“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.

 

Advertisements

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.

 

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.

Biological Sex: body parts & hormones

In nature, many species show a normal diversity within species, across many characteristics.. You can arrange the individuals on a spectrum (nose: Barbra Streisand to Mia Farrow; height: Willy Shoemaker to Wilt Chamberlain, etc.) Why not also gender?  Most humans have chromosome and hormonal mixes that put them pretty close to the “male” or “female” ends of the gender spectrum, but there are more people in between – intersex – than you might think.

bio sex

Incidence

How common is it to be not completely male or female? The Accord Alliance website notes, “Estimates from specialists working in major medical centers suggest that about one in every 2,000 births at a hospital involves a child whose genitals are atypical enough to make the child’s sex unclear. But… if we count all types of sex anomalies, DSD [Disorders of Sex Development] must be considered much more numerous than 1 in 2,000. [Here they mean not only variations in genitalia but also variations in chromosomes and hormones, which may  not have visible effects.] One review estimates that about one in a hundred persons has some kind of sex anomaly.”(1) A review of medical literature from 1955 to 1998 estimated that as many as 2 in 100 babies had some difference, in body organs, XY chromosomes, and/or hormonal patterns from ‘standard male or female.’  (2)

1-2% is a pretty small minority, but in the context of normal biodiversity it compares to other ‘natural’ differences among humans. For example, we each have 1 of 4 ABO blood types: A, B, O (neither A nor B) and AB (both). and either positive or negative for Rhesus factor, meaning everyone has one of 8 types. People who are B- are only 0.6% of the US population; these folks present a matching challenge to hospitals when they need transfusions, but we don’t consider them freakish.

In fact, given all the different factors involved in the ways our biological sex functions, you might expect even more diversity.  British neurologist and intersex expert Milton Diamond, interviewed in the British newspaper Independent, noted “Nature loves variety. Unfortunately, society hates it.”  The 2010 article gives a good overview of the history of oppression, compounded by some of the common past medical practices.

Intersex and Trans…

“Intersex” is a biological means simply having a variation from the usual binary (male/female) pattern of sex organs, hormones, and chromosomes.

“Transgender” is a psychological term, usually meaning someone who self-identifies differently from the sex s/he was assigned at birth. The biology of transgender people can vary; some have some intersex characteristics, others do not. Most transgender people identify as male or female, but some identify as a combination or separate, third sex. See the Gender Identity post.

What difference do these differences make?

What do these variations mean for the  “real lives” of intersex people? According to the Accord Alliance, many of the people with these variations are not sterile (before any surgery), and most will not be transgender.

The fact that some of these intersex conditions are not readily apparent might work against expanding awareness and inclusion. For those whose looks and/or behaviors push gender boundaries, bullying, harrassment and violence are certainly more prevalent. But most studies do not break out intersex people separately from LGBTQ. There is more about this in the Gender expression post.

“Not monsters, nor marvels, nor battering rams for gender theory, people born intersexed have given the rest of the world an opportunity to think more about the odd significance we give to gender, about the elusive nature of truth, about the understandable, sometimes dangerous human yearning for simplicity – and we might, in return offer them medical care only when they need it, and a little common sense and civilised embrace when they don’t.”  Amy Bloom, in “The third sex: The truth about gender ambiguity,” The Independent 20 March 2010

1. Accordance Alliance, http://www.accordalliance.org/learn-about-dsd/faq.html]

2. Blackless, M et al “How Sexually Dimorphic Are We? Review and Synthesis,” American Journal of Human Biology, 12, Page(s): 151-166, 2000, http://transgenderinfo.be/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Blackless-How-Dimorphic-2000.pdf