If you were asked to guess which generation is mostly likely to know someone who is gay or lesbian, you’d probably guess Millennials, right? Most people would. However, a recent GLAAD report reveals that this common assumption is not exactly accurate.
The GLAAD 2017 Accelerating Acceptance report surveyed 2,037 adults — 1,708 of whom self-identified as heterosexual — to offer a generational breakdown on LGBTQ awareness and identification. And the survey found that Millennials are actually less likely to know someone who identifies as gay or lesbian than members of Generation X, Baby Boomers and older Americans.
Now, if you’re thinking, “Wait a minute. That doesn’t sound right,” well, there’s more here than meets the eye.
“While older generations of LGBTQ people (people ages 35+) largely use the words ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ and/or ‘man’ and ‘woman’ to describe their sexual orientation and gender identity respectively,” the report points out, “Millennials (people ages 18-34) appear more likely to identify in terminology that falls outside those previously traditional binaries.”
That means that Millennials are much more likely than their elders to understand both gender and sexuality as spectrums, rather than binaries with only two options.
So, with regards to sexual orientation, young people are much more likely than older generations to identify as bisexual, asexual, pansexual and other terms which reflect a degree of fluidity. And with regards to gender, they’re much more likely to identify as one of the many options along the gender non-binary.
In fact, during the winter of 2017, CBS News traveled across the United States speaking to young people who identify as gender fluid, genderqueer, agender and non-binary. While you rarely hear about this sort of transgender individual, the GLAAD report shows that their numbers are increasing significantly with each passing generation.
“Twelve percent of Millennials identify as transgender or gender nonconforming,” writes GLAAD, “meaning they do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth or their gender expression is different from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity — doubling the number of transgender and gender nonconforming people reported by Generation X.”
GLAAD attributes this rise, in part, to an “increased cultural acceptance and media visibility that oftentimes allows for an earlier and more sophisticated understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity as spectrums.”
On a more personal level, the CBSN Originals documentary, “Gender: The Space Between,” reveals that many Millennials are tired of having societal limitations placed on them simply because of the gender they were assigned at birth.
“For me specifically, non-binary means just like the absence of gender ruling your life,” explains Grace Gittelman, a freshman at the Kansas City Art Institute who is featured in the CBSN Originals doc. “I’m non-binary because not only do I not, like, know what I am, I don’t want to know what I am. You shouldn’t have this label that makes you have to act a certain way, be a certain way, like look a certain way. Think about it. Why does having a vagina or having a penis make me, like, have to be this way? It doesn’t.”
GLAAD’s 2017 survey also reveals that Millennials are far more likely to openly identify as LGBTQ than members of older generations — 20 percent, compared to 12 percent of Generation X and just 7 percent of Baby Boomers.
“This could be attributed to increasingly accepting environments, wherein for many people, family rejection is less frequent, job security is less at risk, and overall safety is less of a concern when coming out,” the report points out.
So, this striking rise may have less to do with more people identifying as LGBTQ, than it does with those people’s ability to now do so openly.
Sitting in Kansas City’s Thou Mayest coffee shop, 19-year-old Ela Hosp, who identifies as non-binary, explains, “I think that, as a whole, our generation just really wants to do better for, you know, the future.”
“Yeah, I feel like it’s a result of having a lot more awareness about things like this,” agreed Ela’s agender friend, Scott Shanholtz. “I feel like, if people in the past knew more about these kinds of contemporary views on like gender and sexuality, that they would also identify with things like that.”
“Right,” concurred Ela. “It’s not like it didn’t exist then. It’s just that we have more resources available to us, so that we can educate ourselves about these things.”
“Yeah,” Scott said, nodding and taking a sip of their coffee. “Like it’s always existed.”