June 14, 2013

Ellen DeGeneres is the most visible gay or lesbian public figure in America

More than anyone else, Ellen DeGeneres is the face of LGBT America. Still.

That’s the verdict of two new Pew Research Center surveys, one of the general U.S. population and the other of LGBT Americans specifically.

Not only was the comedian and television host by far the most frequently cited example of a gay or lesbian public figure in the general-population survey, she and President Obama were the leaders when LGBT Americans were asked to name a well-known figure who’s been important in advancing the rights of LGBT people.

DeGeneres was already a well-known comedian and star of her eponymous sitcom when she came out publicly as a lesbian 16 years ago. Since then, she’s established herself as a highly successful talk-show host, voice actress (“Dory” in Finding Nemo) and commercial spokesperson. A 31-year-old bisexual woman in our survey captured DeGeneres’ appeal and significance as well as anyone: “[S]he has been out for so long that it is no longer an issue, and older white women feel comfortable with her show. She normalizes LGBT people.”

FT_13.06.12_LGBT_publicFigures_LGBT-420Nearly a quarter of LGBT respondents cited President Obama, who publicly reversed his previous opposition to same-sex marriage and spoke about it, and LGBT rights more generally, in his second inaugural address this past January.

Jason Collins, a center for the NBA’s Washington Wizards, was the second-most frequently mentioned gay or lesbian public figure in the general-population survey. Just before the survey was conducted, Collins became the first active male professional athlete in a major North American team sport to come out publicly as gay; he’s due to become a free agent next month. (The LGBT survey was conducted before Collins’ announcement.)

FT_13.06.12_LGBT_publicFigures_GP-420It’s worth noting, though, that almost four-in-ten Americans (38%) said they couldn’t name any gay or lesbian entertainers or public figures, including 61% of people age 65 and older.

Two-thirds of LGBT adults said well-known people who are themselves open about being LGBT “helps a lot” in making U.S. society more accepting of the community generally; nearly as many said that about non-LGBT public figures supporting LGBT issues. However, 46% didn’t offer the name of a national public figure as important in advancing LGBT rights.

Topics: Gay Marriage and Homosexuality

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a Senior Writer at the Pew Research Center.

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4 Comments

  1. Marie-Louise Mares12 months ago

    Is it pretty obvious a lot of people already knew she was gay before she said it. She Has a wife you are astonished and half the country knew it.

    Reply
  2. Marie-Louise Mares1 year ago

    This is staggering! Really? After all this time, Ellen is still the main one? I’d be really curious to see the breakdowns by age. I’d assume (hope) that younger respondents would have more varied responses.

    Reply
    1. Alyssa9 months ago

      That is a way to be rude! Honestly, you should keep the bad thoughts to yourself and post the good ones, just so you don’t have to look grumpy

      Reply
  3. Gabriella1 year ago

    Wow. I didn’t know she was lesbian an until she said somthing

    Reply