Questions about legal protections for LGBT individuals (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) have occupied national discussions as well as local ones.
Just last month, LB627 failed in the Nebraska Legislature. Its failure means that sexual orientation and gender identity are not classes protected by the state of Nebraska when it comes to employment discrimination.
In Lincoln, the City Council passed a city ordinance in 2012 that offered protections in employment, housing and public accommodations for LGBT people, but it was later struck down through a referendum petition.
These examples give the impression that Nebraskans do not support LGBT non-discrimination laws, yet as sociologists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who have studied the topic, we have evidence to suggest otherwise.
In a recent representative survey of Nebraska residents, we found widespread support for LGBT rights. These findings come from the 2018 Nebraska Annual Social Indicators Survey (NASIS) conducted by UNL’s Bureau of Sociological Research that polled nearly 1,000 adults living in Nebraska. The bureau is a charter member of the American Association for Public Opinion Research Transparency Initiative and is committed to following best practices to collect quality survey data.
Results indicate that three out of four Nebraskans support legal protection for gays, lesbians and transgender individuals from job discrimination. When looking only at respondents from Lincoln, the results indicate even greater support with over 80% of Lincolnites supporting such protections.
Across the state, a clear majority of residents living support nondiscrimination employment protection on the basis sexual orientation and gender identity:
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* Small towns: 67% (gender identity) and 73% (sexual orientation).
* Medium- and large-sized cities: 82% and 86%.
* Suburbs: 79% and 93%.
The patterns we observe among Nebraska residents mirror national trends. In a recent, nationally representative survey, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that nearly seven in ten Americans support laws that would protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.
Even though religious exemption is often used to oppose non-discrimination protection for LGBT people, national and state data suggest that the majority of most religious groups support such protection.
In our survey, 69% of Protestants and 78% of Catholics support employment discrimination protections on the basis sexual orientation, and 63% of Protestants and 78% of Catholics support protections on the basis of gender identity. Even the majority of Nebraskans who attend church at least weekly are supportive of LGBT legal protection: 57% support employment protection for transgender individuals, and 68% support protection for gays and lesbians.
Though there are clear political divides in Nebraskan attitudes about LGBT people, these are not as pronounced as polarizing political rhetoric may have us believe. An overwhelming majority (95%) of Nebraskans who voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election support protection for gays, lesbians and transgender individuals. Also, a majority of Donald Trump voters also indicate their support: 53% support protection for transgender individuals, and 63% support protection for gays and lesbians.
When the Lincoln mayoral candidates were recently asked in the Journal Star about their position on the City Council reintroducing a fairness ordinance that offers protection in housing, employment, and public accommodations for LGBT people, all of the candidates voiced support for letting Lincoln residents decide this issue.
As Lincolnites debate the question of nondiscrimination legislation for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals, let’s listen to the voices of people in our city and state. Based on our survey results, we expect to have the question of whether there should be projections in place answered with a definitive “yes.”
Kelsy Burke is an assistant professor of sociology at UNL. Emily Kazyak is an associate professor in sociology and women’s and gender studies at UNL.