Deb Price | Openness Driving Nation Forward

What’s the difference between “homosexuals” and “gay men and lesbians”?

Turns out a lot — a whopping 14 percentage points of support, a New York Times-CBS News poll released on Feb. 11 revealed.

Only 44 percent of adults support the idea of “homosexuals” serving openly in the military, while 58 percent favor allowing “gay men and lesbians” to serve openly.

That’s from a burst of recent polling that provides new windows into the minds of straight Americans and underscores the importance of gay Americans’ being out in all aspects of our lives.

Why are people so much less supportive of “homosexuals” than “gay men and lesbians”?

My gut says the word “homosexuals” conjures up offputting, even scary, images of sex-obsessed strangers. “Gay men and lesbians,” in contrast, is more likely to bring up comfortable thoughts of the helpful guys next door or Ellen DeGeneres, the lesbian queen of fun.

Clearly, folks who make no secret of being gay, whether next door or on TV, are an essential part of the engine driving our nation toward equality.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll released Feb. 12 found that 63 percent of Americans say they have a gay friend, relative or acquaintance. People aware of knowing someone gay are far more likely to support gay rights.

Compared with those unaware of having anyone gay in their lives, they’re more in favor of openly gay soldiers, 81 percent versus 66 percent; of civil unions, 72 percent versus 58 percent, and of gay marriage, 50 percent versus 43 percent.

Meanwhile, a new Quinnipiac University Poll unearthed fascinating nuggets about a key demographic group, military families.

When the Pentagon’s top brass — Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Robert Gates, secretary of defense — testified Feb. 2 before Congress in favor of repeal, they talked about being sensitive to military families.

Military families’ attitudes toward gays in the military are refreshingly similar to those of other Americans, the poll found.

Overall, Quinnipiac found most adults (57 percent to 36 percent) think the law barring openly gay men and lesbians from the military “should be repealed.” That’s the question now before Congress.

On repeal, military families are almost evenly divided, with 48 percent in favor and 47 percent against, Quinnipiac found. The poll was conducted Feb. 2-8, meaning those families were just absorbing the revelation that the Pentagon’s top leaders support repeal.

Asked whether allowing gays to serve openly would be “divisive for the troops and hurt their ability to fight effectively,” a large majority of Americans disagreed with that idea, 65 percent to 30 percent. Likewise, military families by 57 percent to 38 percent said openly gay troops wouldn’t be divisive or hurt effectiveness.

Quinnipiac explored other issues the Pentagon plans to examine:

  • Outings: An overwhelming majority of Americans (82 percent to 10 percent) wants the military to stop “aggressively pursu(ing) disciplinary action against gay service members” whose orientation is revealed by someone else. That sentiment is almost as strong within military families, 78 percent to 14 percent.
  • Workplace behavior: Overall, by 54 percent to 38 percent, voters say uniformed gays should face “restrictions on exhibiting their sexual orientation on the job.” Military families agree, 59 percent to 33 percent.
  • Benefits: Should the Pentagon “be responsible to provide for the domestic partners of gay personnel?” Overall, voters said no, 50 percent to 43 percent. Military families’ no was louder, 55 percent to 38 percent.
  • Quarters: On whether “heterosexual military personnel should be required to share quarters with gay personnel,” voters overall were in a statistical tie — 45 percent yes, 46 percent no. Military families tilted toward no, 49 percent to 43 percent.

Openly gay men and lesbians are key to increasing the gains already being seen in straight America.

Deb Price of The Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues.

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