Surprises in Survey of Hispanics on Homosexuality

If a new survey from Social Science Research Solutions on Hispanic views of homosexuality proves anything, it’s that Hispanics are religious and that social contact with LGBT people influence them in much the same way it does the general population. Just as in white and black communities, there are traditionalists who won’t be convinced no matter what, fundamentalists who are heavily influenced by their clergy and their churches, and progressives who are socially integrated and far more accepting of LGBT people (and many who even find comfort and support for their position in their religion).

The survey, authored by David Dutwin, PhD, who is the vice president of SSRS, even had its own assumptions that surprised the researchers when the numbers debunked them.

“With somewhere between three out of five Hispanics identifying as Catholic there was a thought walking into the survey that if there is a lack of support and acceptance in the Hispanic community, then it’s the Catholic nature of the community that’s driving it. Turns out that’s not the case at all. A majority Catholic Hispanics support legal gay marriage. It’s actually Protestant Hispanics that are under 50% support of gay marriage,” Dutwin said.

Indeed the study found that “sixty-four percent of Latinos support civil unions. No less than 83 percent of Latinos support legal protections for hate crimes, job discrimination, housing discrimination, as well as support for health care and pension benefits for gay and lesbian couples. Over three out of four (78%) support open military service.”

This tracks with numbers shown in the general population. But these findings are significant because of the persistent belief that Hispanics are strong supporters of “traditional family values.” It was this belief that prompted the National Organization for Marriage to target Hispanics to try and increase their opposition to marriage equality. In its document NOM plays to the traditionalists who may not want to “assimilate” into the more permissive American culture.

“Will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values?” the document asks. “We must interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity—a symbol of resistance to inappropriate assimilation.”

While traditionalist Hispanics are three times less likely to support marriage equality, Hispanics who actually exercise their right to vote are more likely to be supportive: nearly two-thirds of those who voted in both 2008 and 2010 elections support marriage equality. While NOM may simply reinforce the beliefs of some traditionalist Hispanics with their tactics (just as they reinforce non-Hispanic traditionalists), it’s doubtful that it will translate into actual anti-gay Hispanic votes when ballot measures appear.

Hispanic opinions on LGBT people, like those in the general population, are often driven by religious beliefs. The study found that “Protestants are far more likely to say that homosexuality is a sin (59%) compared to Catholics (37%) and other Hispanics (20%).” Those views are often driven by the clergy and the messages they are sending about homosexuality.

Respondents who report clergy who expound anti-gay messages in their church are nearly twice as likely to say that homosexuality is not biological. Even more substantial is the finding that, while only 20 percent of respondents with pro-gay clergy say that homosexuality is a sin, the same is true for 62 percent of respondents with anti-gay clergy, a 42 percentage point increase.

In short, religious environments and whether or not someone knows a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person personally, affects whether or not Hispanic people will be supportive of LGBT rights—just like every other population that’s been studied.

“There’s this thought that Hispanics are more traditional than other groups in America and I just don’t see that having any bearing based on this data. Hispanics are as open to ‘alternative communities’ as any other group in the United States,” Dutwin said.

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