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Over the rainbow?

Posted on 11 July 2019 by Nancy Kelley, Deputy Chief Executive
Tags: British Social Attitudes, LGBT, diversity, relationships

It’s Pride month, our timelines are full of rainbows, and this week Westminster voted to extend same sex marriage rights to Northern Ireland.

So are we really getting less tolerant of lesbian and gay relationships?Nancy BSA36 blog 1

The short answer is ‘no’. This year’s British Social Attitudes survey found that 66% of the public think that lesbian and gay sexual relationships are ‘not wrong at all’. Although this number is 2 percentage points lower than last year, the difference is not statistically significant – which means it may have happened by chance rather than representing a real and durable change.

What we can see are some signs that the long trend of increasingly accepting attitudes may be levelling off, leaving behind a section of the population who feel uncomfortable with or actively opposed to lesbian and gay relationships.

So how big is that population, and what might drive their views?

When we ask this question, we provide six options, ranging from ‘not wrong at all’ to ‘always wrong’.   Here they are:

Nancy BSA36 blog 2

The public is pretty clear about this issue (not many ‘don’t knows’, ‘depends’ or refusals).  Two thirds of us think gay and lesbian sexual relationships are not wrong and 10% think that they are always wrong. 

If we’re interested in identifying the percentage of the population that are homophobic, we can group together the people who think gay and lesbian sexual relationships are ‘always’ and ‘mostly’ wrong.

Nancy BSA36 blog 3

Today, 16% of the population could be described as holding homophobic views. When we look at the trend, not only can we see this group shrinking rapidly over the decades (despite an upturn during the HIV/Aids crisis), we can also see that the percentage of the population who hold actively homophobic views is still in decline. No levelling off visible here, and every reason to expect the trend to continue.

We can’t say with certainty what lies behind these attitudes, but we do know that faith plays a role. While many religious people are socially liberal on this and other issues, for others accepting gay people means rejecting religious teachings they hold dear.  Among people who identify as ‘other Christian’, 28% think lesbian and gay relationships are ‘mostly’ or ‘always’ wrong, and among people who identify with non-Christian faiths, that rises to 43%.

There is a lot to celebrate about the long-term trend in public attitudes to lesbian and gay people, and every reason to hope that trend will continue.  But its not all rainbows and unicorns.  For LGBT+ people, particularly those who are raised in socially conservative religious communities, living with homophobia can still be a day-to-day challenge.

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