Gender, LGBTQIA+

How Race, Politics, and Family Affect Support for LGBTQ+ Issues

January 25, 2023 by Olivia Adams

The Pew Research Center recently published data covering Americans’ views on gender identity and issues affecting transgender people, with special attention to differences based on age, political affiliation, and other metrics. Generally speaking, attitudes are trending toward increased acceptance of transgender people, and this trend is largely driven by younger folks and Democrats. For example, compared to older adults and Republicans, these groups are more likely to believe that society has not done enough in accepting transgender people. 

A January 2023 report taking a deeper dive into these findings reveals important nuances in these attitudes, particularly among Democrats.

How Attitudes Toward LGBTQ Issues Vary Across Race

When examining Democrats’ responses by race, Pew researchers found that Black Democrats tended to report more conservative views regarding gender and issues affecting transgender people when compared to Democrats of other racial and ethnic identities. 

For example, while the majority of White, Hispanic/Latinx, and Asian Democrats agreed that gender can be different than a person’s sex assigned at birth, only 33% of Black Democrats held this view. Black Democrats were more aligned with Americans as a whole, however, as 60% of Americans endorse the view that a person’s gender is determined by their assigned sex at birth. 

Perceptions of how far society has gone to accept transgender people also differed by race: 41% of Black Democrats believed that society has “not gone far enough” in accepting trans people, a lower percentage compared to Democrats of all other races (but still significantly higher than the 10% of Republicans who agreed with this statement). Black Democrats also appeared to have the most varied opinions on this item, with a more equal split between the three response options (i.e., “gone too far,” “not gone far enough,” “been about right”) when compared to other groups.

Researchers suggest that these more conservative views from Black Democrats may be due to religiosity: Black Democrats tended to be more religious in general and reported religion as having a greater influence on their attitudes towards gender-related topics compared to other Democrats. This probably isn’t the entire story, though.

A 2019 Pew Research Center article on American attitudes towards masculinity – especially “traditional” masculinity – offers another view. Researchers found that while less than 10% of American men overall believe that being seen as very masculine (i.e., emotional strength, interest in sports, willing to fight if provoked, among other things) was very important to them, 23% of Black men endorsed this view compared to 7% of White men and 8% of Hispanic/Latinx men. This is important, because research also suggests that people who endorse more “traditional” or “hyper-masculine” beliefs (especially beliefs like hostile sexism) also tend to endorse transphobic and homophobic attitudes. Researchers believe this has something to do with masculinity threat, or social factors (either external or internal) that challenge certain beliefs about normative masculinity. In this way, gender identities and expressions that challenge binary gender norms also challenge masculinity norms. 

These are important findings, but what do they mean beyond the context of a nationally representative survey? In other words, where might these findings crop up in folks’ everyday lives? To begin to answer this question, I reviewed recent research reports on the experiences of LGBTQ people and their support networks. 

How Many LGBTQ Youth Have Family Support?

The Trevor Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the mental health of LGBTQ youth, released data late last year (Protectiveness of Family Sexual Orientation Support) that may help address this question. Three in four “out” youth reported having at least one family member who supported them. Most often, this was a sibling. While this report did not examine differences in the political orientation of respondents, it did speak to differences across racial and ethnic categories.

Youth who identified as AAPI, Black, or Middle Eastern/North African reported the lowest rates of family support, with AAPI youth reporting the lowest support and Black youth reporting the highest support within this grouping. However, at least 60% of youth across every individual racial and/or ethnic category reported having one or more supportive family members. Support was also particularly high for certain racial groups. Specifically, for Native/Indigenous youth as well as for youth of more than one race or ethnicity, 78% reported having at least one supportive family member.   

According to the Trevor Project report, the most common supportive family member across all groups were siblings. Support was also higher for LGBTQ youth aged 18-24 compared to younger participants. Trevor Project researchers argue that while sibling relationships are important, they may be an “often-overlooked source of support.” What, then, does the research say about adult sibling relationships when one sibling is LGBTQ-identifying?  

Siblings Play an Important but Complex Role in LGBTQ Support

A 2021 article from the Journal of Marriage and Family addresses this question through a series of in-depth interviews with 67 LGBTQ adults with siblings. The researchers hypothesized that LGBTQ adult sibling relationships may be uniquely positioned to provide strong support due to general resilience and strength of sibling bonds compared to other familial networks, but may also be vulnerable to changes in the sibling relationship as people age, leading to conflict, ambivalence, or decreased contact. 

Even though siblings appear to be an important source of support for LGBTQ youth, tangential ties in which sibling bonds were under- or never developed were the most commonly reported characterizations of sibling relationships in this study. Participants generally described these relationships as having a lack of closeness, in some cases stemming from emotional or physical distance. Participants also noted that siblings with spouses and children of their own often prioritized their “own” families above their siblings or other immediate family members. 

Conflict in sibling relationships was also commonly reported. These relationships included a variety of factors contributing to conflict, including siblings being estranged from the family due to struggles with substance use, having problematic or clashing personalities, familial favoritism, as well as explicit anti-LGBTQ attitudes. 

About one third of participants reported a “solidary” sibling tie, meaning their bonds were strong and characterized through solidarity in emotional, instrumental, financial, and LGBTQ-affirming support. For example, Participants of various gender identities and racial or ethnic identities claimed this kind of strong relationship, including one Black-identified transgender participant who noted that her sister continued to support her when their mother had a negative reaction to her identity.

About 10% of participants noted that their sibling was also LGBTQ, a commonality that strengthened their bond. And while participants predominantly discussed their siblings related by birth or marriage, the small number of participants who discussed their “chosen siblings” were more likely to describe bonds driven by solidarity. 

Taken together, these three research reports paint a complex picture of the role of political affiliation, race/ethnicity, and siblings when it comes to LGBTQ acceptance and support. Do these factors play an important role in relationships you have with your siblings, or in your own views on gender- and LGBTQ-related issues? Start a conversation below in our comment section.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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