Although popular culture may cultivate the perception that all young people everywhere are in support of gay rights, a recent University of Michigan study shows that one-third still do not. While I’d like to focus on the uplifting seventy-five percent that support LGBT civil rights, one-third is still far too large a fraction—especially among our population’s future leaders.
The findings of the study, which appear in the current issue of the Journal of Community Practice, came from a sample of 2,568 heterosexual-identified sophomores, juniors, and graduate students. Participants were asked to provide their views on contemporary LGBT civil rights issues including marriage laws and employment protection rights.
Michael Woodford, a University of Michigan assistant professor of social work and the study’s lead author, says that many of our social policies are to blame for this “heterosexism.” Laws against marriage equality, as well as failing to provide transgender employees with laws that protect their right of gender expression, aid in perpetuating a cycle of discrimination.
“Heterosexism can negatively impact the well-being of LGBT people and their families in many ways,” said Woodford. “Though important advances have occurred in LGBT rights, especially this past year with the Supreme Court’s ruling recognizing same-sex marriage federally, LGBT people throughout the country do not necessarily have the same rights as their heterosexual neighbors and friends.”
According to Woodford, gay couples in Michigan cannot legally marry, and sexual orientation and gender expression are not included in the state’s employment protection laws.
“Understanding citizens’ views about these issues are important as groups continue to work toward LGBT equality,” he added.
Despite the unfortunately significant number of students in opposition, the grand majority of students did side in favor of LGBT rights. Seventy-eight percent of students in the study support employment protections, seventy-one percent support civil unions, and sixty-eight percent support marriage equality.
Students who identified as liberal or progressive were more likely to show support of LGBT civil rights than those who identified as conservative. Furthermore, those who with an LGBT relative were more likely to support LGBT civil rights, while those who attend religious services regularly were not.
According to Woodford, highlighting the courage that out LGBT people face encourages students to support their civil rights.
“In other words, they have some insights into heterosexism and the risks that LGBT people often overcome when they come out,” said Woodford. “Therefore, by educating students and the public about everyday heterosexism and its consequences, groups advocating for LGBT rights might help to sway some people to support LGBT equality.”