Philadelphia’s altered gay pride flag is seen outside City Hall on June 19. Brown and black were added to symbolize fuller inclusion of black and brown LGBT people. (Matt Slocum/AP)

During this past Pride month, the city of Philadelphia responded to recent allegations of racism at a gay bar by adding black and brown to the iconic rainbow flag. The rainbow flag has changed a little since Gilbert Baker created it in 1978. At the time he included eight colors; in 1979, the flag dropped down to six primary-colored stripes: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet, with the red stripe on top, as it would be in a natural rainbow.

But this year, Philadelphia added black and brown to acknowledge those LGBT people of color who have felt excluded by the larger LGBT community. But the extra two colors were controversial, drawing loud criticism in particular from white gay men.

The LGBT community has long struggled with allegations of discrimination

There have been other discrimination accusations leveled against the LGBT community over time — usually, but not only, with a subset of white gay men charged as the culprits. During the 1980s, lesbians fought to have the “gay community” relabeled “lesbian and gay,” so that women would no longer be erased. Bisexual, transgender and other people have variously insisted on being acknowledged, adding letters to the acronym. Bisexuals, transgender and others have variously insisted on being acknowledged, adding letters to the acronym. (Many now refer to the LGBTQ community; the Q referring to queer or questioning.)

And a certain subset of white gay men have regularly been accused of racism, weightism, rejection of femininity, and other forms of casual discrimination. As recently as 2015, outrage surfaced when the producers of the movie “Stonewall” pushed aside the transgender folks and people of color who in fact led the riot and substituted a masculine white gay man as the protagonist who threw the first brick.

Political scientist Cathy Cohen and others call this “secondary marginalization”: when marginalized groups further marginalize subgroups of their own community. They argue that these erasures of those with intersectionality (i.e., more than one) marginalized identities are carried out both systemically and by individuals, when individuals pass on racial attitudes they’ve absorbed from their various cultures and subcultures.

So what are the racial attitudes of LGBT people as compared with other Americans?

LGBT people generally and white gay and bisexual men hold more progressive racial attitudes than others. That’s what I found when I examined a recently released survey, the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Survey (CCES), which included questions about a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity. The CCES is a large survey made up of 64,600 interviews. The 2016 survey included 4,946 individuals who self-identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, and/or transgender — making up 8.8 percent of the weighted sample. This actually oversamples LGBT-identified people compared with other studies of the LGBT population, recently reported to be 4.1 percent of the U.S. adult population.

Measuring LGBT populations can be difficult, but the Williams Institute recently identified best practices for surveying and measuring sexual orientation and gender identity. The 2016 CCES follows many of these recommendations. The survey also includes questions measuring attitudes about a general consciousness about racism.

Here’s what I found

I compared LGBT people of color and LGBT white people to cisgender (i.e., not transgender), heterosexual people of color and white people.

People were asked to what extent they agree or disagree with the three statements you can see in the figures below about race relations in the United States.

In all three, white LGBT people held more racially progressive attitudes than their heterosexual, cisgender counterparts.

In fact, on average, LGBT white people, LGBT people of color, and cisgender heterosexual people of color expressed approximately the same attitudes about race. The greatest differences can be seen in the acknowledgment of white privilege. About 70 percent of cisgender heterosexual people of color, 70 percent of LGBT white people, and 77 percent of LGBT people of color agree that “White people have certain advantages because of the color of their skin,” compared with about 41 percent of cisgender heterosexual white people. In this survey, white gay, bisexual, and transgender men are just as racially aware as those of color, and similar patterns exist between LGBT white women and women of color.

Cisgender heterosexual white people are on average more racially conservative, with white men who are not gay, bisexual, or transgender more so than white women.


Why would LGBT people be more racially progressive than their heterosexual counterparts?

As has been widely studied, most self-identified LGBT people in the United States align with the Democratic Party and hold more progressive attitudes on social and economic issues. In the 2016 CCES, 75 percent of those who identify as LGBT say they are either Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party; 46 percent strongly identify as Democrats. Racial attitudes in the United States have been more strongly correlated with partisanship, and racial attitudes mattered more in the election of Donald Trump than in electing Barack Obama. Apparently LGBT people’s political leanings may be a factor of their more progressive racial attitudes.

Being aware of racism and holding racist attitudes may well be distinct but related concepts; in other words, some white LGBT people may be more likely to perceive racism while also behaving or speaking in a racist way.

Or perhaps LGBT people of color are more willing to speak out when they face racist treatment from the LGBT community. Certainly, reports surfaced that some gay men’s bars exclude people of color and women. And a very small contingent of white LGBT people may be especially willing to speak out loudly on such questions as the Philadelphia rainbow flag. But on the whole, LGBT people — both those who are white and people of color — are more progressive in their racial attitudes than their cisgender heterosexual counterparts.

Andrew R. Flores is an assistant professor at Mills College.