Degrees of Acceptance: Variation in Public Attitudes toward Segments of the LGBT Community

Date01 December 2017
Published date01 December 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2017, Vol. 70(4) 861 –875
© 2017 University of Utah
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912917717352
American attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-
gender (LGBT) rights often favor legal equality, and sur-
veys indicate that those opinions have generally moved in
a pro-LGBT direction in recent years, following a string
of policy successes at the state and national levels
(Baunach 2012; Flores and Barclay 2016; Kreitzer,
Hamilton, and Tolbert 2014). For example, support for
same-sex marriage increased in the past decade from 27
percent to 60 percent (Gallup 2016), and 69 percent of
Americans support a federal nondiscrimination law pro-
tecting LGBT people from discrimination in employ-
ment, housing, and public accommodations (Lorenz
2015). While these relatively high-polling numbers sug-
gest broad support for LGBT rights, it is important to rec-
ognize that the LGBT community includes a diverse set
of groups, including those based on sexual orientation
and/or gender identity. It is not clear from current research
whether positive public sentiment applies equally to the
various groups under the LGBT umbrella. Most of the
public and scholarly attention to the LGBT movement
centers on sexual orientation and, most recently, the issue
of same-sex marriage (Tadlock and Taylor 2017), but far
less attention has been paid to issues related to gender
identity and the transgender community. Thus, it is diffi-
cult to ascertain whether high levels of support for non-
discrimination policies covering sexual orientation will
translate to new policies that provide protections based
on gender identity. If the public views the various sub-
groups of the LGBT community differently, this has
important implications for politics of LGBT rights.
This gap in our understanding about the different
groups under the LGBT umbrella prompts two research
questions: do Americans distinguish in their attitudes
between different segments of the LGBT community,
specifically between sexual orientation and gender iden-
tity? And if so, what factors drive individuals to evaluate
gays and lesbians differently from transgender people?1
Understanding any potential attitudinal differences held
by the public may have important implications given the
salience of LGBT rights in our politics and the increasing
prominence of transgender rights in policymaking (e.g.,
Taylor and Haider-Markel 2014).
We examine these questions with analyses of a nation-
ally representative survey on attitudes toward the LGBT
717352PRQXXX10.1177/1065912917717352Political Research QuarterlyLewis et al.
1Siena College, Loudonville, NY, USA
2Mills College, Oakland, CA, USA
3The University of Kansas, Lawrence, USA
4Ohio University, Athens, USA
5The University of Toledo, OH, USA
Corresponding Author:
Daniel C. Lewis, Siena College, 515 Loudon Rd., Loudonville, NY
12211, USA.
Degrees of Acceptance: Variation in
Public Attitudes toward Segments of
the LGBT Community
Daniel C. Lewis1, Andrew R. Flores2, Donald P. Haider-Markel3,
Patrick R. Miller3, Barry L. Tadlock4, and Jami K. Taylor5
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community includes a diverse set of groups, including distinct groups
based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity, but it is not clear whether the public makes distinctions in their
attitudes toward these subgroups. If they do, what factors motivate individuals to evaluate gays and lesbians differently
from transgender people? This study analyzes Americans’ attitudes toward these communities, and it evaluates their
support for nondiscrimination protections. We find that public attitudes are significantly more negative toward
transgender people and policies pertaining to them than they are toward gay men and lesbians and related policies.
The analyses reveal that differences in these attitudes are associated with social contact effects, variation in cognitive
consistency, elite cues, and the varying magnitudes of key political factors, such as religiosity and partisanship.
transgender, LGBT, public opinion, interpersonal contact, group affect

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