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Pride and Public Opinion

By Kerry Lobel

Trent Lott doesn't speak for me. In fact, he doesn't speak for most Americans. If you listen to the Senate Majority Leader, you'll hear that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are both sick and sinful.

The thing is, most Americans aren't listening to Senator Lott. Instead, they're watching him. They're watching the leader of the U.S. Senate use an already marginalized group of people to score cheap political points with a faction of the Republican party that does not speak for the vast majority of Americans.

Senator Lott is out of step with mainstream America, pure and simple. In fact, a recent report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, From Wrongs to Rights, shows most Americans now support basic civil rights for gay men and lesbians.

Having just celebrated pride throughout the country this past month, I'm struck by how much we have actually changed the landscape of America. Support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights has grown throughout our country. The majority of Americans not only increasingly favor the notion of equality for gay men and lesbians, but trends in public opinion toward lesbian and gay equality have liberalized on nearly every major issue over time ñ from equality in employment (in general and in specific positions, e.g., teachers, the military, clergy, doctors, etc.) to housing.

After years of stable disapproval of homosexual behavior, the 1990s have seen a demonstrable dip in public disapproval. By 1996, disapproval rates dropped to 56 percent. And in fact, 63 percent to 73 percent of Americans believe that "homosexual relations in private between consenting adults" should be "left to individuals."

This does not mean the debates, the struggles and the setbacks are over. We need only look to anti-gay victories in Maine, the vitriol from the halls of Congress, the direct mail from the extreme Right-wing, and the bottlenecking of the Hormel nomination to see that as a minority diminishes, it often becomes more dedicated and impassioned. In the end, only the true believers are left, and oh, what a run for our money the true believers are giving us. Even Pat Robertson is desperate. In June, he responded to flags flown in Orlando for Pride by saying, the widespread practice of homosexuality "will bring about terrorist bombs, it'll bring earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor."

The outcome of the various battles for equality, however, cannot be assessed purely from the votes or the venom. The debate about our lives has significantly contributed to a positive shift in public opinion over the past two decades. We need look no further than the issue of marriage to see this. Despite major policy setbacks in the same-sex marriage debate such as the Defense of Marriage Act, opposition to same-sex marriages is declining and a majority of Americans now support some spousal benefits for same-sex couples, such as social security and insurance benefits.

In other words, our movement is moving America. So, even when we lose, we win, and for that we do indeed have much to be proud about.

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Eye on Equality is a monthly column that discusses or gives commentary on national and state-level political events or provides a behind-the-scenes look a social movements and trends. The column is written by Kerry Lobel, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.


©1998 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.