LGBT Americans Feel More Accepted, But Still Claim Discrimination

While the overwhelming majority of respondents shared a positive outlook, they have also felt stigmatized.

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From left: Andrea Grill and Lee Ann Hopkins, from Alexandria, Va. kiss after becoming engaged during a rally outside of the U.S Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on March 26, 2013.

In its first-ever survey of Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, the Pew Research Center found that while respondents to its online survey feel more accepted by society than they did a decade ago, much more progress is needed before they will be fully accepted by the mainstream or even by those who are close to them. Their struggles include everything from being rejected by friends to physical attacks or threats by others.

Overall, the report — which was released today and includes the responses of 1197 people in the LGBT community — indicates great strides in terms of the group’s feelings of inclusion in American society. Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center, tells TIME, “9 in 10 of LGBT surveyed feel they have become more accepted in the past decade and just as many say they expect the acceptance to increase in the coming decade. In our business, when you see those numbers, that’s pretty dramatic. But that needs to be kept in perspective, because while these are the best of times, that doesn’t mean it’s the easiest time. Even in a time of feeling more socially accepted, fewer than 6 in 10 have told their mothers about their sexual orientation or gender identity and fewer than 4 in 10 have told their fathers–that suggests the complicated realms of their lives.”

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While the survey indicated that the group as a whole is more more satisfied with the direction of the country than the general public, its members have frequently faced rejection and discrimination in the past. About 60% say they have been the target of slurs or jokes. 40% said they were rejected by a close friend or family member due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. 30% say they had been physically attacked or threatened, and 21% claim they have been unfairly treated by an employer.

When it comes to overall social acceptance, respondents felt that the general public was most accepting of bisexual women and least accepting of transgender individuals. Similarly, lesbians were perceived as more socially accepted than gay men. Only 3% of survey respondents say there is a lot of acceptance of transgender adults.

The study also asked respondents about their coming out process. 12 is the median age when LGBT adults first felt they might be something other than heterosexual or straight. For those who now know for sure that they are LGBT, they realized it at a median age of 17. Gay men reported coming out to their family at an earlier age than lesbians and bisexuals.

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When it comes to politics, a significant proportion of the LGBT population reports being socially and politically active. 5 in 10 say they have both bought products made by a company that’s LGBT friendly and have refused to buy products from companies that were not. 3 in 10 have donated to politicians who support LGBT rights. Besides the hot political button of same-sex marriage, employment rights, HIV and AIDS prevention are also top issues they feel most strongly about. When asked in an open-ended question who they felt as most responsible for advancing LGBT rights, the most commonly cited person was President Barack Obama, with television host Ellen DeGeneres trailing closely in numbers.

While this is the first time Pew has surveyed the LGBT community, others have taken a look in recent years. A 2011 survey by the Williams Institute at UCLA found that 9 million Americans—about the population of New Jersey–identify as an LGBT and that bisexuals comprise a slight majority over lesbians, gays, and transgender.

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