Even those of us in media serving the LGBTQ+ community were pleasantly surprised by the results from a recent Gallup study finding 1 in 5 of the rising Gen Z adults (ages 20-26) identifying as LGBTQ+. That means of the 82 million Gen Z Americans, an estimated 17 million identify as LGBTQ+. Never in the history of polling for LGBTQ+ identity have we seen such a staggering statistic from a single generation. When you compare the Gen Z queer identifiers at more than 20 percent for this rising group of new adults versus the older Gen X at identifying at only 4 percent, you can tell that we are in a massive generational shift and a renaissance around openness, authenticity, and living the happiest life possible to love who you love.
With such a massive embrace of alternative orientation taking place, why, then, are we seeing the rise of so much anti-LGBTQ+ legislation? Maybe the simple answer lies no farther than the parents of these queer Gen Zers for the rise of hate and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Here’s how it could be the driving force. And, furthermore, what we can do about it.
Let’s start with simple math and statistics of recent credible polls on LGBTQ+ people. By just focusing on the youngest of LGBTQ+ folks in the Gen Z sector or approximately 17 million, you can estimate each has 1.7 on average living parents, stepparents, and guardians in their lives — or about 30 million parental figures. We then apply voting statistics and other polling data starting with Pew Research in November 2022 that found 61 percent of American voters believe same-sex marriage is good for society. Multiplying 61 percent x 30 million parents, we can safely defend and probably generously state that 18.3 million of these parents are accepting, nurturing, and lovingly proud of their out and happy children.
On the other hand, Pew found that 37 percent of Americans believe same-sex marriage is negative for society. If applied to our 30 million estimated parental number, this leaves nearly 12 million parents whose beliefs and values run counter to their child(ren) identifying as LGBTQ+. There is little doubt that these people also vote and support anti-LGBTQ+ agendas of the GOP, their elected party representatives, and their propaganda machine, Fox News. If these 12 million parental supporters of hateful legislation are like the Republican party leadership and faced with self-perceived and conservative-media-reinforced failure as parents, they take no responsibility, seek someone to blame for making their child being queer and take out their fury in the anonymity of the voting booth by supporting anti-LGBTQ+ candidates (if not denying them appropriate medical treatment or throwing them out of their houses for just wanting to love who they want — or worse).
And even if just a fraction of my math approximating 12 million voting for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is all you’ll accept, a mere fraction is enough to sway local, state, and federal races in purple states like Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, Nevada, and Ohio. And if we multiply the 12 million x 10 percent, which is roughly how many Florida residents make up the percentage of U.S. population, we get about 1.2 million parents in Florida, which is almost exactly the amount Governor DeSantis won by in his last election. And this is just factoring in the parents of LGBTQ+ kids voting against the rights of their own children, not the many more who also follow the governor’s misguided hate.
Logically, we know that this population of parents can’t make up 100 percent of DeSantis’s margin, but even a fraction of that could have added to his lead, influenced others and many in the state, making the GOP stronger in their hold on all Florida branches of government, with an almost endless supply of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation at their fingertips. Adding insult to injury, many states are following Florida step for step in banning books, discussions in classrooms, and drag shows. All the while, ocean tides increasingly rise around Florida visible to every resident. All the while, the state ranks among the worst for crime and gun deaths. All the while, rents in Dade County and many other Florida counties have skyrocketed 60 percent or more in the last two years. All the while, the state performs poorly on health care, mental health, and economic diversity, all while trans youth and drag queens are scapegoated as a real problem.
So how do we combat this possible and unexpected phenomenon of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation?
Perhaps, we need to start with those of us who are identifying as LGBTQ+ to work to convince our parents and loved ones that a vote against LGBTQ+ rights is a vote against their own loved ones. We should patiently and lovingly remind our anti-LGBTQ+ voting parents that they love us and only want for our happiness. And what would help give them even more love and happiness is voting for politicians who support LGBTQ+ rights. It will not be accomplished with one conversation; it will take many. It will not be accomplished with yelling or shutting them out. It will take love, gentle persuading, and keeping them part of your lives. Over time, I have watched my own father’s resolve soften to one of support.
Next, we may need to consider greatly enhancing phone line and local support for parents of LGBTQ+ people so they get education, compassion, and support in their local areas, local resources to help themselves and their children and support by way of groups and FB pages of other parents grappling with how to support their LGBTQ+ children. Otherwise, these shocked, confused and ignorant individuals fall prey to the steady drum beat of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric on outlets like Fox News and politicians from school boards to state houses and Capitol Hill putting forward or enacting hateful anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
Consider running for office or give just an hour a week to a candidate who supports LGBTQ+ rights. From school boards to the highest seats in the land, please consider running for office or more practically for many, supporting just one candidate in a pivotal race on your ballot with just one hour a week of volunteer time during the election cycle. Imagine if all of us gave just one hour a week to pro-LGBTQ+ candidates; we could turn the tide and make this a country one we can all take pride in.
Together, we can overcome this wave of hate by starting in our own families. Let’s bring a surge of love to douse the flames of hate.
Michael Kelley is chairman of equalpride, parent company of The Advocate.