We Don't Know What We Don't Have

05/21/2008 03:13 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hunter College just released the results of a comprehensive study, touted by the institution as the most comprehensive study of lesbian, gay and bisexual attitudes and behavior to date.

When the results went public, the headline news was that its finding that roughly 2.9% of Americans are lesbian, gay or bisexual. While instinctively, that number feels low to me (I believe that my kids might argue, in the context of that stat, that I know all the gay people in America). But this is not the finding of most interest to me. Or the most disturbing one.

Respondents to the survey who identified as gay were tested on their knowledge regarding the law as it relates to their rights. They were asked four questions. And no, the first one was not 'why are you as a person different from all other people?"

Rather than give you the answers, I'll pose the questions, so you can play along. For each question below, see if YOU know the answer. And then, for each question, guess what percentage of gay people surveyed answered the question correctly.

Ready? Here goes.

1. Is marriage between two men or two women legal in your state?
2. Can gay men and lesbians serve openly in the military?
3. Does the U.S. Constitution have an amendment that bans same-sex marriage?
4. Is there a national law making it illegal to fire someone for being lesbian, gay or bisexual?

OK, I'll give you a minute.... Time's up.

Here are the answers:

1. If you are from California, you should have gotten that one right. Massachusetts is the other. A small number of other states offer civil unions and other kinds of broad protections. No one gets federal benefits of marriage and if you move from CA or MA to another state, best of luck to you. They won't have a clue what to do with your marriage license. See I told you it was complicated.

2. Gay and lesbian people can NOT serve openly in the military (even my mother knows that one)

3. There is currently NO Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage. But if a Republican is inaugurated on 1/20/09, all bets are off.

4. There is no national law protecting a gay person from being fired.

OK, so there are the answers. How did you do?

I sure hope you did better than the gay people surveyed by the gifted Ken Sherril and his colleagues at Hunter.


Let me say that again. A different way this time.


For those of you who think the big challenge of the gay rights movement is to educate straight people about the rights and protections we don't have, I suggest you think again.

Hunter College offers this explanation"...Research generally finds that Americans tend to be poorly informed about politics."

This ain't politics, folks. Where you work, how you live, who you love? I wouldn't use the word 'politics.' I'd use the word life.

This survey was done in the midst of one of the most exciting political seasons, a season in which Democratic candidates talked quite a bit about gay people. It is beyond embarrassing to think that Senators Clinton and Obama seem to know more about our rights (or lack thereof) than we do.

We aren't paying enough attention. Maybe Bravo is at fault. Too many of us are watching Project Runway. But whatever the reason, we have work to do.

You can't fight for what you don't have if you don't know you don't have it.