Gay and lesbian acceptance on the rise

SAN FRANCISCO

Our 6th annual ABC7 Listens Poll on gay and lesbian issues shows that acceptance of gays and lesbians is increasing in the Bay Area.

It's that time of year again when hundreds of thousands of gays and lesbians come to San Francisco for the annual gay pride celebration. It's the largest celebration of its kind in the United States, and it's no wonder so many people come here.

In our annual ABC7 Listens Poll on gay and lesbian issues, we asked you questions about gay rights that are asked in national polls. Overwhelmingly, respondents to our poll felt that relationships between gays should be legal -- 81 percent compared to 55 percent nationally.

"Have we reached a plateau where 81 percent approval is as high as it can get in the Bay Area? No, I'd say not. I predict it will go higher," says SFSU Professor Gilbert Herdt who heads up the Department of Human Sexuality Studies at San Francisco State University. "We do live, in a sense, in an island in the Bay Area. It is a very, very progressive area in all kinds of ways."

Herdt is an expert on public perception of sexuality and he says it's not surprising the Bay Area is on the forefront of sexual equality.

"We generally have a more highly educated, more mobile population of people who come here seeking good jobs and a good way of life and there's something about that that creates a sense of tolerance," says Professor Herdt.

Since 1983, national polls have shown little change in the acceptance of homosexuality. Our poll, however, found that people in the Bay Area are much more tolerant.

Matt Coles, with the American Civil Liberties Union in New York, says our poll shows just how far the gay civil rights movement has come.

"California has been, I think, slowly but steadily confronting the issue of whether you ought to be able to treat people differently because they're lesbian or gay, because they're in a same-sex relationship. I think California has been having essentially an internal social dialog about that for the better part of 30, 35 years," says Coles.

In our poll, 94 percent felt gays should have equal rights in terms of job protection. Nationally that number is 89 percent. That's where the Bay Area was last year.

"I think California is... it's ahead of the rest of the country, but it's absolutely where the rest of the country is going," says Coles.

On marriage, our poll found that a clear majority (59 percent) believe gays and lesbians should have equal marriage rights.

"I was surprised to see that the support for marriage was as strong as it was across the whole Bay Area," says Coles.

Seventy-seven percent believe Social Security and healthcare benefits should be extended to those couples. Sixty-one percent say they will oppose a ballot initiative to change the state's Constitution to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying.

"I think those numbers are going to solidify and get stronger," says Coles.

The initiative's supporters disagree.

"Now that the court has destroyed the definition of marriage for a man and a woman, the people have even more motivation to override the court, and this is going to be a strong majority," says Randy Thomasson with Campaign for California Families.

The number of gays and lesbians who would be impacted by such an amendment is not definitively known. However, for six years in a row, our poll found that nearly 10 percent of our respondents identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. That means there are some 700,000 LGBT people in the Bay Area.

Professor Herdt believes that number is likely higher in the region.

"I do think that the Bay Area is unique and probably has a disproportionately higher percentage -- at least 10 percent, maybe much more," says Professor Herdt.

>> Read the complete findings of our poll here

>> Sign up to be an ABC7 Listens Poll member

Written and produced by Ken Miguel.

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