Survey shows gays ‘ignorant’ of basic rights issuesMajority of respondents flunk test on U.S. laws
By JOSHUA LYNSEN, Washington Blade May 1, 3:57 PM
Few gay Americans understand their basic rights, according to an analysis released this week.Based on the responses of 768 gays, lesbians and bisexuals to a national poll given in November, the analysis found that most respondents could not correctly answer four questions regarding their state and federal rights.“I think ‘ignorant’ is the right word, unfortunately,” said Pat Egan, an assistant professor of politics at New York University who is gay and helped write the analysis.
The poll by City University of New York’s Hunter College asked whether same-sex marriages were legal in the respondent’s state, if the U.S. Constitution bans same-sex marriage, whether gays can serve openly in the U.S. military and if there’s a federal law barring the firing of workers based on their sexual orientation.Egan said only 38 percent of poll respondents answered all four questions correctly.“On one hand, that doesn’t surprise us,” he said. “On the other, we would have liked to see these numbers a little higher.”
According to the analysis, 94 percent of respondents knew whether same-sex marriage was legal in their state, 78 percent knew the U.S. Constitution does not ban same-sex marriage, 82 percent knew they could not serve openly in the military and 59 percent knew there’s no federal law that bars workers from being fired based on their sexual orientation.“So only six in 10 lesbians, gays and bisexuals know there is no national law protecting them from employment discrimination,” he said. “Considering this has been the top priority for advocates in Washington for the past 20 years, that is pretty astounding and disappointing.”
Marty Rouse, national field director for Human Rights Campaign, said he was “discouraged” by the finding and that it demonstrated the need for further education.The findings come despite information that shows gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans are more politically active than the general population.Egan said 33 percent of the poll’s gay, lesbian and bisexual respondents indicated they were “very interested” in politics, compared to 22 percent in the general population.
The poll’s respondents were likelier than people in the general population to have engaged in some kind of political activity during the preceeding year.According to the analysis, gays, lesbians and bisexuals were 7.6 percent likelier to have contacted a government official, 6.9 percent likelier to have attended a protest or rally and 3.6 percent likelier to give money to a campaign.
Egan said the increased political participation could be attributed at least partly to the coming out process, which the poll showed greatly changed many gays, lesbians and bisexuals who responded.“There’s something politically transformative about this period that people have long suspected,” he said. “Now we’re nailing down the changes that are happening during this period.”
That period was defined in the poll as the time between a respondent’s earliest coming-out experience, often when the individual first thought he or she might be gay, and the latest such experience, usually when the person first told someone he or she is gay.
According to the analysis, respondents tended to become less religious, more liberal and more interested in politics during this time, although many reported no change.
The analysis, released Wednesday, came about through ongoing review of the Hunter College poll conducted in November. It was authored by Egan; Ken Sherrill, a Hunter College political science professor; and Murray Edelman, a Rutgers College scholar and former editorial director of Voter News Service.
Other new findings from the poll, which was funded by HRC and controlled by Hunter College, showed the respondents’ priorities for gay civil rights issues.According to the analysis, gay, lesbian and bisexual respondents generally placed laws regarding workplace discrimination hate crimes as their top issues.
Efforts toward ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and securing rights for transgender people scored the lowest.Respondents 18-25 years old indicated that marriage and adoption rights were the top issues, while respondents 65 years and older noted laws regarding hate crimes and workplace discrimination were most important.