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Hamilton and MTV Release Poll

Survey Assesses Attitudes of High School Seniors Toward Gays

By Sharon Rippey 315-859-4672  |  Contact Holly Foster 315-859-4068
Posted August 27, 2001

New York, NY — Aug. 27, 2001 — Nearly 90 percent of high school seniors report widespread harassment of gays and lesbians in their schools, according to a national survey released today by Hamilton College and MTV.  


Eighty-eight percent of seniors say the phrase "That's so gay," is used by students at their school to talk about something they don't like, and half have seen classmates insult gay students by calling them "faggot," "homo," "dyke" or a similar name.


The poll of 1,000 high school seniors was developed by Hamilton College and administered by Zogby International.  The release of the survey coincides with the Sept. 3 premiere at 10:30 p.m. of the first "Fight for Your Rights: Take a Stand Against Discrimination" episode of Flipped, MTV's newest reality-based series.


"The good news for gays and their advocates is that the big majority of students surveyed have strongly pro-gay opinions and they are much more liberal than adults on issues from gay marriages to gay Scoutmasters," said Hamilton Professor of Sociology Dennis Gilbert.  "On the other hand, the graduates express doubts about their own comfort level with gays and report widespread abuse of gay classmates.  There is a 30 percent minority we call 'anti-gays' who hold strongly negative opinions toward homosexuals."


As part of their analysis, the Hamilton researchers compared the results of their poll with recent national adult polls administered by Gallup, The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Harris, CNN/USAToday and Fox News.


Although more than seven in 10 high school seniors would allow gay men to serve as Scout leaders, according to the poll, 39 percent say "gay lifestyles are morally wrong."  Similarly, 63 percent of high school seniors said they would be comfortable with a gay male math teacher, but only 31 percent said they would feel comfortable at a party attended by both straight and gay couples.


Among other interesting findings in the report is the belief by 71 percent of high school seniors that sexual relations between same-sex adults should be legal (compared with 54 percent of adults who hold the same opinion), and the view held by 62 percent of seniors that homosexuality is "the way that some people choose to live" rather than something gays are "born with" (23 percent).  In addition, six in 10 high school seniors say that some of their classmates were "openly" gay, but only 13 percent knew of gay-support groups at their schools.


The Gay Issues Poll was designed and analyzed by Gilbert and a group of Hamilton College students.  The sampling and calling were administered by Zogby International to a national sample of 1,003 high school seniors in calls made the week of March 18.  Results are accurate within plus or minus three percentage points.  Funding for the study was provided by The Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center at Hamilton College.


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