A new study by the Williams Institute found that nearly half of LGBT adults in the U.S. identify as religious, and they are represented in every demographic and geographical area in the country.
According to the study’s report, entitled Religiosity Among LGBT Adults in the U.S.:
“Nearly half (46.7%) of LGBT adults are religious—either moderately (27.0%) or highly religious (19.7%) (Figure 1). More specifically, almost one in five (19.7%) LGBT adults are highly religious (i.e., religion is important in their daily lives and they attend services weekly or nearly weekly). The remainder, 27.0%, are moderately religious—a group that includes people who report that religion is important in their daily lives and attend services about once a month, seldom, or never, as well as those who say that religion is not important in their daily lives and that they attend services weekly, nearly weekly or once a month.”
Among the approximately 11.3 million LGBT adults in the United States, there are an estimated 1.3 million Roman Catholics—24.8% of all religious LGBT adults. The survey found that religious LGBT adults are are predominantly Christian. Additionally, LGBT adults are more likely to be highly or moderately religious if they are Black, Latino/a, live in the South, or are in older age brackets.
The Williams Institute is a research center on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law.
Previous population research had already indicated that about half of LGBT adults are religious, but this study aimed to provide more information about the importance of religiosity and service attendance to LGBT adults.
The percentage of religious LGBT adults still falls behind the percentage of religious adults in the general U.S. population, of which 67% is religious. Reporting on the survey, NBC News pointed out:
“Even LGBTQ Black Americans, the most likely demographic to be religious (over 70 percent), still lag behind Black people in the general population: More than 82 percent are religious.”
NBC News asked New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo about the report’s findings. He said:
“The reason there has been such tension between LGBTQ people and institutional religious groups has not been because LGBTQ people are not religious but because faith groups have vilified them and excluded them.”
While working for LGBT inclusion in the Roman Catholic Church, DeBernardo said:
“I have seen an enormous number of LGBTQ people whose faith and religious identity are so strong that they continue to push for acceptance even against mammoth walls of opposition. . .
“LGBTQ people have many spiritual gifts which can renew religious institutions, if these groups would just perform the simple and holy acts of welcoming and listening.”
Other religious leaders commented on the findings, including Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, New York’s LGBTQ synagogue. She said, “there’s been progress, but I deal with people all the time from liberal religious families who have faced horrible bigotry and rejection.”
But, Rabbi Kleinbaum argued, the desire for spirituality and connection might even be deeper among LGBT people:
“Everyone has that desire for meaning or purpose, but for LGBT people, it’s right there on the surface. Anyone who goes through the process of discovering a deeper truth about themselves, especially if it’s at odds with the larger world, understands a sense of revelation, of deeper truth. It’s our going to Mount Sinai.”
One of the most interesting things about this survey is the persistence of religiosity among LGBT adults in every demographic, even within religious denominations which do not doctrinally affirm same-gender relationships, such as Roman Catholicism. The survey’s estimation that there are 1.3 million LGBT Roman Catholics in the U.S. for whom religion is highly or moderately important ought to have implications for church leadership to improve their pastoral approach. While shepherding this portion of God’s family, Catholic leaders should remember the persistence that LGBT Catholics display, and these leaders should welcome such Catholics with the dignity and respect that they deserve.
—Madeline Foley, New Ways Ministry, December 11, 2020