It seems like a no-brainer: having LGBTQ friends leads to more accepting attitudes towards the rights of queer people, but until now, little has shown this all goes together when someone comes out to their straight friends.
Now, a recent study has shed light into the connections, showing that people who have LGBTQ friends are more likely to change their attitudes towards LGBTQ people and issues over time.
Using data from the 2006, 2008, and United States General Social Survey (GSS), Daniel DellaPosta, a sociology professor at Pennsylvania State University, was able to show evidence of change in the culture attitudes towards LGBTQ people.
What he found was clear: those who responded to the GSS that they had one or more LGBTQ friend in 2006, “exhibited greater shifts toward increased acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage in 2008 and 2010.”
Of those in the 2006 sample, 54% had at least one gay acquaintance, with 47% of those reporting a gay coworker and 31% a gay family member.
The change in attitudes towards LGBTQ people may even be more pronounced when people face an acquaintance like a family member coming out to them after knowing them for some time, implying that great weight is attached to those with whom one has already formed a bond.
“This theory is perhaps most eloquently expressed in Harvey Milk’s famous exhortation for gays and lesbians in all walks of life to ‘come out’ to their friends, relatives, and coworkers in order to ‘end prejudice overnight,’” said DellaPosta in the study.
Perhaps most notably, the effect of such contact is strongest among “older, politically conservative” straight people. While they were most likely to be against same-sex marriage in 2006, for example, they are also the ones more likely to change their viewed based on having a close friend of acquaintance come out to them in the ensuing years.
Of course, the study is reluctant to say that such a change in attitudes will happen in every case, particularly in casual contact. It also questioned those who remain negative in the face of an LGBTQ friend or acquaintance.
“There are clear limitations to the analysis undertaken here that should make these findings necessarily provisional,” reads the study. “Most critically, we might wonder whether there is some underlying and unobserved selection in the type of person who reports relatively negative views toward homosexuality at baseline but nevertheless reports a gay acquaintance.”
Nevertheless, they do recommend more study in the field, looking at how the change in attitudes can be affected by population shifts and other factors.