Oh, Stonewall!

BCN 85 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 85, Spring 2007

In the last ten years a lot has changed in LGBT equality. A plethora of laws: section 28, the age of consent, adoption and fostering, gender recognition, partnership recognition, equality in the workplace and as a consumer. Every bit as importantly, there is much more in the way of LGBT visibility – from regular gay characters on TV soaps to the L Word, from out LGB parliamentarians in all the main political parties to Cambridge’s new same-sex trans couple as Mayor and Mayoress.

So it was about time someone researched the effect all of this has had on mainstream perceptions of LGBT people. Just such research has just been published, but as a bisexual, I’d have to give the new much-trumpeted Stonewall survey publication ‘Living Together’ a guarded welcome.

The clue is in the press release about the report;

The survey canvassed opinion on:
* lesbian and gay people and their legal rights
* gay people as family and friends
* gay people in public life, including politics and the media
* awareness of anti-gay prejudice and discrimination
* causes of anti-gay discrimination
* responsibility for tackling prejudice against lesbian and gay

On the one hand, it gives a valuable and uplifting snapshot of public opinion in Britain on lesbians and gay men, with figures that are surprising in the level of acceptance of gay people in society they suggest. On the other hand, it’s a 24 page report which almost entirely misses out on attitudes to bisexual men and women – which I suspect would give a broader understanding of how social acceptance varies between parts of the LGBT communities.

For instance, Stonewall’s report calls for political parties to encourage lesbian and gay people to become MPs and councillors, and for the media to portray lesbian and gay lives realistically. Regular BCN readers will have seen plenty of coverage in the BiMedia column which suggest that media representations of bisexual people still seem to be more negative than those of lesbians and gay men. This survey could have helped to examine why we seem to have fewer out bis in the media and politics, and whether closeted bis are right to be less visible for the sake of their careers.

The survey also misses out on attitudes toward transgender people, which has drawn criticism. But while Stonewall does not normally deal with trans issues, it declares itself to be a lesbian, gay and bisexual organisation.

The survey findings in so far as they go are very welcome – from sport to school to religious bodies, the survey suggests people are increasingly comfortable with lesbians and gay men taking part in every walk of life. It also shows three quarters or more of the wider population support measures to tackle prejudice and discrimination, such as homophobic bullying in schools. Nine out of ten support legislation to address incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.

While I’m not an academic, I’m not entirely convinced of the methodology used and would welcome the comments of people who understand such things on its validity. The online polling organisation YouGov sampled 2,009 adults between October 3 and October 10 2006. The responding sample was weighted to provide a representative reporting sample. But YouGov asks questions online of people who have chosen to join its panel online, and so for a start the pool of people who were approached to take part in the survey may be more progressive in their values than the average member of the public. Further, you can opt out of surveys part way through taking a YouGov poll, so there may have been a number of people who started to take the survey and were put off by the subject matter – would the average homophobe want to spend that much time thinking about their attitudes toward lesbians and gay men? It may be the figures YouGov reported, even after being weighted for age and other profiling aspects, could be overly optimistic in the vision of modern British tolerance they give. But they will at least give a starting point in examining how far we have come along the road to equality.

Finally, I note that Stonewall state that they intend to conduct Living Together polling biennially in order to monitor levels of prejudice against lesbian and gay people in Britain on an ongoing basis. Now may be just the time to lobby them to encourage them to be more inclusive of the “b” next time around?

We approached Stonewall for comment on the lack of bi inclusion in this publication, but no response was forthcoming.

What is your overall opinion of the following groups of people? (% who have a high opinion)

Women 75%
Old people 67%
People with disabilities 64%
Young people 40%
People from ethnic minorities 34%
Lesbians and gay men 34%
People from non-Christian religious groups 33%
Asylum seekers/refugees 12%

Source – Stonewall: Living Together