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Support for LGBTQ people suffers 'alarming erosion,' report finds

by John Paul Brammer /

Support for LGBTQ people across the country has fallen, according to a national survey indexing attitudes toward the community. It is the first time in the survey's four-year history to register a decline.

The Harris Poll, which has been tracking public opinion and social sentiment since 1963, was commissioned by LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD four years ago to annually survey attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. This year's online survey included 2,160 adult participants, 1,897 of which identified as "non-LGBTQ."

The survey's results indicated a significant decrease in comfort among heterosexual people in personal situations relating to LGBTQ identity. These situations included "learning a family member is LGBTQ," "learning my child's teacher is LGBTQ" and "learning my doctor is LGBTQ."

Thirty percent of non-LGBTQ respondents reported they would be either "very uncomfortable" or "somewhat uncomfortable" if they learned a family member was LGBTQ. This is up from both 2015 and 2016's findings, when 27 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents reported they would be uncomfortable on some level.

Thirty-one percent of non-LGBTQ respondents said they would be uncomfortable with their child having an LGBTQ teacher. This is the highest level of discomfort reported in the Harris Poll's history, with 30 percent expressing discomfort in 2014, 29 percent in 2015 and 28 percent in 2016.

A meaningful shift from "allies" to "detached supporters" was also recorded in the survey. The survey defines "allies" as "non-LGBTQ respondents who were either 'very' or 'somewhat' comfortable in all situations" involving LGBTQ identity, and "detached supporters" as "non-LGBTQ respondents whose comfort level varied across situations."

Last year, 53 percent of respondents were "allies," while 33 percent were "detached supporters." This year, 51 percent were "allies," while 35 percent were "detached supporters." "Resisters," defined as "non-LGBTQ respondents who were either 'very' or 'somewhat' uncomfortable in all situations" involving LGBTQ identity, remained steady at 14 percent.

Perhaps most disturbing is the noted uptick in the number of LGBTQ respondents reporting having experienced discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. In this latest survey, the number jumped to 55 percent — an 11-point jump from last year.

“In the past year, there has been a swift and alarming erosion of acceptance which can only be fought by being visible and vocal,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement sent to NBC News. “This report puts numbers to the bias that too many LGBTQ Americans have recently experienced."

In a statement included within the report, Ellis said the decline in LGBTQ support "can be seen as a dangerous repercussion in the tenor of discourse and experience over the last year."

"2017 brought heightened rhetoric toward marginalized communities to the forefront of American culture. Policies and headlines ran that were anti-LGBTQ including the President’s proposed ban on transgender people entering the U.S. military, confirmation of a Supreme Court justice opposed to marriage equality, and the passage of a state law in Mississippi which allows businesses to legally deny service to LGBTQ families,” Ellis wrote.

The GLAAD/Harris Poll findings arrive on the heels of a new report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) that found single-incident, anti-LGBTQ homicides nearly doubled in 2017 compared to 2016. The organization, which has been tracking hate-violence homicides since 1996, found 52 LGBTQ people were killed last year as a result of hate violence.

“This report is a wake-up call for all of us,” Beverly Tillery, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, which coordinates the NCAVP, said. “Our communities live in an increasingly hostile and dangerous climate."

The GLAAD/Harris Poll findings and the NCAVP report are concurrent with a rise in hate crimes in general, which rose 5 percent in 2016, compared to the year before, as reported by the FBI. Of the 6,063 incidents involving 7,509 victims the FBI analyzed, 17 percent were targeted for their sexual orientation. Of the 17 percent, most of the victims were gay men.

Findings of the Harris Poll weren't entirely grim, however. Support for equal rights for LGBTQ people among non-LGBTQ people has remained stable at 79 percent.

"Forward progress ebbs and flows in every social justice movement," Ellis said. "Progress for marginalized communities is a pendulum that swings in both directions, but ultimately lands on freedom."

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