A growing fraction of individuals in both developed and developing countries now identify as LGBTQ+. A recent survey across 30 countries has found that on average, 8% of adults identify as a sexual minority, ranging from 4% in Peru and Japan to 12% in Spain, and 14% in Brazil. More and more people are also identifying as transgender or gender non-binary, with estimates ranging between 1% and 6% of the surveyed adult population. For instance, around 5% of respondents in Thailand identify as a gender minority. India has also one of the largest estimates in the world of the LGBTQ+ population. In high-income countries for which data is available relatively easily, such as the United States, the share of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals has constantly increased over time, reaching 7.2% in 2022. The youngest generations are also the most diverse in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity, with 11.2% of millennials (born between 1981-1996) and 19.7% of generation-Z (born between 1997-2004) identifying as LGBTQ+.
At the same time, people identifying as LGBTQ+ experience bullying while in school, discrimination in the labour market, and worse health outcomes. To address these disparities, policymakers have passed several LGBTQ+-friendly policies, such as same-sex marriage legislation and anti-discrimination laws. Similarly, the number of countries in which homosexuality is illegal has been steadily decreasing (although many countries in Africa and the Middle East still criminalise consensual same-sex sexual acts among adults): for instance, India repealed its sodomy laws in 2018, and Singapore did the same in 2022. However, these law changes can be fully effective only if they are supported by the general population, and if LGBTQ+ individuals are informed about the new existing laws protecting them.
Figure 1: Employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity
Notes: The map was sourced from Our World in Data.
Measuring public awareness of non-discrimination laws
In a recent article, researchers analyse data from an online survey to measure the level of awareness and knowledge about federal employment non-discrimination laws in the United States, particularly focusing on the inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected characteristic. The results show that while over 90% of participants correctly identified race, disability, and sex as protected characteristics under federal employment non-discrimination laws, only around 71% were aware that sexual orientation is also included (Figure 1). This indicates that the extension of protections to sexual minorities – as established in the Bostock vs. Clayton County Supreme Court ruling in 2020 – is not as well-known as the long-standing protections for race, sex, and disability.
Figure 2: Public awareness of protected characteristics
Notes: The figure shows the share of surveyed adults that indicate they think a given characteristic is protected by federal employment non-discrimination laws in the US. Figure generated by author.
Remarkably, the study found no significant difference in knowledge between sexual minority respondents and heterosexual individuals regarding the inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected class. This highlights the need for an informational campaign to increase awareness of recent changes in employment laws. By improving knowledge about these protections, individuals in targeted groups can better exercise their rights and take appropriate actions when faced with discrimination. Furthermore, managers and employers should be appropriately informed and understand that discriminatory actions based solely on distaste for sexual minority individuals will no longer be tolerated.
How public attitudes towards LGBTQ+ policies may affects their implementation
While laws are important to shape norms and provide specific protections, attitudes can by themselves influence the implementation of a policy, affect behaviour, and impact economic disparities. In a companion study, researchers examine the attitudes towards transgender individuals in the workplace and support for employment non-discrimination protection for transgender people in the United States. Focusing on views regarding transgender individuals is particularly important because this group has some of the worst socioeconomic outcomes out of those who identify as LGBTQ+.
Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, the researchers employ a list experiment technique to overcome potential misreporting in self-reported attitudes. Participants are randomly allocated to control and treatment groups and presented with a list of statements, including key statements related to transgender people in the workplace for the treatment groups, without directly indicating agreement with specific statements. By comparing the average number of items reported across groups, the researchers can estimate the share of respondents who support key statements regarding transgender individuals in the workplace.
The study reveals that anti-transgender sentiment is significantly underreported by 8 to 10% due to social desirability bias. However, even after accounting for bias, a substantial majority of respondents (73%) would be comfortable with a transgender manager, and 74% support employment non-discrimination protection for transgender individuals (Figure 2). Women, sexual minority individuals, and Democrats exhibit more positive views and greater support compared to men, heterosexual individuals, Republicans, or Independents, respectively.
Figure 3: Proportion of adults supporting transgender issues
Notes: The figure shows the share of surveyed adults who would be comfortable having a trans manager or supporting employment non-discrimination laws for transgender individuals. Figure generated by author.
The study further presents survey data comparing attitudes towards transgender people and employment non-discrimination rights with attitudes towards lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals. It demonstrates higher support for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals in both domains compared to transgender individuals. The survey findings also indicate that respondents may significantly underestimate the level of support for transgender individuals in the workplace among the general population.
The study highlights strong public support for the 2020 Supreme Court's decision on employment non-discrimination for transgender individuals in the United States. It also underscores the need to consider social pressure and misreported beliefs when measuring support for sensitive policies. The findings then suggest potential for informational interventions to improve labour market outcomes for transgender individuals by correcting misperceptions and increasing awareness of support. Additionally, the study reveals the necessity for transgender-specific interventions to ensure workplace equality, as attitudes towards transgender-related policies and transgender individuals lag behind those regarding policy for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals.
While progress has been made through the implementation of LGBTQ+-friendly policies and the repeal of discriminatory laws, there is still a crucial need to increase public awareness and knowledge about these protections. Furthermore, even if there is strong support for transgender individuals in position of leadership and for employment non-discrimination protection for gender minorities, it is essential to address misperceptions and increase awareness to ensure workplace equality for this group. By continuing to foster understanding, legal protection, and support, society can strive towards a more inclusive future for all LGBTQ+ individuals.