WASHINGTON—National Coming Out Day is celebrated each year on October 11th to commemorate the 1987 Lesbian and Gay March on Washington and the first unfurling of the AIDS Quilt on the National Mall. Comparing public opinion polls on key issues from 1987 to today shows a dramatic shift in support for equal job opportunities, open military service, and inclusion in hate crimes law for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.
“For twenty years, the GLBT community has been coming out and putting an ever-more personal face to issues in our lives, and that is clearly changing hearts and minds,” said Mark Shields, director of the HRC Coming Out Project. “Americans have come to know their GLBT friends and family in a new way in the last 20 years, and those relationships have changed the cultural landscape.”
Visibility: The findings also indicate a sharp increase over the past two decades in the number of Americans who say they personally know or work with someone who identifies as gay or lesbian: 72 percent today, according to Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. In 1987, just 11 percent reported to ABC News and the Washington Post that they associated with a “male homosexual” on a regular basis.
Relationship Recognition: Today, 60 percent of Americans support same-sex marriages or civil unions, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll. Twenty years ago only 12 percent of Americans agreed that “homosexual couples” should have the right to marry, according to the National Opinion Research Center.
Military Service: A University of New Hampshire survey showed that four out of five (79 percent) Americans believe gays and lesbians should be allowed to openly serve their country in the military—which is currently prohibited under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. In 1993, NBC and the Wall Street Journal found that just 40 percent felt that gays and lesbians should serve openly in the military.
According to a May 2007 Gallup poll, 89 percent of Americans support equal employment opportunities for gays and lesbians—a 30 percent increase since the early 1980s.
The transgender community has seen increased support as well. While little polling on American attitudes on gender identity was done twenty years ago, today 72 percent of Americans agree that “fairness is a basic American value and employment decisions should be based solely on qualifications and job performance, including for transgender people.” Eighty-two percent of America’s younger voters, aged 18 to 29, support equal opportunities for all employees, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
For more information about National Coming Out Day, please visit www.hrc.org/comingout.
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