“Where Gay Americans Choose to Live and Why:” NY Times analyzes Gallup poll

Same-sex marriage laws sweep across states like a brushfire, sometimes leading and sometimes lagging LGBTQ migration. Or so it seems from this recent New York Times article by Claire Cain Miller and David Leonhardt, which analyzes data from Gallup surveys, compared to a map of same-sex marriage by the Human Rights Campaign. Among the surprises: Salt Lake City ekes past L.A. in rate of LGBT residents; San Jose and Pittsburgh have lower rates than the national Gallup-reported rate of 3.6% of adults identifying as LGBT.  As is so often the case, transgender Americans are lumped in with non-heterosexuals as though all the issues in their decisions about a home community are the same, which of course is not so. But leaving that aside, this survey data has several surprises.

The difference between the “gayest” city (San Francisco, at 6.2% of the population) and the “least gay”, Birmingham at 2.6%, is a wider gulf than I might have expected. Gallup did not include data for rural areas, which might have been even  more dramatically lower than Birmingham.

Interestingly, higher rates of LGBT residents does not perfectly correlate with same-sex marriage laws, or other legal protections. Salt Lake City is in a state with legal same-sex marriage, but also with a new “religious freedom” law that seems to protect some forms of discrimination. Austin TX and New Orleans LA both outrank Miami and New York City, despite being in states with same-sex marriage bans. Birmingham ranks lowest of metro areas surveyed, but Alabama has same-sex marriage (very recently and facing challenges from its Chief Justice).

As a parent, why does this matter to me? Will my kids, or their friends, sub-optimize a career decision because of less-friendly geography? We can’t just assume that they can pursue their dreams anywhere they want to be with an equal playing field of challenges. Yet, anyway.

 

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How Does Attitude Change Happen?

A tidal wave of acceptance rolls, as same-sex marriage becomes possible in more states, and more highly visible figures (professional sports players, politicians, actors etc.) come out or are out as they rise to success. But this acceptance is far from universal, as seen in the recent legal ruling in Louisiana upholding its same-sex marriage ban. And as we have seen with respect to race discrimination, legal solutions do not magically change all behavior, never mind all minds.

Those in the more conservative/traditional branches of religion seem not yet moved by this tidal wave, but they are hearing its roar and crash. Rabbi Steven Greenberg explains, regarding Orthodox Judaism, ” As a religiously conservative lot, we tend to highlight fear and potential loss more than opportunity. Change is scary. We’re not wrong in claiming that there are prices to pay for grand moves that shift cultural resources in a flash. Orthodoxy as a culture can help us to pay attention to the unintended consequences that every normative change entails.” Given his tradition’s long history, he describes the shift he has seen “…from homosexuality being a demonic evil, to a sinful proclivity, to curable illness and finally to an aspect of the human condition” over 45 years as a relatively quick shift. (Rabbi Greenberg is founder of Eshel, an Orthodox LGBTQ support, education and advocacy organization. You can read his full blog post on Moment.)

Writer Jeffrey Essman belongs to a New York parish that is “…so welcoming as to be nearly a parody of inclusion.” Even so, “I have no problem telling people I’m gay. But it can sometimes be weird telling people I’m a Catholic. Pope Francis’ ‘Who am I to judge?’ remarks, though taken entirely out of context and wildly misinterpreted, have nonetheless reflected a welcome shift in tone. But the shift is not widespread.” (Essman’s article in US Catholic, July 2014, appeared on Susan Cottrell’s Freed Hearts blog.)

Institutional attitude change is the sum of individual attitude changes by leaders and followers. Fast or slow, what are the actions or events that prompt individual attitude change? I think there are three identifiable moments.

First comes discomfort that you can’t avoided, usually because someone who already has approval comes out, challenging the negative stereotypes. Greenberg says, “…the picture of the threatening gay person is being replaced by the lovely couple across the street raising two kids.” As Tana Hall, a therapist specializing in LGBT youth and parents, explained, “Here’s the shocking secret: the Radical Gay and Lesbian Agenda (yes, we do have one!) is to have jobs, have stable committed relationships, maybe buy a house, maybe have some kids and/or a dog, and contribute to society.”

Anyone who stayed awake in Intro Psych knows will recognize cognitive dissonance: human brains aren’t happy holding two ideas which contradict each other, and will suppress or discard one to eliminate the discomfort. But which one stays? “I like watching Ellen DeGeneres, and she has almost as many male guests as female guests” or “all lesbians are aggressive man-haters?” I think it depends a lot on Moments 2 and 3.

The coming out of someone close is Moment 2. After all, “Hollywood people” or “sports stars” or even “American Idol finalists” are not “people like us,” so what goes for them doesn’t really change what is right and wrong in the life I’ve always known… one might conclude. But as soon as someone I already care about personally – a relative, close friend, child of a close friend, trusted colleague – comes out, the cognitive dissonance comes home. Now holding on to the homophobic thought could cost a relationship I value. On the other side of the scale is the potential relationship cost of bucking the tide of others’ opinions. Say the newly out teen’s parents believe this is a phase, best swept under the carpet and countered with lots of exposure to “more positive” role models, and maybe more religious activity. Butting in, in such a situation, would be scary and lonely – which brings us to Moment 3.

Seeing others in the immediate community also showing support makes it much less lonely to let the Moment 2 scales tip. This is why small actions, including word choice, can make a big difference even if they seem insignificant in the moment.

The push in recent years within the LGBTQ communities to come out not just to your friends but in all settings, is enabling more straight people to comfortably, if imperfectly, be allies. That in turn makes it easier for more people to be out in all settings, and Moments 2 and 3 beget each other.

This momentum of individual moments 2 and 3 is why now, 45 years after the Stonewall riots, and 22 years after the first state ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation (Wisconsin) it seems that LGBTQ rights are “suddenly” happening. Same-sex marriage has gained support because straight people know personally more than 1 or 2 people at whose same-sex weddings they would love to dance – and know they won’t be alone on the dance floor.

 

It’s the Little Things: Part 1

What does it mean to be a “good parent” to a child who is questioning his or her sexuality or gender, already identifies as LGBTQ,  is somewhere in between, or who has a friend in one of these categories? Let’s say “good” in this context means helping our kids know themselves, be good friends, and make healthy decisions. Behind those outcomes is an interim outcome: we need the conversation doors to stay open, especially where things seem uncertain or uncomfortable.

We intuitively know that little things like word choice and facial expressions matter, but the right actions and reactions often don’t spring readily to mind in the moment. And – no pressure! – the stakes are kinda high. This theme emerged in the very first interview I did for this blog.

“Parents can make it a self-fulfilling prophecy: they think [their child’s life as a queer person] is going to be hard, so they don’t stand up for them when they could, and indeed, life becomes harder than it needed to be.” – TH

Yet, as Ann Falchuk noted in her recent blog post, when it’s your kid who is questioning or coming out, parents have their own coming out process to go through, from zero to understanding to advocate, on an extremely compressed schedule. When it’s your kids’ friend, figuring out how to support that that kid, your own, and their friendship is a multi-layered challenge. But my interviews with teens and former teens brought welcome news: “good” parents don’t have to be perfect. Attention to some little things, even if uneven or awkwardly done, make a big difference.

A few small signals, or invitations to open a conversation, might seem ignored in the moment but will register:

“My grandfather, who was 94 when he died, used to watch James Bond movies with me. One day, out of the blue he paused the movie and asked me what I thought of gay marriage, and said he agreed with it. My grandparents had a house on Fire Island for years (I’m still mad they sold it) and he said they had partied with gay people out there. Taking time to talk and voice support makes a huge difference. Recently I was driving out to Long Island with my dad and there was news on the radio about the Iowa Caucus. They mentioned the Republican pledge to reverse gay marriage. My dad was reading, only half paying attention, but his reflexive grunt of disapproval was really wonderful.” -PO

“My mom always said, ‘You can talk to me about anything. The most important thing is to respect your body.’ She would say that sometimes to try to spark a conversation, and I got annoyed and angry at the time, but it was actually really important. I think it’s appropriate for parents to bring their questions and concerns. In a way, I would be more offended by a parent not being honest with their reactions even if it is painful or shows prejudice.” – MS

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Even in an era when same-sex marriage gains ground quickly, we should not underestimate the Mount Everest-like weight and carbon dioxide-like pervasiveness of the old expectations.

“A daughter of a two-mom family living in an LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood cam home from pre-school and asked one of her moms if she were sure she weren’t really a man. And many of her classmates had gay or lesbian parents.” – TH

And yet, making some small changes in language, even if you forget and don’t do it every time, can add up.

“Parents can make an effort to not create a hetero-normative environment, like by not asking ‘do you have a girlfriend?’ but ‘Are you seeing someone?’” -PO

“And don’t express relief when your kid reveals an interest in someone of the opposite sex. It undermines an opening for any discussion about sexual confusion, for your own kid or someone she knows.” – KW

“I am surprised sometimes by how many people are still using the word “choice,” and thereby implying that it’s a moral defect.” -BK

Taking the time to listen a little deeper can show what your kid really needs.

“The after-school program at my son’s nursery school had different leaders than the day program. I didn’t realize the difference in their attitudes. My son hated after-school because they made him go outside and play soccer with the other boys, while the girls could stay inside and play pretend games. He said he hated the whole thing, and I did not probe as to why. Not until he was 18 and out, and after I had started the Spanish-speaking parent support group [at the nursery school], did we sit down with the pre-school director who wanted to improve the school’s policies around gender expression. That was a big step in the healing process for him and for me.” -LM

“You have to pay careful attention to the question that’s really being asked, which is often, ‘Having two mommies is different, but is it ok?’ [Kids] all come with a bit of baggage, even from liberal families.” -BK

In movies and on TV the dialogue may be emotionally fraught, but proceeds smoothly. In real life, we have to write our scripts and deliver them at the same time, and the results (at my house anyway) are rarely pretty. Even when I eventually get across the point I was just realizing was the truly important one, I often feel I haven’t done it very well. But my research shows that movie-perfect smoothness matters much less than we parents think. Coming soon: why the “backstage tour” of a parent’s mind is better than a perfect performance.business is full of thoughts© Andres Rodriguez | Dreamstime Stock Photos

A FaceBook change everybody can love!

FaceBook has expanded its gender choices and added “preferred pronouns” as an option for users’ profiles, as reported here in the NY Daily News. It’s the inverse of the usual FaceBook “enhancement” that chisels another piece of your privacy to increase the creepiness factor of the ads you see: this change allows your public online image to be closer to what YOU want it to be.

Perhaps the best part is how normal this seems within the FaceBook empire. Quoting from the Daily News story linked above: “Really, there was no debate within Facebook about the social implications at all,” said Alex Schultz, director of growth. “It was simple: Not allowing people to express something so fundamental is not really cool so we did something. Hopefully a more open and connected world will, by extension, make this a more understanding and tolerant world.”

Thanks, FaceBook, and Happy Valentine’s Day to you too.

Opportunist?

Some see a bisexual label as a kind of taking advantage, or sort of gaming the system, in several ways. One is convenience: on college campuses, some women are called BUGs or LUGs (Bisexual or Lesbian Until Graduation).

“The implication is that you are not a REAL lesbian, you are just adapting to the lack of daily access to men and conforming to peer pressure at a women’s college. It’s such an insult….It implies that lesbian relationships are just practice for men.” -KL

“‘Lesbian with a boyfriend’ is a label you hear a lot, because women see the label of bisexual as apostasy to the lesbian cause. They’ve gone to all the trouble and pain of coming out and don’t want to go back. “ -GC

For some, the opportunism might just be a kind of mutual research project.

“Girls are declaring themselves lesbian and bisexual at younger and younger ages, like 14 and 15. Some are certain. Some react to their inundation with sex messages in the media and their fears of sex by deciding that experimenting with their own sex is easier…. Lots of lesbian girls experiment with boys too.” – SC

Another advantage, or reversal of a disadvantage, might be a reaction/defense mechanism where “hookup culture” is prevalent for men.

“I have a friend who says she is bisexual. She has dated women but rarely slept with them, and slept with several men but never dated them.” -KL

Some women who claim bisexuality seem to be acting, in order to use heterosexual male fantasies for their own benefit.

‘Bisexual’ is a kind of showy label…. Sometimes they hook up with women [meaning making out] in front of men just to get more male attention. – KL

What does your teen say about these ideas? 

See also this post about why the idea of change in someone’s attractions seems so terrifying.

Turncoat, opportunist, liar: why so much hate for bisexuals?

Even in communities and venues where liberal-mindedness and inclusion rule,  intolerance for bisexuals mysteriously persists. I wonder why.

Olympic diver Tom Daley announced via YouTube video that he “couldn’t be happier” in love with a man, but “I still fancy girls,” and the New York Times and Huffington post ran stories about snarky commentary skeptical that both these things can be true.

First the fun digression: It’s easy to get distracted by the beauty of a joyous first deep love, as you watch the video and his subsequent appearance on a British TV show , and as you read this tweet: “One day someone will hug you so tight. That all your broken pieces will stick back together.” Cue the Disney falling-in-love songs, say, “A Whole New World.” Ahhh. Except that Disney is so hetero-normative. And so we come back to the matter of non-acceptance, at both ends of the orientation spectrum.

Liar?: Is Bisexuality Real? Or the First Stop on the Gay/Lesbian Train?

Michael Shulman writes in the New York Times that “…Mr. Daley’s disclosure reignited a fraught conversation within the LGBT community, having to do with its third letter.” He quotes expert Lisa Diamond, that people don’t believe “… that bisexuality really exists, feeling that it’s a transitional stage or a form of being in the closet.”

Indeed, for some lesbian- and gay-identified people, “bisexual” was an early stage of self-acceptance:

”It’s easier to say this now [that you are bi] than before, and bi is a step on the path to self-recognition as gay for many guys. The girls include both some who want attention and some who are truly experiencing the turmoil. This is really an issue to be addressed by adults, in that changing the marriage equality laws and otherwise promoting equity will make any orientation accepted, and then kids can say who they really are.” – SQ

While for some bisexual might actually be a “gateway” self-label toward gay or lesbian, that doesn’t make it false for others. Dr. Diamond goes on to cite population studies that suggest there are more bisexual people than gays and lesbians, and Freud and Kinsey both believed bisexuality is quite common.

“I think people have sliding scales of attraction to each sex, and they are sometimes independent of each other.” -GC

“There are so many straight people who have had queer experiences but they won’t describe them that way.” -SH

A recent large study of teens by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backs up Dr. Diamond’s assertion. Of teens in 13 different sites over 9 years, between only 1-2.6% identified as gay or lesbian, and 2.9-5.2% said they were bisexual.  How they labeled themselves echoed what they did: 0.7-3.9% had sexual contact only with “members of the same sex,” and 1.9-4.9% with “both sexes”.  (CDC, “Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9–12 — Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, Selected Sites, United States, 2001–2009,” Morbidity & Mortality Report, June 6, 2011.

Do these figures surprise you? Is bisexuality “trendy” in your area, and if so, does this seem to reflect authentic attraction? What does your teen think?

Check out Science of Relationships for more myth-busting on bisexuality.

Click here to see another common, offensive dismissal of bisexuality: opportunism.