Friday, May 16, 2003

American Attitudes Towards Homosexuality Changing

According to the most recent Gallup Poll, more Americans support legal protection for homosexual couples. This doesn't surprise me one whit. In my lifetime (I'm 32), homosexuality has become increasingly more "mainstream," with popular entertainers outing themselves, gay characters on movies and tv shows, and many more average Americans willingly identifying themselves as gays or lesbians. Of course, there are still many homophobic people out there (I'm looking at you, Senator Santorum), but it's increasingly viewed as inappropriate to "gay bash" or malign homosexuals in polite company.

I believe this is indicative of a profound shift in our culture, which can be tied to many more Americans having friends and family that they are aware are gay. It's easy to demonize or stereotype "the other" - someone you have little contact with, and who you believe is completely different from you. But once you are exposed to the other, either through desegregation (in the case of African Americans and other minority groups), or through an awareness that someone you care about is a part of the maligned group (in the case of homosexuality), then the illusion of difference is destroyed. Vehement and extreme bigots may resist this knowledge, but most people are bigots through ignorance, not hatred, and their attitudes can and will change.

This is certainly true of white Americans' attitudes towards African Americans - in the past 40 years, racism has gone from being widely accepted and ingrained in our culture to something that is widely perceived as tacky and rude. Even most of those who still have racist attitudes realize they can not express them in public or without using very veiled language - to overtly make racist statements is to make yourself an outcast from polite society. This change in perception has not erased racism, but it's an important first step - by changing the way people use language, you are changing the way they think, and thus they way they act. I have high hopes that the similar changes in the way straight Americans think about homosexuality will ultimately result in legislative changes, up to and including marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

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