Survey: Americans hold mixed views on LGBTQ+ policies in schools

Flags waving at New Ulm rally
The LGBTQ+ community and allies in New Ulm, Minn. stand on the sides of the street on March 19, 2022. A new survey from American Public Media and the McCourtney Institute for Democracy finds the majority of Americans support teachers displaying photos of same-sex partners in the classroom, but don’t want students discussing books with LGBTQ+ themes.
Hannah Yang | MPR News file

A new nationwide survey conducted in May finds that U.S. adults are split on issues of LGBTQ+ policies in schools — often along religious and political lines. 

Craig Helmstetter, managing partner of the APM Research Lab, said respondents who identified as Republican or Evangelical Christian were less likely to support LGBTQ-friendly policies in schools than other groups. 

“This survey, like with many other topics, the big cleavage (is) along the lines of political affiliation,” Helmstetter said. “There's also a big difference between based on religiosity.”

The survey found Americans are evenly split on whether teachers should be encouraged to use teen students’ preferred pronouns. But Democrats were much more likely, at 61 percent of respondents, to think teachers should use students’ preferred pronouns than Republicans, at 18 percent of respondents.

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The survey also found a split on opinions over what should be happening in the classroom. Only a third of respondents said they thought middle school teachers should avoid all discussions of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the classroom. But only 29 percent said they supported teachers assigning students books that included young adult lesbian, gay and bisexual people. 

Helmstetter said he found the survey results surprising. 

“(A) strong majority (of Americans) — over 70 percent according to latest Gallup polls — support gay marriage,” Helmstetter said. “That level of support is not as high for supporting LGBTQ-friendly policies in the school.”

Survey respondents, who were selected to represent a scientific sample of the U.S. population, did tend to agree in one area, however. A substantial margin said parents of school children should have the most say in determining LGBTQ-related policies in schools, followed by teachers, but that the state legislature and governor should have the least influence. 

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, state lawmakers have put forward close to 500 anti-LGBTQ laws across the U.S., including 10 in Minnesota. In May, however, Minnesota legislators passed a bill that prevents state courts or officials from complying with child removal requests, extraditions, arrests or subpoenas related to gender-affirming health care that a person receives in Minnesota. 

In other places, state lawmakers have moved forward with anti-LGBTQ laws, including a law in Florida that restricts public school teachers from holding classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom. 

Both APM Research Lab and MPR News are part of American Public Media Group.