Exclusive: More Americans understand LGBTQ people, but visibility has 'double-edged sword', GLAAD report says

More and more people are identifying as members of the LGBTQ community. Increased visibility educates non-LGBTQ people, but it also comes with a purported price, according to GLAAD's annual Accelerating Acceptance Study out Wednesday.

The report found that 43% of non-LGBTQ people think gender is not exclusively male and female, up from 38% in 2020. And 81% of non-LGBTQ people anticipate nonbinary and transgender people will become as familiar in everyday life as gay and lesbian people have.

"Our community continues to grow, and we're seeing some growing acceptance of that," says Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD CEO. "We are seeing that the concept of gender, in terms of non-LGBTQ Americans, is evolving." A poll earlier this year found that 5.6% of adults in the U.S. identify as LGBTQ – a record.

But people are not all the way there. Among non-LGBTQ people, 45% admit they are confused by all the different terms to describe people in the LGBTQ community. Ellis says this requires education – the purpose of GLAAD's work.

"We know when people meet us and connect, or even meet us through a television or now a phone screen, it builds understanding which builds acceptance," Ellis says.

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GLAAD's research also found that six in 10 people said they faced discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity – an increase of 13% from last year.

"That does bring up sort of the double-edged sword of visibility," Ellis says. "As our community continues to grow and become more visible, we're seeing greater acceptance in some areas, and then we are seeing these growing challenges for acceptance in others, which are then turning into discrimination and hate."

Ellis says this comes on the heels of four years of the anti-LGBTQ Trump administration and current mounting anti-trans legislation. Such hostility plays out in real life.

"Anti-trans legislation are solutions to problems that don't exist," Ellis says. "There's no problems to solve that we need to be legislating against in the first place."

And who's facing the consequences most harshly? Kids. "It's creating confusion for so many people, which creates an unaccepting environment, hands down, and puts targets squarely on the backs of most of our youth in our community, (especially) our trans youth," Ellis says.

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GLAAD ran the Accelerating Acceptance study online be January 2021 and included a national sample of 2,517 U.S. adults.

In addition to the report, GLAAD recently launched its Social Media Safety Index, which monitors social media dangers for LGBTQ people; the Visibility Project, which advocates for LGBTQ inclusion in advertising; a partnership with Getty Images on its transgender image guidelines; and the Local Media Accountability Index – U.S. South, which aims to curb misinformation in reporting on LGBTQ and HIV topics.

This latest study indicates "acceptance numbers in the South lag," Ellis says. "It's significant."

A lack of acceptance of the transgender community has been on full display in recent weeks after Dave Chappelle's transphobic Netflix special.

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It attempted to juxtapose the pace of civil rights gained by LGBTQ people over those fought for by the Black community. Chappelle repeatedly focused on jokes that targeted the trans community, doubling down on criticism that his sets punch down on the most vulnerable.

"What the Chappelle and Netflix response shows is that we are still up against an entertainment industry that's not equal for LGBTQ people of color, especially trans people of color," Ellis says.

For GLAAD's part, "we are treating this as a moment of transformation and an opportunity to work with this community, specifically, the comedian community," she says.

Celebrities, of course, can make a huge difference for LGBTQ young people. More than 80% of LGBTQ youth said celebrities who are LGBTQ positively impact how they feel about their queer identities, according to research from The Trevor Project. More and more celebrities have embraced their gender identities recently, too: Just look at Sam Smith, Elliot Page, Demi Lovato and Emma Corrin.

It also always helps to have affirming political leadership. During the Trump administration, GLAAD saw comfortability with queer people dip in its Accelerating Acceptance reports. This year comfortability stabilized: For example, 29% of non-LGBTQ people said they are or would be "very" or "somewhat" uncomfortable hearing a family member is LGBTQ, compared to 30% last year.

"That shows the power of the leadership and how important that is," she says.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: GLAAD Accelerating Acceptance: More Americans accept LGBTQ people

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