Despite decades of progress on LGBT rights, there continue to be bullying-related suicides among our youth, including 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer; attacks on our people, including 19-year-old Marcellus Andrews, of Waterloo, Iowa; and sports figures like hockey player Wayne Simmonds who just naturally spew anti-gay hate as a way to attack opponents.
These are "now" events, not "then." Skimming the pages of the gay press from the 1970s to the 1990s, there were many high-profile cases of harassment and murder, suicide and despair. Some of these made mainstream headlines, such as the murder of Charles Howard 27 years ago. Howard was thrown over a bridge into the Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor, Maine on July 7, 1984. Three boys pled guilty to the killing, which allowed them to serve minimal time, because they were teens (15, 16 and 17). Howard was 23 when he was killed, and his case sparked a national outrage.
Flash forward 14 years: in October 1998, Matthew Shepard, 21, was brutally murdered near Laramie, Wyo., causing more national outrage. Spurred by the then-nascent Internet, his crime took on international proportions and still is a basis for educating about hate and violence. There is now a federal hate-crimes statute named for Matthew and fellow hate victim James Byrd, and his family carries on his name through the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which has just announced a multi-million-dollar "American Giving Awards" contest.
Now, in 2011, we have seen major successes, such as the removal of DADT. But this progress is overshadowed by continued harassment and even murder. So it's hard to get excited about a new report showing that Americans are moving "dramatically toward acceptance of homosexuality." Some Americans "like us, they really like us," while others would fire us, take away our children, deny us the right to adopt or foster children, ban us from marrying, and, in some cases, kill us.
This newest study, "Public Attitudes Toward Homosexuality," is by NORC at the University of Chicago, an independent research organization headquartered in downtown Chicago.
NORC reports: "In addition to a plurality who now approve of same-sex marriage, Americans overwhelmingly support basic civil liberties and freedom of expression for gays and lesbians, in contrast to sharp division on such issues in the 1970s." This shows a "trend toward greater tolerance regarding homosexuality," said Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey (GSS) at NORC and author of the NORC report.
The rise in support for same-sex marriage went from 11 percent approval in 1988 to 46 percent in 2010, compared to 40 percent who were opposed, according to NORC, which based its findings of the latest GSS, conducted in 2010 with a cross sample of more than 2,000 people.
In 2010, 26 percent of the people surveyed who were under 30 said they felt same-sex behavior is "always wrong," while 63 percent of the people aged 70 and older held that opinion. ... Although 44 percent of the people surveyed felt that sexual relations between two adults of the same sex is always wrong, another 41 percent thought such relations were "not wrong at all."
And even more depressing to think about is that the following issues are even up for debate, according to NORC:
Support for a gay person's right to speak before a public audience increased from 62 percent in 1972 to 86 percent in 2010; support for allowing gays and lesbians to teach at colleges or universities rose from 48 percent in 1973 to 84 percent in 2010; and approval for having a library keep a book that favors homosexuality rose from 54 percent in 1973 to 78 percent in 2010.
What bothers me most are the questions themselves. If you surveyed most Americans, many would probably think some Latinos, African-Americans or even the president don't have some of those rights. We have to move away from a society that precariously hinges our rights on the whims of popular opinion. That path resulted in the ban on same-sex marriage in California and other states. And it is a path that will never lead to equality.
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