BY AJ TRAGER
It has been six months since the U.S. Supreme court handed the LGBT community a historic marriage equality victory. However, despite the joy and celebration that followed, many people still consider LGBT love to be despicable, disgusting or even reprehensible. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, and having had six months of marriage equality, BTL wondered if now is finally a time when LGBT couples can feel safe engaging in public displays of affection.
A year ago in London, gay couples came from all over the region to participate in a http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2015/02/14/mass-gay-kiss-in-marks-valentines-day-in-london/ to mark Valentine’s Day. Organizers held the event in protest of research results from Pride in London, which found that 54 percent of same-sex couples do not feel comfortable kissing in public due to homophobic abuse aimed at LGBT individuals.
Just last weekend during the Superbowl halftime show, the stadium was lit with rainbow colors accompanied by the words “Believe In love,” seen by many as an endorsement of marriage equality. Sure, Super Bowl 50 was held in one of the largest pro-LGBT cities in the country, but the message was very symbolic given the NFL’s reputation for rampant homophobia.
So are things finally changing?
A recent study published by GLAAD, titled “Accelerating Acceptance,” has found that Americans are largely becoming more accepting of minor LGBT public displays of affection but there is still a long way to go.
The study found that 29 percent of people, down from 36 percent in the 2014 report, are very uncomfortable or somewhat uncomfortable with an LGBT couple holding hands.
The study also found that heterosexual individuals were only marginally more comfortable with learning that a family member is gay or that their doctor is gay. However, even with the growing rate of acceptance, 26 percent of respondents reported that they were uncomfortable seeing LGBT co-workers’ wedding pictures, with 29 percent reporting that they would be very or somewhat uncomfortable learning that their child had a lesson on LGBT history in their school.
“Complacency is the enemy of social progress,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement released with the survey. “2015 was a monumental year for the LGBT community, but marriage equality is a benchmark — not a finish line. The hard work of legislative change must go hand in hand with that which cannot be decided in a courtroom: changing hearts and minds.”
Surveys for “Accelerating Acceptance” were conducted with the help from the polling firm Harris Poll. The 2015 poll was conducted online from Oct. 5 through Oct. 7, 2015, and included responses from 2,032 adults.
Study in Hate Crimes
While studying how LGBT visibility and LGBT rights impacts anti-LGB violence, Ph.D. candidate at Stony Brook University, Elizabeth Coston, has found that over the course of the last few years the passing of pro-LGBT legislation such as nondiscrimination ordinances, marriage equality bills, etc., has actually led to a decrease in LGBT related hate crimes.
“When we expect to see the most negative backlash, because of all those court cases overturned decisions, what we actually see is that the incidents of hate crimes decreased — not what we would expect,” Coston said during their Jan. 26 Equality Knowledge Project presentation at the Equality Research Center at Eastern Michigan University.
LGBT visibility is problematic because it threatens the the social order and challenges social norms.
“We don’t like challenging social hierarchies,” Coston said. “Even positive visibility changes social norms.”
Coston looked at how the 2014 energy, when marriage equality picked up speed and states’ bans on same-sex marriage fell like dominos, paired with reports of hate crimes across the country.
LGB crimes have no relationship with the overall crime rate, Coston said. They speculated that it’s possible that LGBT issues are not generating enough attention to have an effect on hate crimes.
“The theory tells us that there should be an increase, that since it is such a high profile thing that there should be an increase in anti-LGB hate crimes surrounding these events. Especially in 2014 when the courts overturned all of those bans. We just don’t see a negative backlash,” Coston explained.
Response from BTL Facebook
Many people are uncomfortable seeing couples kiss in public and would rather they, gay or straight, take that kind of affection indoors. But many people in the LGBT community still fear the backlash from expressing their own PDA.
BTL put a call out on Facebook for individuals who had experienced positive or negative remarks or behaviors related to their PDA.
“Once had a quick kiss in a Taco Bell drive thru. Guy followed us honking his horn and screaming ‘pull over’ for about a 40-minute drive. Scariest thing. (No cell phones) We got to a small town with a police station and he gave up,” April Kovatch-Emerick commented.
“We were harrassed on the road by a turd in a pickup … he looked down into our car and saw us holding hands. (He) called us all kinds of names. (It was an) ugly, ugly confrontation. Wtf?” wrote Connie Case.
Other commenters expressed that they are always careful about when and where they express their public displays of affection.
“It depends entirely on where we are,” Lori Curry said. “Some areas I feel safe in, some I don’t. We ALWAYS have to be aware of those around us.”
“I am (comfortable expressing PDA), but I’m always conscious of where I am. A gay village is one thing, a small Bible belt town may be another,” George Borg wrote.
Cindy Clardy said that she hasn’t had any reactions to her PDA, positive or negative. “We hug and kiss goodbye at the airport, hold hands in the movies, live theater, weddings, etc. My basic theory is that anything that is acceptable for straight couples to do in public is acceptable for LGBT couples to do in public, and act accordingly.”