It’s disappointing news for the LGBTQ community as Pride month is celebrated across the US.
An alarming new statistic from the annual Accelerating Acceptance report finds that young Americans — generally regarded as the most socially tolerant generation — are less comfortable with LGBTQ people than in previous years.
The survey, produced by the Harris Poll in partnership with Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), found that Americans aged 18 to 34 who say they are comfortable interacting with queer people fell from 53% in 2017 to 45% in 2018 — even among those whom the report considers “allies” to the LGBTQ community.
This was the only age group to show a decline in overall acceptance. Women had a sharper decline, falling from 64% to 52%, compared to the 5% decrease among men, from 40 to 35%.
“We count on the narrative that young people are more progressive and tolerant,” John Gerzema, CEO of the Harris Poll, tells USA Today. “These numbers are very alarming and signal a looming social crisis in discrimination.”
Across all subcategories, young Americans became less comfortable with the idea of interacting with gay/lesbian, trans and nonbinary people. The percentage of 18- to 34-year-olds who felt uneasy about a family member coming out increased from 29% to 36%. Even at the clinic, where science and expertise are most valuable, young adults weren’t keen on the idea of being treated by a queer doctor either, with 34% polling as uncomfortable with the situation, compared to 27% last year.
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On the other hand, the oldest generation of Americans made great strides in acceptance between 2017 and 2018. For example, although adults age 72 and older were generally less accepting of the notion of LGBTQ history being taught in school, their level of discomfort actually declined from 47% to 37%. Compare that to 18- to 34-year-olds, whose uneasiness rose from 30 to 39%.
GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis says it may have to do with the fact that younger people are interacting with more LGBTQ people than older generations — and things that they don’t fully understand could be bewildering for some of them.
“This newness they are experiencing could be leading to this erosion. It’s a newness that takes time for people to understand,” she says. “Our job is to educate about nonconformity.”
Gerzema partially blames the sometimes “toxic” social media environment, which may have encouraged a recent uptick in hate-related violence, says Ellis, whose advocacy group has counted more than 40 incidents of violence against LGBTQ since 2019 began.
It’s a stark reminder that the work of queer allies is far from over.
Says Gerzema, “In this toxic age, tolerance — even among youths — now seems to be parsed out. Nothing today should be taken for granted.”