Public opinion on LGBT Americans’ rights has become more supportive of equal treatment over time. The movement toward greater egalitarianism has been particularly pronounced on attitudes toward same-sex marriage and gay adoption. Today, the general public is overwhelmingly supportive of laws to protect gays and lesbians against job discrimination, the right of gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, and legal recognition of same-sex marriages. It is also overwhelmingly supportive of legal protections for gay and lesbian employees, although we do not know whether abstract support for equality in the workplace translates into support for the hiring of gays and lesbians in all occupations. Yet, many questions concerning LGBT Americans’ rights remain controversial. The general public is especially polarized on the questions of whether transgender individuals should be able to use the bathrooms of the gender with which they identify and whether business owners in the wedding services industry can discriminate against same-sex couples on religious grounds. Systematic research on political attitudes of LGBT individuals using probability samples is practically nonexistent, although there are many studies of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals’ attitudes, identities, and behavior that use convenience samples. The existing studies demonstrate that lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals tend to identify as ideologically liberal and favor the Democratic Party in their affinities and votes. LGBT Americans are far more supportive of equality in all issue domains although bisexuals—compared to lesbians and gay men—are more lukewarm in their embrace of equality on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Scholarship on LGBT Americans in public opinion has primarily explored attitudes toward gays and lesbians and has tended to focus on attitudes toward same-sex marriage and adoption. It examines psychological, political, and demographic correlates of public opinion regarding LGBT individuals and explores links between interpersonal contact with LGBT individuals and attitudes toward them. Generally speaking, moral traditionalism, gender role conceptions, and attributions for the existence of homosexuality are especially important psychological predictors of attitudes toward sexual and gender identity minorities. Partisan and ideological identities play an important role too as do cues from ideologically compatible political elites. Of the several demographic attributes that researchers have included in their models, religion-related variables stand out for their predictive prowess. Finally, interpersonal contact with sexual and gender minorities, as well as community exposure to LGBT individuals, is associated with more favorable views toward them. Another yardstick by which commitment to equal treatment for LGBT Americans could be measured is whether and how sexual orientation and gender identity influence political fortunes of candidates for electoral office. Scholarship to date suggests that sexual orientation and gender identity function as important heuristics that influence voters’ thinking about LGBT candidacies. Some scholarship mines survey questions that inquire about respondents’ willingness to support hypothetical LGBT candidates for office. Others use experimental design to isolate the influences of sexual orientation and gender identity on political evaluation. Altogether, these studies demonstrate that LGBT individuals do not face a level playing field when they launch campaigns for office.
Ewa A. Golebiowska
Melanie C. Steffens and Sabine Preuß
Over the last decades, in many so-called Western countries, the social, political, and legal standing of lesbians, gay men, and bisexual and trans* individuals (henceforth, LGBT* individuals) has considerably improved, and concurrently, attitudes toward these groups have become more positive. Consequently, people are aware that blatantly prejudiced statements are less socially accepted, and thus, negative attitudes toward LGBT* individuals (also referred to as antigay attitudes, sexual prejudice, or homonegativity) and their rights need to be measured in more subtle ways than previously. At the same time, discrimination and brutal hate crimes toward LGBT* individuals still exist (e.g., Orlando shooting, torture of gay men in Chechnya). Attitudes are one of the best predictors of overt behavior. Thus, examining attitudes toward LGBT* individuals in an adequate way helps to predict discriminatory behavior, to identify underlying processes, and to develop interventions to reduce negative attitudes and thus, ultimately, hate crimes. The concept of attitudes is theoretically postulated to consist of three components (i.e., the cognitive, affective, and behavioral attitude components). Further, explicit and implicit attitude measures are distinguished. Explicit measures directly ask participants to state their opinions regarding the attitude object and are thus transparent, they require awareness, and they are subject to social desirability. In contrast, implicit measures infer attitudes indirectly from observed behavior, typically from reaction times in different computer-assisted tasks; they are therefore less transparent, they do not require awareness, and they are less prone to socially desirable responding. With regard to explicit attitude measures, old-fashioned and modern forms of prejudice have been distinguished. When it comes to measuring LGBT* attitudes, measures should differentiate between attitudes toward different sexual minorities (as well as their rights). So far, research has mostly focused on lesbians and gay men; however, there is increasing interest in attitudes toward bisexual and trans* individuals. Also, attitude measures need to be able to adequately capture attitudes of more or less prejudiced segments of society. To measure attitudes toward sexual minorities adequately, the attitude measure needs to fulfill several methodological criteria (i.e., to be psychometrically sound, which means being reliable and valid). In order to demonstrate the quality of an attitude measure, it is essential to know the relationship between scores on the measure and important variables that are known to be related to LGBT* attitudes. Different measures for LGBT* attitudes exist; which one is used should depend on the (research) purpose.
Christy Mallory and Brad Sears
LGBT people in the United States continue to experience discrimination because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, despite increasing acceptance of LGBT people and legal recognition of marriage for same-sex couples nationwide. This ongoing discrimination can lead to under- and unemployment, resulting in socioeconomic disparities for LGBT people. In addition, empirical research has linked LGBT health disparities, including disparities in health-related risk factors, to experiences of stigma and discrimination. Currently, federal statutes in the United States do not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, or public accommodations, leaving regulation in this area primarily to state and local governments. This creates a limited and uneven patchwork of protections from discrimination against LGBT people across the country. Despite public support for LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination laws across the country, in 28 states there are no statewide statutory protections for LGBT people in employment, housing, or public accommodations. To date, only 20 states and the District of Columbia have enacted comprehensive non-discrimination statutes that expressly prohibit discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity in all three of these areas. One additional state has statutes that prohibit sexual orientation discrimination, but not gender identity discrimination, in these areas. One other state prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment and housing, but not in public accommodations. In states without statutes that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity, there are other policies that afford LGBT people at least some limited protections from discrimination. In some of these states, state executive branch officials have expanded non-discrimination protections for LGBT people under their executive or agency powers. For example, in three states, state government agencies have expanded broad protections from sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination through administrative regulations. And, in 12 states without statutes prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people, governors have issued executive orders that protect state government employees (and sometimes employees of state government contractors) from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, local government ordinances provide another source of protection from discrimination; however, these laws are generally unenforceable in court and provide much more limited remedies than statewide non-discrimination statutes. In recent years, lawmakers have increasingly attempted to limit the reach of state and local non-discrimination laws, which can leave LGBT people vulnerable to discrimination. For example, some states have passed laws allowing religiously motivated discrimination and others have passed laws prohibiting local governments from enacting their own non-discrimination ordinances that are broader than state non-discrimination laws. While most of these bills have not passed, the recent increase in the introduction of these measures suggests that state legislatures will continue to consider rolling back non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in the coming years. Continued efforts are required at both the state and federal levels to ensure that LGBT people are fully protected from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity throughout the United States, including federal legislation and statewide bills in over half the states.
Mitchell Dylan Sellers
Executives in the United States influence politics and policies involving the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community. While this is more of a modern phenomenon, presidents and governors actively shape politics that directly influence the community. This allows executives to set the tone of discourse and the eventual result of LGBTQ politics. Most presidents in modern times shaped debate surrounding LGBTQ rights in a positive light, but President Trump’s tone and policies go against recent trends. Executives on every level of government can shape, and have shaped, LGBTQ politics using formal powers, such as executive orders, administrative orders, directives, memorandums, and councils. The various executive documents allow executives to directly set policy through orders or to provide guiding philosophy for how policy should operate. Councils and advisory boards inform executives by providing expertise that executives need to create sound policy. Executives rely on each of the policymaking tools to varying degrees, but all presidents and governors have the ability to use the powers. One often ignored way executives influence policy is by setting the agenda by “going public” to bring the issue to everyday citizens. Executives have shaped many policies that directly affect the LGBTQ community, but three policy areas deserve special focus: the ban on gay and transgender service members in the military, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and nondiscrimination protections. In each of these cases, multiple executives have stepped in to shape policy and enforcement of regulations. In some cases, this is for the better. For instance, nondiscrimination policies came about in many states using gubernatorial executive orders. In other situations, executive action, or inaction, worked to the detriment of LGBTQ individuals, such as the failure of the Reagan administration to respond to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Executives have influenced policy and implementation of policies since the 1970s. This influence is likely to continue for decades to come, not just with these issues, but in many policy areas that affect the lives of LGBTQ individuals.
The field of empirical scholarship on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) political and social movements that developed in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century has much to contribute to analysis of these movements and their political and cultural contexts. Empirical studies have examined LGBTQ movements in comparison to other types of social movements, finding similarities and alliances as well as distinctive elements. We have learned how LGBTQ movements operate in different global and local contexts, as well as how they interact with different kinds of political systems. Scholars have studied how broader social attitudes have evolved and responded to LGBTQ movements, and the way that backlash to these movements operate in different times and places. At the same time, the theoretical literature that grounds and interprets these studies contributes not just to the epistemology of social movements, but to understandings of the purposes of social and political theorizing. Scholars have examined the utility of different frameworks for understanding social movement organizing, such as the use of civil rights, human rights, and sexual citizenship frameworks. Scholars from the social sciences and humanities have at times brought different theoretical approaches to bear on our understanding of LGBTQ movements, evident in different perspectives regarding the theory of homonationalism. Among the exciting intellectual developments of the late 20th and early 21st century is the burgeoning field of trans studies and trans theory, of social and political theory informed by Global South and Indigenous perspectives, and from the queer of color critique literature.
In recent decades, the efflorescence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) movements has created powerful inroads for sexual rights in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. While conditions for LGBTI people vary considerably between and within countries, activists across the region are reshaping political, legal, and social understandings of gender and sexuality through their advocacy, both by seizing opportunities and navigating periods of backlash and repression. Over the years, activists have established domestic movements and have expanded their reach to articulate demands in regional and international forums. Their work has challenged the universality of models developed in other parts of the globe and has generated new tactics to respond to religious, familial, and state-sponsored prejudice. At the same time, questions of representativeness, accountability, and strategy have been raised by constituencies and longtime activists alike, inviting critical assessments of movement politics in the region.
Royal G. Cravens III
From the late 20th and into the early 21st centuries, scholars in the field of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) politics have produced a substantial body of literature that explores and explains the political attitudes and behavior of sexual and gender minorities. The interdisciplinary nature of the field is reflected in the broad range of approaches and theories that attempt to explain political phenomena among LGBTQ people. The majority of the literature reveals sexual minorities to be politically distinct from heterosexuals, in that sexual minorities are more ideologically liberal and, in the United States, more likely to support Democratic partisans. Largely because of heterosexism, sexual and gender minorities are also more likely to participate in political activities that directly implicate their sexual orientation or gender identity, such as volunteering with LGBTQ interest groups or attending “Pride” events, although sexual orientation and gender identity are significant predictors of a variety of attitudes and behavior. Recent research has demonstrated that LGBTQ people also participate in politics by running for office, mounting legal challenges to discriminatory laws or government actions, and collectively organizing locally, nationally, and internationally. Explanations for LGBTQ political distinctiveness have concentrated in three broad areas: selection, embeddedness, and conversion theories. While studies have provided supportive evidence for each hypothesis, the field has also increasingly turned to intersectional evaluations that admonish researchers to interrogate intragroup LGBTQ behavioral and attitudinal heterogeneity more fully. The infusion of intersectional theory into LGBTQ political research has revealed attitudinal and behavioral distinctions among sexual and gender minorities centered on axes of race and ethnicity, nationality, religion, age, and income, among others. The critical importance of disentangling the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity, the recognition of cross-cutting structures of oppression such as homophobia, sexism, and racism, and the emergence of subfields of LGBTQ political behavior are indicative of a burgeoning field of study. Looking to the future of LGBTQ political research, the political successes of the LGBTQ movement and evolving conceptions of sexual and gender identity have necessitated a reevaluation of LGBTQ political behavior in the 21st century. The continued diffusion of same-sex marriage, the electoral capture of LGBTQ voters, and the destabilization of identity categories that has been demanded by queer theory all pose unique challenges to the future of LGBTQ politics and political mobilization around the globe.
Andrew Goodhart and Jami K. Taylor
For most of its history, the U.S. military has maintained a policy of exclusion toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people serving in uniform. The justifications for these exclusions have included the view that being homosexual or transgender is a psychological disorder, that it undermines military morale and effectiveness, and a fear that LGBT people would be vulnerable to foreign espionage. Explicit policies banning consensual homosexual sex—and excluding from service those who engage in it—date to the period between World Wars I and II, but de facto efforts at exclusion have existed since the early days of the republic. Regulations governing homosexuals in the military came under pressure in the 1970s and 1980s as societal views toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people changed, and those LGB service members discharged under the policy increasingly challenged their treatment in court. (Public pressure to change regulations governing transgender people in the military arose mostly in the 2000s, though litigation efforts date to the 1970s.) In addition to general shifts in public and legal opinion, the debate over LGB people serving in the U.S. military was affected by the experience of foreign militaries that allow LGB people to serve. United States law began to loosen formal restrictions on LBG people serving in uniform with the passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) in 1994, but it still required LGB people to serve in secret. Changing public perceptions of LGB people and problems implementing the ban galvanized support for eliminating such restrictions. In 2010, President Obama signed legislation repealing DADT and removing all restrictions on LGB people serving in the military. However, transgender people do not enjoy the same rights. The Trump administration has revised Obama-era rules on transgender service members to enable greater exclusion. The issue is being contested in the courts and appears ripe for further political and legal dispute.