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Pew Poll: Adult LGBT Americans Optimistic About Future


Let's move on now to a sweeping survey here in the U.S. of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender adults. It reveals a community undergoing major change. LGBT adults say they're optimistic about increasing social acceptance.

But as NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports, many also describe stigma and rejection.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Until just recently, demographers have had precious little information on this group. But with the debate over same-sex marriage and a Supreme Court ruling on it coming soon, pollsters are asking more questions. Today's survey is the first time the Pew Research Center has polled LGBT adults.

Lead author Paul Taylor says it shows a dramatic shift.

PAUL TAYLOR: When you ask the question: Is society more accepting now than it was a decade ago? More than 90 percent say yes. Do you think society will be more accepting 10 years from now than it is today? Ninety percent or more say yes.

LUDDEN: And yet, just 1-in-5 say they feel a lot of acceptance where they live. Taylor says reading between the data points, there's clearly a lot of pain.

TAYLOR: For example, only slightly over half of folks in this community say that they have told their mother about their sexual orientation, and just 4-in-10 have told their father.

LUDDEN: Taylor says 4-in-10 LGBT adults report being rejected by a close family member or friend because of their sexual orientation. Nearly a third have felt unwelcome at their place of worship. Almost 6-in-10 say they've been subjected to slurs or jokes.

GARY GATES: I think it says that social stigma around sexual orientation and gender identity is still quite high.

LUDDEN: Gary Gates is a demographer with the Williams Institute, a think tank on same-sex issues, and a consultant to the Pew report. He's struck by the high numbers who've not come out to family or colleagues.

GATES: It's still important to remember that the closet, that keeping one's identity hidden, we know from other literature that that's a fairly constant stressor for people.

LUDDEN: The group least likely to have come out: Bisexuals. Pew finds they make up 40 percent of LGBT adults. Perhaps one reason for not disclosing their sexual orientation, bisexuals are overwhelmingly likely to be married to someone of the opposite sex.

The Pew Research Center conducted this survey online, a mode shown to produce more honest answers on sensitive topics. Some respondents gave long, detailed accounts - an invaluable resource, says demographer Gates.

GATES: The lives of LGBT people are debated every day in this country - at ballot boxes, in legislatures, in the courts, in corporate boardrooms. And it seems to me only fair that the public have some information about who they are and how they experience the world.

STEVE MAJORS: It reaffirms what we know to be true, that our community, the LGBT community, is more alike than different than the general population.

LUDDEN: Steve Majors is with the Family Equality Council, which advocates for same-sex couples raising children. He says the survey shows LGBT people marry for the same reasons as straights, that legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption is a priority, along with equal rights in the workplace.

MAJORS: So this data is so important for us to be able to walk in to a lawmaker's office, in Mississippi, in Texas, to be able to say: We know that there are families out there in your community and here are their concerns.

LUDDEN: Despite the stories of stigma and rejection, Majors sees mainly hope and optimism for more acceptance. One possible sign of this, the Pew survey shows young gays and lesbians are coming out at an earlier age than the previous generation.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.