‘Others’ in America: Will 2013 Go Down as the USA’s Year of Acceptance?

A new poll averages the LGBT population at only 3.5 percent state by state; yet LGBT support is a majority rule. Of course that’s a good thing.

Undocumented immigrants coming out of the shadows
Undocumented immigrants coming out of the shadows could be one change in American society in 2013 (Photo: Jonathan Alcorn/Getty Images).
is a Los Angeles-based writer whose work has appeared Atlantic, Back Stage, The Christian Science Monitor and The Hill.

Five years into Barack Obama’s time as president, and change could finally be coming to American society.

Immigration reform, which will bring millions of families and young people out from the shadows, is a realistic possibility for the first time in a generation.

The war in Afghanistan is edging to a deliberate close, bookending more than a decade of conflict but presenting towns and cities around the country with different struggles.

States are preparing to implement (or misapply) the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, and the Supreme Court is considering two LGBT equality cases, which are expected to become landmark rulings in the struggle for gay rights.

We hope to hold these truths to be self-evident: That 2013 will be recorded as a year when American attitudes about minorities and the vulnerable in society shift toward full acceptance.

A new poll from Gallup supports that hypothesis. The poll found that people who identify as LGBT average only 3.5 percent of the population in each the United States. In Illinois, which is one of four states where legislation pursuing marriage equality is currently pending, the LGBT population is 3.8 percent, according to Gallup.

“As more people get to know their LGBT neighbors, co-workers, or talk to LGBT friends and family members, they realize that marriage equality is not a political issue, it’s a human issue. These conversations are what drive the growth in support we’re seeing.”

That means a large portion of the groundswell support for LGBT rights in Illinois is coming from residents who do not identify as LGBT.

To put that portion in context, on the eve of the start of the civil rights struggle in Alabama in 1960, the black population represented 30 percent of the state, according to the University of Virginia’s Historical Census Browser.

The Gallup survey methodology has been criticized for requiring respondents to self-identify as LGBT, which might have resulted in underreporting. Still, even if the findings represented only 50 percent of the whole, the size of the non-LGBT contingent supporting LGBT causes is massive and significant.

“While the percentage of those who self-identify as LGBT might be low, the percentage of Americans who know someone who’s LGBT is at an all-time high, almost 80 percent according to some polls,” Aaron McQuade, a spokesman for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLADD), tells TakePart.

LGBT voters were far from on their own in mandating marriage equality in Maine, Maryland and Washington State in 2012 elections. Those steps toward acceptance required the votes of the majority—51.5 percent in Maine, 52. 4 percent in Maryland and some 54 percent in Washington State.

Also in 2012, 1.53 million Wisconsinites voted to send the country’s first openly gay Senator, Tammy Baldwin, to Washington. Baldwin’s success came despite Wisconsin’s LGBT population being among the smallest in the country—only 2.8 percent, according to the Gallup survey.     

“As more people get to know their LGBT neighbors, co-workers, or talk to LGBT friends and family members, they realize that marriage equality is not a political issue, it’s a human issue,” says McQuade. “These conversations are what drive the growth in support we’re seeing.”

Brian Ellner, a New York-based gay rights advocate who helped pass that state’s marriage equality legislation in 2011, says the movement still has more work to do. 

“I don’t think anyone should push the pause button right now,” he says. “There’s tremendous momentum nationally. It’s important to keep pushing it and keep winning.”

As the LGBT community senses victory after a long struggle, so too may undocumented immigrants, veterans, the poor and other groups that have existed on the fringes of American society until now—including women—can sense that wins are on the horizon. 

How have your attitudes changed toward “other” people? Chart your growth in COMMENTS.

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