(Reuters) - Almost half of all Americans incorrectly believe that federal law protects lesbian, gay and bisexual people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released this week.
A month ago, the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, which would codify anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in areas such as healthcare and housing into federal law.
But the bill faces stiff opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate and the administration of President Donald Trump, a Republican, opposes the bill on the grounds that it threatened “to undermine parental and conscience rights.”
Some supporters of the bill say the disconnect between the public perception and the actual protections afforded to LGBTQ people shows a need to drum up support for the legislation.
“The public might be getting the sense that we’re fully integrated in society and that we live a trouble-free life, and that is a challenge for my organization,” said Stacey Long Simmons, director of advocacy and action at the National LGBTQ Task Force, which works on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other queer people.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted with the Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, was released as New York prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the spontaneous rioting that erupted outside the Stonewall Inn gay bar in Greenwich Village in protest at police harassment.
The demonstration on June 28, 1969 gave rise to the worldwide movement for LGBTQ equality.
Supporters of the Equality Act believe federal safeguards are necessary. In 30 U.S. states, LGBTQ people are at risk of being fired, evicted from their homes and denied services because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the largest U.S. advocacy group for the LGBTQ community.
“When you talk to people across the country, regardless of where they stand on LGBTQ equality, so many don’t know that in 30 states LGBTQ people are still at are risk of being fired solely because of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” said Charlotte Clymer, HRC’s press secretary for rapid response. “These things are flying under the radar for most Americans.”
HRC said in its 2018 State Equality Index that 17 states and Washington, D.C. have robust LGBTQ non-discrimination laws for employment, housing and things such as obtaining credit and insurance.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 45% of respondents believed federal anti-discrimination protections already exist for lesbian, gay and bisexual people, including 40% of those aged 18-34 and 57% of registered Republicans. Only 23% said they were not protected at the federal level.
Only one in three respondents knew that transgender people were not protected from gender identity discrimination under federal law. The rest either said they did not know, or they believed - incorrectly - that transgender people already had federal protections.
“We’re working so very hard to set a ground game about the Equality Act so that people understand that their common perception is mostly wrong,” said Long Simmons, whose group is trying to build support among lawmakers and constituents.
Opponents of the Equality Act see legislation as unnecessary and a threat to religious freedoms, such as business owners who object on religious grounds to serving same-sex couples.
The poll indicates that most Americans do not think religious objections should be a reason to deny service to an LGBTQ person, whether in business (57%), healthcare (64%) or employment (62%).
In the survey, only 20% of respondents said that LGBTQ people are treated “about the same” in the U.S. military, while 43% percent said they are treated worse.
“I think that’s got to be an awareness of the Pentagon and the Trump administration’s decisions to make it impossible for trans people to serve authentically,” said Kerith Conron, a research director at the Williams Institute.
In January, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted lower court rulings that blocked a Trump administration ban on certain transgender people from serving in the U.S. military, allowing the policy to go into effect.
The ban is one of several steps taken to curtail LGBTQ rights, after a decade of change that included the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015 under the LGBTQ-friendly administration of President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
Last month, the Trump administration proposed rules that would roll back protections for transgender patients under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and allowing homeless shelters to turn away transgender people for religious reasons.
In the poll, 43% of Americans said LGBTQ people were treated “about the same” as people who do not identify as LGBTQ in obtaining access to healthcare from doctors and hospitals. Only 17% say they are treated worse, and about 1 in 3 said they did not know.
“It’s been a struggle and that’s the weird thing about things that we take for granted,” HRC’s Clymer said. “You’ll see people support these issues of equality and yet maybe not be fully informed on their status.”
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online on May 29-30 and June 5-6 in English throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 2,237 adults and has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of 2 percentage points.
Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Grant McCool