Garretson, Jeremiah J. “The Path to Gay Rights: How Activism and Coming Out Changed Public Opinion”, NYU Press, 2018.
How Opinion Has Changed
I am most definitely not a data person. When I was a graduate student in education, I had to take a statistics course and it was a disaster. However, we live in a country that seems to be obsessed with data and I have learned that it can be fascinating to read every once in a while and that brings me to this new book, “”The Path to Gay Rights” which is an
innovative, data-driven explanation of how public opinion shifted on LGBTQ rights. I am sure that many of you are like me when you think how everything has changed for the LGBTQ community. So much has happened and many of us have to pinch ourselves to realize we are not dreaming. Here we have the data to prove the facts and it is very important to look at it.
“The Path to Gay Rights” is “the first social science analysis of how and why the LGBTQ movement achieved its most unexpected victory—transforming gay people from a despised group of social deviants into a minority worthy of rights and protections in the eyes of most Americans.” Writer and researcher Jeremiah J. Garretson brings together a narrative of LGBTQ history with new findings from the field of political psychology so that we can better understand how social movements affect mass attitudes in the United States and globally.
Garretson has collected data from as far back as the 1970s to argue that how we understand how social movements change mass opinion (through sympathetic media coverage and endorsements from political leaders) does not and cannot provide an adequate explanation for the success of the LGBTQ movement at changing the public’s views. He confirms what I have always thought and that is that our community’s response the AIDS crisis was an important and major turning point for public support of gay rights. It took the death of many members of our community for things to change and what a price we paid! ACT-UP and other AIDS organizations went after political and media leaders in order to normalize news coverage of LGBTQ issues and AIDS. We were told, as if we did not already know, that our lives are important and valued. From this we saw an increase in the number of LGBTQ people who came out and lived open lives and with increased contact with gay people, public attitudes began to change. But to talk about gay rights, we must go beyond them to develop “an evidence-based argument for how social movements can alter mass opinion on any contentious topic.”
It is important to note that support for gay rights has followed a different path than support for any other minority group’s rights— that support grew slowly but once it began to accelerate, it took off. We see rapidly and markedly lately. Garretson explores the shift in public opinion and follows it back to Americans’ increased contact with gay and lesbian individuals both directly and characters on television. Garretson looks at activism, interest group activity, and political campaigns through careful analyses of survey data, online searches, and Congressional votes. The dynamics of public opinion concerning gays and lesbians and social change are closely examined here. This is a book that is suitable for scholars yet it also belongs in every LGBT person’s library so that we can be reminded of how we got to where we are.