Pew Study Shows That 48% of LGBT Adults Are Non-Religious

A new survey of LGBT adults by the Pew Research Center reveals a lot about the intersection of homosexuality and religion.

Let’s run through the data (PDF):

When it comes to the religious beliefs of LGBT adults, 48% are non-religious and as astonishing 17% of them are atheists or agnostics:

When it comes to religion, the LGBT population has a distinctly different profile than the general public. Fewer LGBT adults have a religious affiliation. About half of LGBT respondents describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or having no particular religion (48%) — more than double the portion of the general public that is religiously unaffiliated (20%).

What happens when you break it down by age? We know that, in general, younger Americans tend to be less religious. Does that trend hold true in the LGBT population?

Absolutely. In fact, 60% of 18=29-year-olds are not religious, nearly double what we typically see in the general population in that age group:

Young LGBT adults are particularly likely to have no religious affiliation, a pattern that is also found among the general
public. However, compared with the general public, a higher share of LGBT adults are unaffiliated across all age groups.
For example, among adults ages 18 to 29 in the general public, 31% are religiously unaffiliated, while roughly double that share (60%) are unaffiliated among LGBT adults of the same age. And roughly one-in-eight adults ages 50 and older in the general public are unaffiliated (13%), compared with about four-in-ten (39%) of older LGBT adults.

The survey also asks about perceptions of what different religious groups think about LGBT individuals. It asks whether the six popular religious institutions — Evangelical, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, and non-evangelical Protestant — are friendly, neutral, or unfriendly toward LGBT people.

No surprisingly, Unfriendly scored higher than Friendly every time:

Pew also grouped the responses a different way. As it turns out, 93% of LGBT adults think at least one religious institution is unfriendly toward them and 71% think at least four religious institutions are unfriendly toward them. (No word on how many view all six as pretty awful.)

Perceptions of these religious institutions among LGBT adults loosely correspond with survey findings on attitudes toward homosexuality within each of the religious groups. Members of the U.S. general public who identify as white evangelical Protestant, black Protestant, Mormon and Muslim are less accepting of homosexuality than the general public as whole. Each of these groups is more likely to say that homosexuality should be discouraged by society rather than accepted by society, according to Pew Research surveys, with the exception of U.S. Muslims, who are about equally likely to say that homosexuality should be accepted as discouraged by society. White mainline Protestants and Jews (along with the unaffiliated) are more accepting of homosexuality than the general public as a whole. Catholics are also more accepting of homosexuality than the general public as whole, although the Catholic Church officially teaches that homosexual behavior is a sinful act.

So what’s the takeaway from all this? We don’t really learn anything new, but the survey confirms that treatment and attitude toward the LGBT community is going to be a problem in the religious world for years to come. Young people are going to have to decide whether or not to support an institution that thinks gay and lesbian relationships are inferior to straight ones. Given the trends for young people and the LGBT population, the more the religious world speaks out against homosexuality, the faster they push young people out of the fold.

We, as atheists, can help hasten the trends by making our communities as welcoming of the LGBT crowd as we can. Not that we’ve been doing a bad job, but we can always make a concerted effort to let disaffected individuals know that, even if their church doesn’t approve of them, we do.

(Thanks to Erp for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    Does not surprise me. When you are constantly harassed and attacked by others because of the attacker’s religious beliefs you are probably more likely to reject that other person’s view point. I know that as a gay atheist one of the reasons that I started questioning what I was taught was I read about how religious groups were attacking LGBT individuals.

    Btw as a side note there is a new acronym that was come up with by a London based activist group. It is GSD and stands for Gender And Sexual Diversities and they want it used because it encompasses everything instead of adding letters where it is now LGBTQIA

    • smalltownamy

      I was going to say: it seems that it would be akin to an abused spouse staying with his/her abuser. “Jesus just gets really upset when I’m doing this one thing he doesn’t like then he banishes me to hell. But I still see the good in him.”

      And a kind of silly side note about your side note: GSD also stands for “Global Standard Deity” in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next Series. It’s a church led by a gay “priest” (not in the Catholic sense as he’s married to a very nice fellow) who has united all of the world’s religions based on their commonalities. But that will only have meaning to a geeky set of readers. I think Fforde would like seeing a broader use be the nonfictional GSD community.

      • Raising_Rlyeh

        Interesting comparison to an abusive relationship. Another parallel is that the abused person will often make an excuse to stay with their abuser. In this case LGBT individuals will state reasons that they can’t give up on their god. Though many religious people do that anyway.

  • Matt

    Being a LGBT human in a church is like being a black man in a GOP convention. Yea I know they’re there in both cases but it’s just so fucking confusing.

    • A3Kr0n

      Confusing. Yes, I was going to use that word too.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      It really depends on the church. There is also a weird phenomenon in which people will be very kind and welcoming to individual gay people while opposing rights for gay people in general.

  • Gus Snarp

    Only 48%? The astonishing thing is that it’s not at least 80%.

    • decathelite

      I have a close gay friend who goes off the deep end for jesus. It’s all her status updates, conversations, everything. I asked her how she can rationalize the anti-homosexuality in the Bible, and it really comes down to two things: and she basically ignores bigot jesus in favor of nice jesus (saying that men have added their bigoted views to the teachings of jesus to justify being bigots), and if she doesn’t acknowledge jesus in everything she does her parents will basically disown her.

      I know anecdotes don’t prove anything but I think fear of losing the support of family and friends may be a pretty powerful factor in convincing people to continue believing in god even though it seems to run counter to common sense.

      • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

        There is no mention of homosexuality (stated or implied) in the gospels. The new testament references are all in the Epistles. If people can divorce and remarry and stay in the church, there’s no reason gay people can’t. The gospels quote Jesus denouncing divorce several times.

        • claireify

          There are some references in Leviticus to which modern day homophobes and right-wing religious extremists refer when they want to denounce homosexuality. Please read “Dear God, Got A Minute” (amazon,com) in which Ari (fictional and gay) offers a more in-depth look at what Jesus said about the subject–which actually is…. NOTHING!

          • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

            Leviticus is only relevant for Orthodox Jews. If anyone else quotes it to me, I laugh in their faces. And Orthodox Jews don’t care if anyone else follows rules not meant for the rest of us. In other words…irrelevant to my life.

            • claireify

              Fair enough.

      • allein

        Over the last couple days I’ve been listening to the recent Thinking Atheist podcast on Mormons (I’m not done with it yet; my commute’s not long enough for a full episode) and he started off by reading a letter from an 18yo Mormon who is an atheist, but can’t tell his family (partly because he doesn’t want to hurt them and partly because of social ramifications in his community) and is planning on going on a mission (and being “the worst missionary ever” at converting people), and then hopefully going to a secular college and letting his parents think it was the corrupting influence of the big bad world’s fault when he lets his “faith” go later on when he’s more independent. He mentions in the letter a friend who came out as an atheist, which was basically committing social suicide and she ended up moving out of state. Another issue brought up in the podcast was parents who refuse to pay for college if their kids don’t at least claim to believe. So I can understand why someone would want to keep up appearances, especially when it could so drastically affect their future. I suppose if the pressure is great enough you could convince yourself you really do believe it.

      • SirReal

        I think she clings to bigot Jesus BECAUSE she doesn’t want to lose her parents… she has brainwashed herself to believe so she keeps her family. Sad, but necessary sometimes for gays and for atheists.

  • Rain

    It looks like the “Non-evang Prot” Churches are the friendliest. Good for them, although I had never heard of them before. It sounds like they might be from Canada.

    • Erp

      They are sometimes called mainline churches (United Church of Christ,
      United Methodist, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of
      America [it uses an older meaning of 'evangelical'], American Baptist
      are the well known ones). The denominations vary and churches within
      each denomination vary. UCC has supported equal marriage since 2005
      though some churches left the denomination. The United Church of Canada
      would be the Canadian equivalent (along with the Anglican Church in
      Canada).

      BTW though only 5% or so of Americans identify as LGBT a lot more identify as allies.

      • allein

        Do you know anything about the Presbyterian church’s general stance on marriage? I actually know a (female) UCC pastor who is married to a (female) Presbyterian pastor. They married in Maine but the UCC pastor moved to PA and joined her wife’s church; the congregation has apparently been very welcoming, but I don’t know what the larger denomination’s position on it is.

        • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

          I grew up Presbyterian, and they seemed pretty indistinguishable from Methodists, except for the details of church hierarchy. They’re generally pretty OK on gay issues, and in 2011 ratified ordination of gays. I don’t think they’ve approved gay marriage specifically, but I would not be terribly surprised if they do that in the future. My experience was that it was a pretty liberal church, and focused a lot more on the “love thy neighbor” than on hellfire and damnation.

        • smalltownamy

          I think Presbyterians tend to be welcoming (even in very rural Indiana – the local church here accepted a lesbian couple into membership). From what I see after a brief Google search, it looks like they’re still talking about marriage equality.

        • Anna

          You have to be careful what branch. The largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States is mainline and fairly liberal:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presbyterian_Church_(U.S.A.)

          However, there are also conservative fundamentalist branches.

      • smalltownamy

        I had no idea the Baptists were in this group until I heard an NPR sponsorship message for a Baptist church in Louisville – the Highland Baptist Church will be marching in the Pride Parade to show their love and support.

  • Frank Tigitoto

    I hate to stir the pot but isn’t only like five percent or so of Americans self identifed as LGBT?

    • rhodent

      According to a Gallup poll from last October (http://www.gallup.com/poll/158066/special-report-adults-identify-lgbt.aspx) the number is even lower: 3.4% (with another 4.4% saying either that they didn’t know or refusing to answer). However, two things should be stated in addition to that figure:

      1. There are undoubtedly a large number of people who in their own minds self-identify as LGBT but would claim to be straight in a poll asking them about it.

      2. The percentage of Americans who self-identify that way isn’t really relevant.

      • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

        It may be as low as 2.8. Studies on human sexuality are notoriously unreliable. It also only matters if you are marketing surveys and trying to predict voter turnout. The number of people in a group is irrelevant as to whether or not they have the rights as everyone else.

    • Michael W Busch

      Demography estimates 3%-5%, subject to how well reporting biases are known and where exactly the boundaries of LGBT are drawn in the very wide range of normal human sexuality.

      And, as others have said, the exact value is not relevant here.

  • edb3803

    I’ve always wondered how the LGBT community can be religious when it is religious views that are solely against their lifestyle.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      Stockholm Syndrome.

    • baal

      Extreme mental compartmentalization in the case of my very Catholic gay married* aunt.

      *But not by the RCC, obviously.

    • Ida Know

      I once had a gay Christian friend tell me that all the verses in the Bible talking about homosexuality being an abomination and that gay people should be put to death are *actually* only referring to when it is HARMFUL, as in child molestation.
      I’m sure all the rabid antigay wingnut politicians and pundits will be happy to apologize and correct their views the minute she manages to find the bit in the Bible that makes that clarification, and sends it to them.

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

      This is basically the same argument as the “you’re only an atheist because you’re angry at god” one, but in reverse, and it doesn’t work either way around. Just because someone might think that god is an arrogant capricious asshat who hates them, doesn’t mean they don’t also think that it’s real.

      • Thalfon

        In that scenario, though, I’d expect that person to no longer worship their god, or at the very least, to not hold that god in any respect. That doesn’t, however, seem to be the case with LGBT believers. They aren’t people who believe in a god that they hate because it hates them. They just believe in a nice god who agrees with them, just like all the bigoted believers believe in a god that agrees with their bigotry.

    • Sterling Ericsson

      I believe in God. I just don’t believe in the Church’s god.

  • C Peterson

    It’s an indicator of the difficult childhood of so many LGBT individuals that the number isn’t 100%.

    • TheG

      Exactly. The headline should actually be, “Pew Study Show for Some Confusing Reason 52% of LGBT Adults Are Religious… And 7% Don’t See Religion as Hostile to Them at ALL!”

      I guess that makes me one of those “the glass is 52% empty” kind of guys.

  • SirReal

    Seriously, would you be friendly toward a group of people who believe you are an aberration for merely loving someone? Or even worse, would institute laws for the death penalty for being gay if they could get away with it? Yeah, that’s how I feel, too.

  • visitor

    In my experience as an LGBT non-believer, there is another factor that I would posit as a cause of this phenomenon, in addition to the hatred promulgated toward LGBT people by most religions: Being completely different from what people expect of you causes you to do a whole lot of additional thinking about the nature of things (i.e., reality), and about right and wrong, compared to people who aren’t provoked in this way, all other factors being equal. It sharpens your b*llsh*t detector.

    It doesn’t always work out this way, but LGBT people who survive with their mental health intact through hate and discrimination tend to be pretty darn clear-eyed in their view of the world and existence, and what’s truly good and bad.

    And: To Hemant Mehta, you are a fantastic straight ally. You rock.

  • Katherine Hompes

    You know, most of these religions don’t even acknowledge my existence…

    • Leonidas

      What do you mean by that?

      • Katherine Hompes

        Most Christian denominations acknowledge heterosexuality as ideal, and homosexuality as a sin- but bisexuality?

        • Leonidas

          That’s not a Christian problem, that’s an everybody problem. “Gay, straight, or lying”? Apparently NOBODY thinks we exist. :/
          (Not that I’m really trying to defend them, but the religious are just imitating society and parts of the queer community, and I don’t think they’re to blame for this.)


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