates — like President Obama — and more same-sex parenting."

But many of the 1,197 adults who took part in the online survey — the first that Pew has conducted of the LGBT community — say they also see a strong stigma in American culture.

"For example, only slightly over half of folks in this community say they've told their mother about their sexual orientation," Pew's Paul Taylor tells Jennifer, "and just 4 in 10 have told their father."

Jennifer's full report will air on today's All Thing Considered. Here are more of the Pew study's findings:

  • The 40 percent of LGBT people who are bisexual are also the least likely to be "out" — most are married to someone of the opposite sex.
  • A third of LGBT adults say they've been rejected by a close family member or friend because of their sexual orientation.
  • Two in 10 LGBT people report being discriminated against by an employer.
  • Nearly a third say they've been rejected by their church or place of worship.
  • Almost 6 in 10 say they have been the target of jokes or slurs.
  • The median age when respondents said they felt they might not be heterosexual was 12.
  • The median age when they said they knew their sexual identity with certainty was 17.
  • Compared with the generation before them, today's gays and lesbians are coming out at an earlier age.

"Most who did tell a parent say that it was difficult," according to the study, "but relatively few say that it damaged their relationship."

The study also included a section asking respondents to name the public figures whom they see as being the most responsible for advancing LGBT rights.

Two names topped the list: President Obama (23 percent), who said in 2012 that he supports gay marriage; and Ellen DeGeneres (18 percent), the comedian and TV talk show host who came out in 1997. No other names were mentioned in more than 3 percent of responses.

"The lives of LGBT people are debated every day in this country, at ballot boxes, in legislatures, in the courts, in corporate boardrooms," Gary Gates, a demographer with the Williams Institute who consulted on the Pew report, tells Jennifer. "And it seems to me only fair that the public have some information about who they are and how they experience the world."

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