A study out of Williams Institute at UCLA last week found that about 2.7 percent of Pennsylvanians self-identify as LGBT, ranking our state among the bottom 10 in terms of the ratio of self-identified LGBT populations to the overall population of the state. States with better laws for LGBT people — inclusive nondiscrimination measures and relationship-recognition laws — boasted higher numbers.
This is yet another example that LGBT-supportive lawmakers should use this session to help push forward bills to protect the community. Telling legislators who are on the fence that a nondiscrimination bill would give LGBT residents the dignity and respect they deserve is one thing — but following that up with statistics that show that pro-LGBT measures could bring in new residents, who will bring with them money to fuel Pennsylvania’s economy, is another.
However, researchers noted that the findings don’t necessarily show the exact size of the states’ LGBT populations, but more definitively show the willingness of survey respondents to self-identify as LGBT. This could suggest that if Pennsylvania took steps to make our state more welcoming to LGBTs — through legislative means and other initiatives — more residents may feel empowered and affirmed to come out and identify with the community. Often, state government may seem like a foreign, disconnected entity to Pennsylvanians, but this study suggests that the state’s treatment of and attitude toward its LGBT and questioning residents could have a meaningful and tangible personal impact.
While this study showed the work that Pennsylvania needs to do to catch up to its neighbors, other recent polls reinforced that residents are closer than ever to wanting those changes.
Equality Pennsylvania earlier this month released the results of a survey conducted by CivicScience that found that more than 60 percent of residents believe LGBT people are entitled to the same rights and protections as other minorities. And about 70 percent of respondents thought LGBTs should be protected from being fired for their identities and from discrimination in public accommodations. Interestingly, about 60 percent of self-identified Republicans thought LGBT people deserve workplace and other protections.
And a Franklin & Marshall poll from early February found that 52 percent of Pennsylvanians support marriage equality — that’s up from 33 percent in the same poll in 2006.
While the overall ideology of the state’s residents is of course not as progressive as that of New Jersey’s or New York’s residents, the Keystone State shouldn’t be counted out as a lost cause for LGBT rights. With leadership at the state level, our state’s residents needs to be moved forward to make the jump from their growing acceptance of the LGBT community to taking actual action to push for LGBT rights.
Times are changing in Pennsylvania, and that change can’t come fast enough.