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Opinion This is a looming danger for full LGBT equality

An American flag and the gay pride flag fly in front of the Supreme Court. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

Since before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June, leaders in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community have warned that the fight for equality was far from over. Noted gay rights activist and radio host Michelangelo Signorile wrote a book on it. In “It’s not over: getting beyond tolerance, defeating homophobia, and winning true equality,” he urged LGBT Americans not to succumb to “victory blindness.” But a new poll shows that straight people are susceptible to it, too.

According to a new survey from Harris Poll commissioned by GLAAD, the nation’s LGBT media advocacy organization, “A growing complacency appears to be developing” among non-LGBT Americans. When asked if they agreed that “gay people have the same rights as everybody else” in the United States, 50 percent said yes. The poll will be released later this morning.

The poll split respondents into three groups based on their “comfort” with seven LGBT-centered situations. These include seeing a same-sex couple holding hands, learning a family member, one’s doctor or child’s teacher is gay and seeing a coworker’s wedding picture. “Allies” were the most comfortable. “Detached supporters” were comfortable depending on the situation. And “resisters” were the least comfortable.

As worrying as the “victory blindness” is among straight people, the survey shows that a disturbing level of straight Americans in those three groups don’t think some of the biggest problems facing the LGBT community are all that serious. About a quarter of respondents don’t think HIV/AIDS, depression and acts of violence are serious.   

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[This is the problem facing LGBT equality, Moore or less]

The level of ambivalence about LGBT Americans demonstrated by the survey is also deeply troubling. “Roughly a third of non-LGBT Americans profess no strong opinion about important LGBT issues,” the GLAAD/Harris Poll report notes. “Interestingly, this ambivalence appears across segments, including allies.”

That’s being too polite. The “ambivalent” couldn’t care less whether the LGBT community has influence or the support of politicians. For instance, 38 percent “neither agreed nor disagreed” that the LGBT community “has more influence than any other minority community.” And 37 percent were neither here nor there on whether “most politicians” support policies for the LGBT community.

Sure, marriage equality is the law of the land. But same-sex couples who live in 28 states with no discrimination protection for LGBT people can be fired for who they married. Those who live in the 21 states with so-called religious freedom laws have to contend with state-sanctioned discrimination masquerading as moral conviction. States such as Florida are entertaining a bill that could scuttle adoptions by same-sex parents, deny LGBT people care and protect from litigation anyone professing to uphold their religious beliefs while withholding services to LGBT people. And then there is the chief justice of the Alabama supreme court who brazenly defies the U.S. Supreme Court.

[The new year promises more attempts to legally discriminate against LGBT Americans]

The one bright spot is the Equality Act wending its way through both houses of Congress. This bill would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the landmark anti-discrimination statute. The Senate version has 37 Democratic and two independent sponsors. The House version has 172 sponsors, including Rep. Bob Dold, the only Republican to sign on and who is in a tough reelection fight in his swing district in Illinois.

But the House bill is doomed. Here’s the “prognosis” when you look it up at “0% chance of being enacted.” That’s because the Republican leadership will ensure that it goes nowhere. Public pressure is needed to improve that prognosis and thwart the ugly efforts happening at the state level. So, now is not the time for ambivalence. Not from the LGBT community and certainly not from folks who profess to be allies in the continuing fight for equality. Now is not the time to slow down in the quest for full LGBT equality. 

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj