A nationwide survey of young adults found broad support for policies that promote LGBTQ equality, but also widespread homophobia among straight and LGBTQ people.
The GenForward Survey is a bimonthly poll of 1750 young adults (between the ages of 18 and 34), run by University of Chicago political science professor Cathy Cohen and her research team.
This past June, the survey focused on LGBTQ issues. Young adults were strongly supportive of policies that promote equality, including LGBTQ adoption rights, job protections, military service, and funding for HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment.
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At least 60% of young adults in each racial category supported each LGBTQ policy that was asked about, with support going up 91% for more popular policies like job protections.
One surprising finding, though, was that many young adults just plain don’t like homosexuality. Participants were asked if they agreed with this statement: “The increasing acceptance of homosexuality in our society is causing a deterioration of morality.”
While a majority of young adults disagree (59.5%), a substantial number agreed (36.1%). Unsurprisingly, straight people were more likely to dislike homosexuality (40%), but a large number of LGBTQ young adults agreed with the statement (21%).
The survey doesn’t explain why so many LGBTQ young adults believe that homosexuality is morally wrong, although Cohen speculates that it might be due to stigma attached to the word “homosexuality.”
“This is the only place in the survey where we used the word ‘homosexuality,'” Cohen wrote in a column for The Advocate. “That word may be a trigger inscribed in our culture as something bad and deviant.”
“Research has taught us that people can simultaneously hold two contradictory positions in their head,” she said in an emailed statement to LGBTQ Nation. “So perhaps these young people are saying everyone deserves equal rights but maybe this thing called ‘homosexuality’ undermines what has been called ‘family values’.”
Another possibility is that the result means exactly what it appears to mean: 21% of LGBTQ young adults are homophobic. Many of the young LGBTQ people who participated in the study may suffer from internalized homophobia, so much that they believe that homosexuality is immoral.
Moreover, most of the LGBTQ participants in the study did not identify as gay or lesbian – their homophobia might not be of the “internalized” variety.
“Whatever the reason for the 40% of heterosexual Millennials agreeing with the statement, it is a surprising and troubling finding,” Cohen said. “It points to all the work that remains to be done and how little we should take for granted when it comes to educating young people about the reality of LGBTQ lives.”
Only young adults participated in the study, so the results cannot be compared to other age cohorts.
The survey recruited participants randomly, and they were contacted by phone, mail, email, and in person to participate in the study. Most participants completed a web interview and a small percentage answered questions by phone. Interviews were conducted between May 17 and June 3, 2018.