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Gallup Podcast
Gallup's LGBTQ+ Research of the Past and the Future
Gallup Podcast

Gallup's LGBTQ+ Research of the Past and the Future

Jeff Jones, senior editor at Gallup, joins the podcast to talk about Gallup’s key historical trends on LGBTQ+ issues. Later, Jenny Marlar, Gallup’s director of survey research, discusses how Gallup leverages the Gallup Panel to get at the experiences of LGBTQ+ people themselves.


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Below is a full transcript of the conversation, including time stamps. Full audio is posted above.


Mohamed Younis 00:05

For Gallup, I’m Mohamed Younis, and this is The Gallup Podcast. This week, we take a look at Gallup’s latest insights and learnings on and about the LGBTQ+ community here in the United States. Dr. Jeff Jones is a senior editor and senior analyst at Gallup. We’ve just come out of the field with what is our latest on acceptance of gay marriage and a lot of other really important metrics we’ve been tracking for generations on the LGBTQ+ community. Why don’t we start with gay marriage. Tell us what we’ve been asking and what we found in this latest poll.

Jeff Jones 00:40
The main question that we ask is whether people think that same-sex marriages should be legal or not. And currently, 71% believe that they should be legal, which is unchanged from last year, and it’s also the high point in our trend. And the trend goes back to 1996. And it’s kind of notable here: Where we are now with opinion on same-sex marriage is almost the complete opposite of where we were in 1996. Back then, 68% said it should not be legal, and 27% said it should be legal. And now, as I mentioned, 71% say it should be legal. So, basically, just completely flipped public opinion on that issue.

Mohamed Younis 01:24
And it is really one of those very stark examples of how public opinion in the United States can shift relatively quickly. I mean, we're not talking about overnight, but in the grand scheme of things, in just several decades, you have a completely opposite, if you will, attitude about that issue in particular. We also, Jeff, wanted to kind of capture the general public's view on the moral acceptability of homosexuality. What did we find there?

Jeff Jones 01:51
Yeah. So this is a different question. Now, we're not asking whether it should be legal or not, but whether people find it morally acceptable or not. And, you know, sometimes we see a difference on these issues, when you ask about legality versus morally acceptable. For example, on abortion, sometimes there's, you know, a little bit of a drop-off in percent who say it should be, who think it's morally acceptable compared to who believe it should be legal. And we see that here. So when we ask about moral acceptability, it's about gay or lesbian relations. So we're not really talking about marriage here. It's just kind of, I guess, sexual relations between same-sex couples. Going back to 2015, support for that or the percent who say it should be morally acceptable has been 60% or higher. This year, it's at 64. It's bounced around a little bit in these last eight years or so -- has been as high as 71; has been as low as 60. So, we're kind of maybe in the middle on that question currently.

Mohamed Younis 02:50
And it's interesting that, unlike gay marriage, which really hasn't been in the news that much lately, issues around experiences of transgender identification have been in the news quite a bit lately. I want to point out that in our first kind of half of the episode here, we're talking about how the public feels about individuals in these communities. In our second half of this conversation, we're gonna talk to Jenny about how people within these communities express their own identity and their own frustrations and challenges. But Jeff, sticking with the general public, we did ask whether respondents knew somebody who identified as transgender. What did we find?

Jeff Jones 03:28
Yeah, that's a question that we've asked a couple of times now, and we find that 39% know somebody who -- the way we word it is, “friends, relatives or coworkers,” so we're trying to narrow it down to somebody that they actually know, rather than just her about somebody. So 39% say that they know someone who has told them that they're transgender. That's up from 31% a couple of years ago. As we would expect, people who know someone who's transgender tend to be more accepting of people who are transgender. So, you know, when we ask the basic moral acceptability question, we do have an item there that speaks to the transgender issue. And the wording there is, “changing one's gender,” whether people think that's morally acceptable or not. 43% say it's morally acceptable; 55% say it's not.

Mohamed Younis 04:15
And that's, it's one of the kind of tried-and-true theories in, in sociological, political science research is that, you know, if you know somebody in a group, you're more likely to at least be, be neutral, if not more positive towards that group. You find that with, you know, all kinds of ethnic groups. Muslim Americans, we found that at some of our research with Gallup; immigrants, we certainly find that as well, globally. I wanted to ask you about transgender issues and sports. It's really something that has come up a lot -- honestly, a lot more than I ever expected -- in our national conversation. And we did ask a question particularly about participation in competitive sports with regards to people who are identifying as transgender or changing how they identify openly in their communities. What did we find?

Jeff Jones 05:01
Yeah, we did ask. This has become a big controversy and in some ways it might be, I mean, if not the seminal issue in transgender policy, certainly one of the big ones. And, and people are generally opposed to having transgender people be allowed to compete on teams that match their current gender identity. I think, you know, we don't ask this specifically, but we assume that this is mainly people who are born as male who identify as female competing against, you know, girls or women in sports. So 69% say that people should be required to participate on teams that match their birth gender. Only 26% say that they should be able to play on teams that match their current gender identity. Those numbers are down from when we asked them a couple of years ago. So 34% were in favor of allowing people to participate in teams that match their current gender identity, down to 26. So eight-point decline in that over the past couple of years. We've seen a lot of states certainly move to enact laws to, to ban participation by transgender females, I guess, who were born male, and it could be reflective of that.

Mohamed Younis 06:11
And it is a kind of an awkward, if not random, kind of facet of life to really focus on. But when you think about how sports is played, particularly in communities in the United States, you know, municipal government involvement in funding sports, organizing sports, public schools, there's a lot of legal issues that arise when these challenges occur, and maybe that's why the public has tended to focus on it so much.

Jeff Jones 06:36
I don't know why this issue has resonated so much, but just looking at the public opinion data on it, it seems like this could be seen as a civil rights issue, or it could be seen as a competitive fairness or competitive balance issue. And it seems like people generally definitely see it more as a competitive fairness issue. And that's kind of what they see as, like, winning the day when they kind of sort this issue out in their mind. Certainly, compelling arguments on both sides. But people come down, it looks like, on the competitive fairness issue.

Mohamed Younis 07:07
And not just compelling arguments on both sides, but we are also talking about a country that, as we discussed earlier, can change its mind pretty dramatically over just a few decades when, you know, people become more informed, become more familiar. So all of that, we’ll continue to track in this space. Jeff Jones is senior editor at Gallup. Jeff, thank you so much for joining us.

Jeff Jones 07:29
Sure. It’s my pleasure.

Mohamed Younis 07:31
Now, we turn to Dr. Jenny Marlar, Gallup’s director of survey research and the person who leads all of Gallup’s online polling. Jenny, we heard from Jeff about the general public’s perception of the LGBTQ+ community and the issues they face. A lot of the work you’ve done with online polling has specifically focused on finding members of the LGBTQ+ communities and asking them what life has been like for them -- the challenges they face directly. Thanks for being with us today to discuss that.

Jenny Marlar 07:59
Thanks for having me.

Mohamed Younis 08:00
I wanted to talk to you, Jenny, because you’ve used more sensitive methodology to actually learn more about members of the LGBT community themselves in several studies. Can you tell us about how and why we do that with the Gallup Panel?

Jenny Marlar 08:15
Yeah, absolutely. I think it might actually help to start with kind of a brief overview of where more traditional polling methods might be a little bit limited. And then I can share how the panel is different. So by “traditional polling methods,” I mean methods that have been around for a couple of decades and that we use for things like our monthly Gallup Poll. And, and that is a methodology where we're randomly dialing into households to conduct interviews. And that's a wonderfully powerful tool for things like measuring presidential approval or economic confidence or tracking those really important social and economic trends. And each month we're able to interview about 1,000 people. When you think about people who represent a very small percentage of the population, such as people who are LGBTQ+, within that sample of 1,000 people, we might only have 70 people in our sample who identify as LGBTQ+. And then if you start to think even smaller, if you think about the transgender population, which is less than 1% of the adult population, we may only have 10 people in that sample. And so that's a very, very small sample size to do any kind of responsible reporting on a specific low-incidence population. And that's really true of any historically underrepresented group.

Jenny Marlar 09:40
So we can use the Gallup Panel to try to reach groups that are more low incidence and harder to reach with traditional polling methods. The panel is a group of about 100,000 U.S. adults. They have been randomly selected, using probability-based methods, and they are a group of people who have agreed to participate in a couple of surveys for us per month. And when we recruit people, we are able to collect some basic demographic information about them; we have their contact information; and they've given us permission to reach out to them to complete surveys. And with that demographic information, that means we can very efficiently identify the, the types of people that we want to, that we want to complete our surveys. So if we have a survey where we need to reach people who are LGBTQ+, we can easily and efficiently reach them with our panel and contact them to take surveys specific to issues that might be affecting them.

Mohamed Younis 10:42
I just wanted to have you take us through that, Jenny, because there’s so much talk these days and focus and excitement around methodologies in public opinion research. And I find there’s a considerable amount of confusion about which methods are best for which practices. And this is an area where it’s such a great example of the power of the technology and the speed of online polling, when done correctly and appropriately. I should also mention, Jenny is Gallup’s chief methodologist, so she really leads so much of our thinking and our work on this space. One of the several projects we’ve done using this methodology, Jenny, on the, on these communities in specific is what we did with the Williams Institute at UCLA. Can you tell us a little bit about that work and what we discovered?

Jenny Marlar 11:30
Yeah. We were really fortunate to have the opportunity to partner with the Williams Institute and Ilan Meyer, who’s the principal investigator at the Williams Institute, and help them conduct two different studies of the LGBTQ+ population. So the first study that we worked on with them was a study called “Generations.” It was a study of LGB adults -- so lesbian, gay and bisexual adults -- across different generations. And to them, a really important research question was, “How do generational differences maybe affect your experiences?” So if you came of age, if you’re an LGB adult who came of age during Stonewall, your experiences might look very different from someone who came of age during marriage equality in 2015.

Jenny Marlar 12:17
The second study that we helped them with was a study called “TransPop,” which is a study of transgender adults. Both of these studies were very in-depth, really kind of the first-of-their-kind representative studies. And they were exploring demographics, wellbeing, healthcare and health outcomes. If anybody wants to learn more about either of these studies, you can Google “UCLA Williams Institute” and “Generations” and “TransPop.” They have a really excellent website that shares all the research that’s come out of this, some of the really important findings. It’s a great website that I recommend.

Jenny Marlar 12:54
One of the findings that really stood out to me, though, is a paper that was published by Ilan Meyer and his colleagues in 2021. It’s a paper called, “Minority Stress, Distress, and Suicide Attempts in Three Cohorts of Sexual Minority Adults.” And they found that younger generations of LGB adults were more likely to come out earlier than older generations, and younger generations also feel a stronger sense of connection to the LGB community. So those are some really positive things. The not-so-positive thing is that despite this, the rates of psychological distress and suicidal ideation were higher for the younger age groups than for the older cohorts. And I think, to me, this finding is really important because, as a society or as an ally, there could sort of be this feeling that marriage equality has passed. Or you might look at the Gallup trends on support for same-sex marriage and look at, wow, so much has changed in the past 20 years. And we might start to feel like our work fighting for LGBTQ+ rights or equality maybe is done. But there are still really significant health and wellbeing disparities that are important to be aware of.

Mohamed Younis 14:13
That’s so critical, and I’m so happy you bring that up, Jenny, because we can really sort of become complacent, right, in our view of, OK, Americans’ perceptions have changed in this direction; it’s not really an issue anymore. But what this research really highlights, and why it’s so important, is it really brings to surface the various nuances within these communities of Americans and others that they’re dealing with that go far beyond kind of the surface, you know, legal support for same-sex marriage. Speaking of legal support for same-sex marriage, that trend that we have here at Gallup has been one of the most fascinating to follow because it’s changed so quickly in U.S. society to a position embracing the moral legitimacy of same-sex marriages. It’s also a relatively new right for many couples. We’ve done some work in specific with focusing on those couples. Can you tell us about what we’ve learned about these same-sex married couples from our research?

Jenny Marlar 15:13
Yeah, we have worked on two studies about couples. The first is a study called the National Couples Health and Time Use Survey, also called NCHAT. And that is a study that was conducted by Clare Kamp Dush at the University of Minnesota and Wendy Manning at Bowling Green. Gallup helped them develop their survey and do the data collection. But in 2020 and 2021, we surveyed over 3,500 people who were between the ages of 20 and 60 and married or cohabiting. And the exciting, I think groundbreaking, part of that research was we were able to include over 1,300 people who are LGBTQ+. So including the voices of same-gender couples, which is really something that was unique and has not been done before in research. They have just started to publish papers from the research. They've also made the data set available to other researchers, who can use it in their analysis. And we're really expecting there's gonna be a, a significant number of papers and findings that come from this survey to really better understand same-gender couples.

Jenny Marlar 16:22
The survey went into the field during the COVID pandemic. And one paper that's already been published -- we also have a blog about this on -- but they looked at couples and their stress during the pandemic and how their, how people felt about their stress relative to pre-COVID levels of stress. And the sexual minority groups reported higher levels of stress during the pandemic compared to heterosexual respondents and also felt like that stress was heightened compared to pre-pandemic levels. We also had a large enough sample size of LGBTQ+ people that we could do analysis within the group of sexual minority respondents. And I, I think really interestingly, they found that people who identify as bisexual or identify as queer-plus (and queer-plus is defined as someone who has an identity other than lesbian, gay or bisexual). But those individuals, bisexuals and queer-plus, experienced the highest levels of stress. And for some of the questions, people who are gay or lesbian had levels of stress that looked somewhat similar to levels of heterosexual stress. But it was really the bisexual and queer-plus stress that stood out as significantly higher.

Jenny Marlar 17:47
And so for me, as a researcher, this kind of, you know, again, highlights the importance of capturing the diversity of experiences -- kind of to your earlier point that we can't just treat a group as all the same. There's a very --

Mohamed Younis 18:01
As a monolith.

Jenny Marlar 18:02
Yeah, as a monolith, exactly. There, it's, there are very diverse and unique experiences within a group. And so it's important for us to find ways and find methods that we can start better understanding those differences. The other study that we're working with them is a study called the Work and Family Life Study, which is also known as WAFLS. This is also being conducted by Clare Kamp Dush at Minnesota and then her coinvestigator, Miles Taylor, is at Florida State. The Work and Family Life Study is a really large longitudinal marriage study that was first conducted in 1980, again in 2000. We were supposed to go into the field and help them with data collection in 2020, but it was delayed a few years because of COVID. So we're in the field right now with the third wave, but this is a really large-scale marriage study that's really kind of been the basis of understanding marriage and how marriage has changed in the U.S. And the exciting part about the wave that we're in the field with is that for the first time ever, same-sex couples will be included in that marriage research. And we currently have data from about 500 people who are part of a same-sex marriage, which, again, that is, it's groundbreaking; it's unique. We’ll be out of the field actually in the next couple weeks. So the, the findings haven't yet been analyzed, but I guess a teaser for the future that there will be some really exciting and important learnings coming out of that.

Mohamed Younis 19:28
Jenny, I wanted to ask you a final question. Our colleagues at The Washington Post published findings from the KFF Trans Adult Survey. And it was a really unique effort where multiple organizations pull together to try to get around this challenge of representativeness of a small population, LGBTQ+, in survey research. Tell us about that study and how our data here at Gallup played a role.

Jenny Marlar 19:56
Yeah. The Kaiser Family Foundation approached us last fall to see if we could help them with a survey of trans adults that they were conducting in partnership with Washington Post. I think everybody is aware that state legislators across the country have introduced, you know, a record number of bills that affect trans people and trans rights. And it was really important to KFF and The Washington Post to listen to the experiences of trans people and have those trans experiences included in those conversations. These are issues affecting real people, and that was very much aligned with Gallup’s mission, and, you know, we want to help give people a voice. So we were excited to be a part of that research. As I mentioned before, trans adults currently make up less than 1% of the adult population, so to be able to survey enough people to feel like we had a representative study that we could speak confidently about the results, but also field it in a very short amount of time, was a real challenge. And so, to accomplish this, it was, as you mentioned, really a partnership between three different research organizations. So Gallup, SSRS and NORC each leveraged our probability-based panels to survey trans adults.

Jenny Marlar 21:15
So we were able to survey about 250 trans adults, and then, as a whole, the survey included a little over 500 people. And I would say this is, this was a unique collaboration. I mean, just to be transparent, SSRS and NORC are, you know, technically, competitors. We wouldn’t normally collaborate on this. But this study could not have been conducted in the way that it was or have had the impact that it had without this partnership. And so I think all of the organizations felt like this was really important for us to do and to come together. And I think not only for this research -- for trans research -- but as we think about, as researchers, including more diverse experiences, I think it’s probably something that we’ll need to do more of and should be willing to do more of in the future, to give people a voice who might not otherwise be heard. I really encourage everyone to read the findings from the study. If you Google “Washington Post/KFF trans adult study,” you’ll see the findings at the top of the search. There are several articles, and there are some really nice summary articles. I’m just going to quickly share a couple of the most relevant findings.

Mohamed Younis 22:25
Awesome, yeah.

Jenny Marlar 22:26
So first, they found that about two-thirds of trans people identify as nonbinary or gender nonconforming. And I want to kind of highlight this finding, because this has come up over and over and over again in our LGBTQ+ research is we try to fit people into binary boxes. As a society, we like to figure out, how can we sort and categorize people? But that is not everyone’s lived experience. And I think we have to kind of stop trying to put people into these categories that we think fit them. They also found about three-fourths of trans people have changed their style of dress or their hairstyle, but most people have not had medical interventions. So they’re expressing themselves outwardly in society in a way that fits their gender, but most people have not undergone some sort of treatment. About a third of trans people have used hormone treatments, and just 16% of trans people have undergone gender-affirming surgery or some sort of other surgical treatment. And then 63% of trans people say they sometimes or frequently feel discriminated against because of their gender; 64% say they’ve been verbally attacked; and 25% say they’ve been physically attacked, which, these are not great numbers. These highlight some negative experiences. But despite that, 78% of trans adults say that they are more satisfied with their lives living as a trans adult or expressing their gender in the way that feels authentic to them versus living with the gender that was assigned to them at birth.

Mohamed Younis 24:07
Those are just absolutely critical insights and facts I think we all need to internalize and, and continue to study. You know, one thing that's fascinating to me is how the gender-affirming care or just any kind of medical interventions have been so widely discussed on the news, in public discourse. And it can very easily become a blanket statement that we make, applying to a huge, broad swath of people. And as the data show, it's a particular group within the these communities. And it's a unique experience that in its own right, of course, deserves to be studied and understood. But the more that we can add nuance and, and further understanding and get away from these blanket judgments is right where we want to be as researchers and as folks who want to do great public opinion research. Jenny, you've been phenomenal in your leadership on this front. Thanks again for being here with us. That's Dr. Jenny Marlar, Gallup’s director of survey research and our lead methodologist here at Gallup. Jenny, thank you for being with us.

Jenny Marlar 25:11
Thank you so much.

Mohamed Younis 25:16
That's our show. Thanks for tuning in. For more from Gallup, go to and sign up for our newsletter, “Front Page,” where we break down all that Gallup is learning across the globe in one weekly email. The Gallup Podcast is directed by Curtis Grubb and produced by Justin McCarthy. I'm Mohamed Younis, and this is Gallup: reporting on the will of the people since the 1930s.

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