LGBTQ acceptance across the globe: 5 ways to encourage change

May 26, 2022 - 29 min read

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What LGBTQ acceptance looks like

How accepting is the world of LGBTQ people?

How bias impacts LGBTQ acceptance

How openness affects mental and physical health

5 ways to help build LGBTQ acceptance in your community and the world

Moving LGBTQ acceptance forward

LGBTQ+ activist Barbara Gittings once said, “Equality means more than passing laws. The struggle is really won in the hearts and minds of our communities.”

While political wins are important for the LGBTQ+ community, true LGBTQ acceptance goes deeper. As Barbara Gittings said, we’ll know the real struggle has been won when we feel respected, acknowledged, and valued by our peers, workplaces, and families. We look forward to the day when every LGBTQ person feels like they can be themselves, without hiding who they love or how they identify. 

The good news is that around the world, LGBTQ acceptance is increasing. Representation of LGBTQ people in media reached a record high in 2022. The global divide over LGBTQ rights is narrowing. Plus, 72% of Americans now agree that homosexuality should be accepted by society — vs. just 42% who agreed in 2007. 

That said, LGBTQ acceptance still has a long way to go. Hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills have already been filed in the U.S. this year. Even President Biden has warned against a recent rise in violence and hate against LGBTQ people.  And globally, 83% of LBGTQ people still hide their sexual orientation.

LGBTQ acceptance is critical for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. But it’s also important for anyone with LGBTQ friends, family, and coworkers. And ultimately, LGBTQ rights are human rights — that’s why LGBTQ acceptance should matter to every person, around the world.

Here’s what you need to know about the state of LGBTQ acceptance today and how you can be an ally to LGBTQ people everywhere. 

What LGBTQ acceptance looks like

LGBTQ acceptance is how society generally reacts to, supports, and values people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. This also includes any other sexual or gender minority, like people who identify as non-binary. 

So what does LGBTQ acceptance look like? Just like any other form of social acceptance. 

As an LGBTQ individual, it looks like feeling loved and valued by your friends and family. You feel respected at work. You feel safe being your true self at home and in your community. You never feel like you have to hide your identity to be an equal member of society. 

For the LGBTQ community as a whole, LGBTQ acceptance looks like political and economic power. It means having equal access to healthcare, housing, and work opportunities. Your LGBTQ identity should never prevent you from progressing in your career, receiving the pay you deserve or playing an important role in your community.

If you don’t identify as LGBTQ, LGBTQ acceptance looks like accepting and celebrating the diversity of your friends, family, and coworkers. It means finding ways to be an ally and advocate for their community. And it’s about your daily efforts to participate in the fight against LGBTQ discrimination. 

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How accepting is the world of LGBTQ people?

Many of us dream of a world where we are all accepted, regardless of our race, gender, or sexuality. Positive changes are happening globally to get us there, but we still have a long way to go. Let’s take a look at LGTBQ+ acceptance around the world.

International LGBTQ acceptance

Over the years, The Pew Research Center has surveyed thousands of global individuals on whether they think homosexuality should be accepted by society. The question specifically asked about homosexuality, but it’s a good marker of where many people stand on LGBTQ acceptance as a whole. 

The researchers found that LGBTQ acceptance has definitely improved in the Western world — in Sweden, 94% of people said homosexuality should be accepted by society in 2019. In fact, in Western Europe and North America, acceptance of homosexuality is almost consistently over 70%. 

Acceptance is also rising in some countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. India, for example, has become far more accepting — in 2014, only 15% agreed that homosexuality should be accepted by society. In 2019, that number jumped to 37%. 

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Countries where LGBTQ acceptance is the highest versus the lowest  

The top 10 countries where people responded yes, homosexuality should be accepted by society according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey

  1. Sweden (94%) 
  2. Netherlands (92%) 
  3. Spain (89%) 
  4. France (86%) 
  5. Germany (86%
  6. UK (86%) 
  7. Canada (85%)
  8. Australia (81%) 
  9. Argentina (76%)
  10. Italy (75%) 

In the 10 countries where the fewest people responded yes, homosexuality should be accepted by society according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey. 

  1. Nigeria (7%)
  2. Tunisia (9%)
  3. Indonesia (9%)  
  4. Lebanon (13%) 
  5. Ukraine (14%)
  6. Russia (14%) 
  7. Kenya (14%) 
  8. Turkey (25%) 
  9. Lithuania (28%) 
  10. Bulgaria (32%) 

According to The Pew Research Center’s survey, these groups tended to be the most accepting of homosexuality: 

  • People in wealthier countries — Sweden, the Netherlands, and Germany were some of the most accepting of homosexuality, each with a per-capita GDP of over $50,000
  • Younger people — in South Korea, for example, 79% of 18-29-year-olds said homosexuality should be accepted by society, vs. just 23% of those older than 50 
  • Individuals with more education — in Greece, 72% of respondents with a postsecondary education agreed that homosexuality should be accepted by society, vs. 42% of individuals with secondary education or less

Here are a few more statistics on global LGBTQ acceptance:  

LGBTQ acceptance in the United States 

LGBTQ acceptance in the United States is not where many of us would hope it to be. Only 72% of Americans agreed that homosexuality should be accepted by society in the Pew Research Center study. That doesn’t even put the United States in the top 10 countries for LGBTQ acceptance. 

Plus, deep political divides and polarization in America have not made the fight for LGBTQ acceptance any easier: 

But there’s good news, too — LGBTQ acceptance has increased dramatically in the past few years and is still on an upward trend. 

  • Americans who said homosexuality should be accepted by society increased from from 60% (2015) to 72% (2019) in just four years. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage in 2015 likely contributed to this growth in acceptance. 

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How bias impacts LGBTQ acceptance

Whether we admit it or not, we all have subconscious biases. They could come from anywhere — childhood experiences, cultural conditioning, or the TV shows we watch. However, implicit biases are no excuse for discrimination against LGTBQ people.

So what exactly is a bias, and how does it impact LGBTQ acceptance? An implicit bias is an attitude or expectation you have of a of person without realizing it. You might automatically think someone you’re meeting fits certain stereotypes, such as “all gay men are feminine.” 

This is harmful because it can lead you to treat people differently, without giving them the chance to be their authentic selves. You could even have negative biases against certain people groups without realizing it, which can lead you to discriminate against them. 

For example, maybe you don’t realize you have an implicit bias against LGBTQ people. Yet, as a manager, you keep choosing to promote the heterosexual people on your team. Clearly, this is not okay — it’s your responsibility to figure out your own biases and discrimination at work to reduce them. 

Here are a few important statistics to know about bias, discrimination, and LGBTQ acceptance: 

How openness affects mental and physical health

When people feel respected, psychologically safe, and valued, their well-being will improve. Unfortunately, multiple research studies have found that some medical professionals hold an implicit bias towards this group. That bias can lead to major LGBTQ healthcare disparities

This is a big problem, since LGBTQ people tend to be at an increased risk for physical and mental health problems. Without LGBTQ acceptance, LGBTQ people won’t feel safe getting the quality medical care they need. 

Here are some stats to show you how openness can affect the mental and physical health of LGBTQ people: 

That said, LGBTQ people are legally protected by The Affordable Care Act. This act prohibits discrimination based on “​race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in certain health programs and activities.” Last year, The Department of Health and Human Services announced that they will interpret this law to also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity

LGBTQ+ people seeking quality healthcare can also take advantage of resources such as the ones below: 

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5 ways to help build LGBTQ acceptance in your community and the world

We’ve covered a lot of statistics about LGBTQ acceptance, and not all of them are great. However, we all have the power to help create a better world and increase LGBTQ acceptance in our communities. Here are a few ways to get started.  

1. Work on your implicit biases

You may be an avid supporter of the LGBTQ community already or identify as LGBTQ yourself. Either way, we all have unconscious biases from our childhoods, the media, and other places. These implicit biases are dangerous because, as we mentioned above, bias can lead to discrimination. 

Here are a few ways to reduce your biases and build more LGBTQ acceptance within yourself: 

  • Consume LGBTQ media: Follow social media accounts that share about the LGBTQ experience, stay in the loop on LGBTQ political news, and watch TV shows or read books with positive LGBTQ representation. 
  • Work on your empathy: Seek to understand the challenges that LGBTQ people face every day by asking questions, being curious, and becoming a better listener.

  • Build your self-awareness: When you meet someone who identifies as LGBTQ, do you automatically make assumptions about their lifestyle or preferences? Try to deliberately become conscious of your thoughts and reactions. You can also try taking an online test to find out what your biases are, like this one from Harvard.
  • Admit your biases: No one is perfect, and you might have been programmed your whole life to hold certain biases. Be open to feedback and understand that this is a growing process. 

2. Before anything else, be a good listener 

Have you ever offered a friend advice without stopping to understand the entire situation? Maybe you jumped in before asking the right questions, or interrupted their story with a sweeping statement like, “break up with him.” We’ve all been there — but we can, and must, do better.  

You might be tempted to think LGBTQ experiences are all the same, especially if you don’t have many LGBTQ friends. The truth is that the individual experiences of LGBTQ people are very unique. 

By listening, you can learn what specific challenges your friends face every day. You can also learn the best ways to show your support, instead of making assumptions about what your friends might need. 

Here are a few quick tips for becoming a better listener:

  • Slow down: Rather than jumping in with your opinion, wait for the other person to fully finish their thought. You can even wait a couple of seconds to make sure nothing else comes to their mind before speaking up. 
  • Ask questions: Instead of trying to insert your own experience into a conversation, focus on diving deeper into the other person’s perspective. Try asking things like, “how did that make you feel?” or “what did you learn from that experience?”
  • Repeat back what you heard: Sometimes we assume we understand without fully taking in what the other person is saying. Before you move on from what a person’s said, try rephrasing it in your own words and asking them, “did I understand that right?” This will show that you’re truly present in the conversation.

3. Be inclusive of LGBTQ friends, family, and colleagues

Did you know 90% of adults of in the United States know someone who is gay or lesbian? If you want to learn how to be an advocate, being more inclusive of the LGBTQ people in your life is a great place to start.

LGBTQ people face many unique challenges that can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.  One of the best ways to be an ally is to strive to be inclusive of everyone, whether in the workplace or at a party. 

Here are few tips for becoming a more inclusive person.

  • Don’t make assumptions: This goes hand in hand with working on your biases — never assume that someone has a certain preference or lifestyle just because they’re LGBTQ. Also, avoid assuming everyone you know is straight — almost half of LGBTQ people haven’t come out at work. Instead, keep conversational language inclusive (like saying “partner” vs. “wife” or “husband”) and work on being a good listener. 
  • Be inclusive when planning social gatherings: If you have LGBTQ friends, include them in your plans with straight or cis-gender friends, and vice-versa. And don’t forget to include your LGBTQ friends’ partners — if you invite your straight friend’s husband, be sure to invite your lesbian friend’s partner, too. 
  • Show respect with your language: By asking for a new friend or coworker’s gender pronouns, you show that you care about their identity. You can also work on learning vocabulary important to the LGBTQ community. Your use of respectful language will make LGBTQ people feel more comfortable being their true selves and asking for what they need.

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4. Understand LGBTQ+ issues — and then speak up 

You can be a far better ally and advocate when you stay informed about LGBTQ issues. For example, by understanding the anti-transgender laws that some states are trying to pass, the issues that transgender people face every day will become more personal to you. Rather than assuming that everything is going great for LGBTQ acceptance, you’ll see how much work still needs to be done. 

But don’t stop at understanding the issues. Speak up whenever you can. By using your voice, you can have a real impact on LGBTQ acceptance in your community.

Here are a few ways to start speaking up about LGBTQ acceptance: 

  • Use the power of social media: Is there a major anti-LGBTQ bill trying to be passed in your state? Did you read an interesting article about LGBTQ mental health? Share it on your social media — maybe the people in your life would never know about these things if you aren’t the first to share. 
  • Discuss LGBTQ issues with your family and friends: Maybe your friends don’t understand the challenges this community faces. Next time you’re at brunch or coffee with a coworker, try casually bringing up LGBTQ issues. You start by saying, “did you know…” or “did you hear about…”
  • Share positive news too: Did your company just hire its first lesbian vice president? Or maybe there was a political win for the LGBTQ community in the news? Celebrate! Tell your friends, post it on social media, and mention it to your coworkers. 
  • Get involved with LGBTQ organizations: Whether it’s The Trevor Project, GLAAD, or a local nonprofit, you can show you care by volunteering or donating to these organizations. You can also attend marches, rallies, protests, and other events as an ally.

5. Remember that being an ally is about action, not a label

Some people use the word “ally” to make themselves look good. Meanwhile, they take no real action to support oppressed communities. Being an ally is about what you do every day to create a more inclusive world. 

Whether that’s donating to an LGBTQ organization or volunteering on the weekend, your actions mean everything. Sometimes, that takes bravery. It might not be easy to stand up to a manager who refuses to use your coworker’s gender pronouns.

Maybe your family members make inappropriate jokes when no one else is around. Whatever it is, as an ally, you must be ready to overcome your fears and tell others when what they’re doing is wrong. 

Moving LGBTQ acceptance forward

Though LGBTQ acceptance has improved over the years, especially in the United States, we still have a long way to go. Understanding these statistics will help you become more educated about the issues that matter today. From there, you can use your voice and your actions to help make change. 

Sometimes, working towards LGBTQ acceptance can be scary. Whether you want to speak up for yourself or learn to be more authentic, you might need some extra support. If you do, BetterUp is here to help with the tools you need to build your self-esteem and become more brave.

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Published May 26, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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