By: Audrey Cole/Reporter—
BOSTON—Although more young people are outwardly identifying as LGBTQ than ever before, there is allegedly a greater lack of queer acceptance by peers, according to the executive summary of GLAAD’s Accelerating Acceptance report.
“The younger generation has traditionally been thought of as a beacon of progressive values,” wrote Sarah Kate Ellis, President & CEO, GLAAD, in the executive summary report. “We have taken that idea for granted and this year’s results show that the sharp and quick rise in divisive rhetoric in politics and culture is having a negative influence on younger Americans.”
The report, conducted by _Harris Polls_, noted that there has been a decline in overall comfort and acceptance of LGBTQ people from respondents, ages 18-34, with allies steadily declining among this audience since 2016.
Corey Prachniak-Rincón, Director, MA Commission on LGBTQ Youth weighed in.
“Addressing bullying of LGBTQ youth is one of the main charges of the Commission under our legislative mandate … we still see much higher rates of bullying of LGBTQ youth than of their peers,” they said. “These numbers seem to trend down over time, but there is still a ways to go—the most recent numbers show that LGBTQ youth were 70% more likely to be bullied than their non-LGBTQ classmates.”
But, it doesn’t stop at bullying, Prachniak-Rincón added.
“… When we look at a lot of other safety and wellbeing indicators—things like being threatened or injured with a weapon, skipping school out of concerns about safety, and facing unwanted sexual contact—LGBTQ youth were at higher risk for all these forms of bullying and abuse,” they explained.
Boston’s Fenway Institute has researched and documented the impact that government related anti-LGBTQ actions have had on the community, which, according to the organization, has caused a surge in homophobic and transphobic behavior.
“I think that a lot of the recent uptick probably has to do with the anti-LGBT hostility that we’ve witnessed at the state and federal level,” said Tim Wang, Senior Policy Analyst at The Fenway Institute. “We’ve authored two reports on the anti-LGBT actions of the Trump Administration over the first two years of his term, which includes rollback of LGBT nondiscrimination protections, promotion of religious refusal policies, the transgender military ban, and the list goes on.”
A new health care regulation proposed by the Trump Administration in June 2019 can reverse the 2016 final rule implementing the nondiscrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). That measure, according to a story in The Rainbow Times (TRT) is “known as the 2016 Section 1557 rule that explicitly prohibits gender identity discrimination, including discrimination against intersex and non-binary people, in health care facilities and programs receiving federal funding.”
“At the state level, we recently had the referendum campaign for the gender identity nondiscrimination law, which was very difficult for the transgender community in Mass,” said Wang. “I think that with all these anti-LGBT actions at the federal and state level, it can embolden people to be more outspoken with their anti-LGBT views.”
The executive summary of the Accelerating Acceptance report also noted that the lack of LGBTQ acceptance among younger people is seen in both male and female respondents, particularly in personal scenarios.
However, Prachniak-Rincón calls out the restraints that this singular survey places on the outcome and warns that this particular result is already contradicted in other documented data.
“I would always caution folks about reading too much into one survey,” they said. “Just look at political polling over the past few years—it has really not proven to be too reliable, and folks aged 18-34 are exactly the right age group to not have a land line and not be answering unknown numbers on their cell phones. If we start to see lots of studies coming out that show that adults aged 18-34 are turning against acceptance of the LGBTQ community, I’ll believe it, but for the moment I don’t think LGBTQ people and advocates should panic. It goes against a lot of data and common sense to think that young adults are suddenly reversing course on feeling comfortable with LGBTQ people.”
Prachniak-Rincón explained how this report doesn’t capture the socialization of young people within and outside of the LGBTQ community nor does it build on what is already known about the acceptance of LGBTQ people between generations.
“For one thing, the younger of an age bracket that you look at, the higher the proportion of LGBTQ-identified people that are in that bracket,” they said. “Statistically speaking, folks 18-34 are way more likely to have LGBTQ friends than are, say, folks 65-plus. And we know that having LGBTQ friends and family members is one of the main ways that people open their hearts and change their minds. So it just kind of strains credulity to think that, all of a sudden, the most LGBTQ-populated generations in our history are growing more close-minded. And there is a ton of data to back this up, including survey after survey over the years showing increasing acceptance.”
However, Prachniak-Rincón also said there is danger of becoming complacent and cautions against making assumptions.
“None of this means that we can take those gains for granted,” they said. “We certainly can’t be complacent. Nor should we ‘write off’ older generations and assume people in those brackets won’t be accepting. We should actively work to make people of all ages and experiences more accepting because if we stop working on it, we could well see that tide reverse someday.”
Steve Harrington, Executive Director of the North Shore Alliance for LGBTQ Youth (nAGLY ) attributes the results of the report to the current political climate and the vulnerability to be persecuted in a two-fold fashion.
“Because more people are coming out (in whatever way that means), they are more susceptible to bullying, degradation, and ostracization,” Harrington said. “Prior generations remained in the closet more frequently, so it was easy for people to say they were accepting of non-traditional gender identity and sexual orientation. Today, with more people comfortable being their true selves, the opportunity for harassment is more prevalent, and those individuals who self-identified as accepting now are confronted by those non-traditional identities and find they are not as accepting as they might have stated. The obvious second factor is the social/political climate created today which accepts—even celebrates—homophobia, racism, sexism, ageism, and all the other non-white, non-cisgender ‘isms.’ Somehow—in this seemingly parallel universe we are inhabiting—hatred, deceit, lying, and cruelty are virtues rather than vices.”
Like Prachniak-Rincón, Wang also questioned the totality of GLAAD’s executive summary and proposes other possibilities that could have lead to the conclusion relating to decreased LGBTQ acceptance among young people.
“I think that the other age groups may have had increases in discomfort as well, and that the older age groups may actually have more ‘resisters’ overall,” he said. “I would definitely like to see the full report, but based on other research that shows older people are less likely to identify as LGBT and more likely to hold negative attitudes about being LGBT, I would guess that older age groups are more likely to be classified as the ‘resisters’ compared to this youngest age group. I would guess that the youngest age group had the greatest proportion of ‘allies’ of all age groups so they were the prime age group to examine for drops from ‘allies’ to ‘detached supporters,’ and that’s why this age group was the group that was focused on in the executive summary.”
To combat lack of acceptance overall, Wang said that representation, advocacy, education, and unification are critical components to making strides.
“I think that a lot of people with negative attitudes towards LGBT people many times have never actually met someone who is openly LGBT,” he said. “I think it’s important for us as a community to lift up each other’s voices and tell our stories and show how this community is vibrant and resilient. One way to combat stereotypes is to strive for more authentic queer representation in all spaces. I also think it’s important for us to push for inclusive nondiscrimination policies and create safe spaces in our organizations to ensure that LGBT people can have places to feel safe and affirmed.”
Harrington believes this current trend as reported will be turned around.
“As our community comes out in larger numbers and interacts with neighbors, family, friends, clients, bosses, co-workers, and strangers, people will realize two things; 1) they really aren’t that different than anyone else, and 2) what difference does it really make in their lives?” he said.
Through their work at the Commission, Prachniak-Rincón has a direct hand in building acceptance of the LGBTQ community and offered input to create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ youth.
“First, LGBTQ organizations can continue working to have trainings, workshops, and conversations happening at all levels—colleges and universities, workplaces, and public spaces,” they said. “The Commission does trainings in these settings and many community groups do, too, as well as helping to host other events to spread awareness and increase knowledge. Second, anyone can help increase acceptance by sharing their personal stories (either as LGBTQ people or families, friends, or allies), or by sharing news and resources on social media or face-to-face. Usually, the more that people learn about the issues facing our community, the more sympathetic they become. And finally, many of these 18-to-34 year olds have children themselves, so we can all work on supporting the youth to have the tools to educate their parents. This is something the Commission has started to talk more about. And LGBTQ-competent teachers, healthcare providers, and other trusted adults of LGBTQ youth can also help to move adults along into a more accepting place.”
Harrington stresses the need for education but also focuses specifically on the importance expunging stereotypes revolving around LGBTQ people.
“Education is the only route, and part of that is activism,” he said. “I think a particularly important facet of that is the media. Despite gains over the past decades, our community is still largely portrayed in stereotypical manner, largely ignoring the human aspect of each individual.”
Though still leery of the methodology of the report, Prachniak-Rincón hypothesizes that “if it is true, it may be because of any number of reasons,” they noted.
“It could be the very polarizing discourse that we are hearing lately on LGBTQ issues, race, immigration, and any number of topics around discrimination and inclusion. The Trump administration inflicts racist, xenophobic, sexist, Islamophobic, transphobic, and homophobic policies and language onto our country every day, and it’s possible that that is affecting people who used to be more open into thinking it’s okay or even good to hate people who are different. I hope not, and I am optimistic that the huge resistance to Trump and his hatred will turn the tide against that backwards way of thinking and towards a better future.”
Indeed, cultural shift will be critical component in the paradigm, according to Ellis.
“Closing the gap to full acceptance of LGBTQ people will not come from legislation on judicial decisions alone, but from creating a culture where LGBTQ people are embraced and respected,” wrote Ellis on the back cover of the report. “This year’s results demonstrate an urgent need for GLAAD to reach younger Americans with stories and campaigns that build acceptance.”
Read the executive summary and learn more about the Accelerating Acceptance report.