01/04/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Changing Tides in the Fight for LGBT Rights

After Proposition 8 and other anti-gay ballot initiatives passed on November 4, there have been a lot of important conversations about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues and what is next for our community. We saw significant setbacks on November 4, but there has been a surge in grassroots activism that signals new opportunities for our community moving forward.

Despite these setbacks, the LGBT community has seen meaningful progress in recent years, and we need to continue building on that progress. A survey by Harris Interactive, commissioned by GLAAD, where I serve as President, gives us an important snapshot of where we are and where we are going.

First, majorities of Americans favor policies and legal protections for LGBT Americans, and support for our community has been growing over the past five years. In fact, nearly two out of 10 Americans (19%) say that their feelings about gay and lesbian people have become more favorable over the past five years.

A number of factors contributed to the shift in public opinion. The survey shows that greater acceptance is tied to seeing laws passed that protect LGBT Americans; conversations with family, friends and clergy; and what people see in news and entertainment media. But most importantly, it's tied to personally knowing someone who's gay or lesbian.

At GLAAD, we talk all the time about the importance of sharing our stories, and the numbers support the fact that more than ever that we have to be open about our lives to our families, friends and colleagues, and in our communities at large.

And thanks to our visibility, we have seen progress. Majorities of Americans favor relationship recognition for gay couples (either marriage or civil unions/domestic partnerships), inclusive hate crimes laws, allowing openly gay service members to serve in the armed forces, inclusive non-discrimination laws, and a strong majority opposes laws to ban adoption by qualified gay parents.

The Pulse of Equality telephone survey was conducted among 2,008 U.S. adults ages 18 and older from November 13-17. During that time, marches and rallies in response to the passage of Prop 8 in California took place across the country, marking a period of heightened visibility for our community. Here are some of the numbers:

• Three-quarters of U.S. adults (75%) favor either marriage or domestic partnerships/civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.
• U.S. adults are now about evenly divided on whether they support allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry (47% favor to 49% oppose).
• Almost two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adults favor allowing openly gay military personnel to serve in the armed forces.
• About six in 10 (63%) U.S. adults favor expanding hate crime laws to cover gay and transgender people.
• A majority of U.S. adults (51%) favor protecting gay and transgender people under existing laws that prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
• Nearly seven out of 10 U.S. adults (69%) oppose laws that would ban qualified gay and lesbian couples from adopting children.

There is no doubt that the conversations of the past several years, and the intense visibility of the past few weeks, seems to have galvanized Americans' support of equality for LGBT Americans. As the setbacks that we have seen remind us, we cannot take that progress for granted. We will need to continue to increase our visibility, make our voices heard, and work to translate this progress into policies and legal protections for LGBT people.