May 26, 2015

Lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans differ from general public in their religious affiliations

Although many lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) adults feel that most major faiths are unwelcoming to their community, a majority of LGB adults are religiously affiliated, according to a new Pew Research Center study. But they are much less likely to be Christian than the general public and are more drawn to smaller, non-Christian denominations.

About 5% of the 2014 Religious Landscape Study’s 35,000-plus respondents identified themselves as members of the LGB population. Of that group, 59% said they are religiously affiliated. But only 48% of them reported belonging to a Christian faith group, compared with 71% of the general public.

Religious Composition by Self-Reported Sexual Identity

In another contrast, while only 6% of the general public affiliates with a non-Christian faith, almost twice as many (11%) gay, lesbian and bisexual adults do so. And almost half of these gay, lesbian and bisexual adults (or 5% of adults overall) said they belong to one of the smaller faith groups, including Unitarian Universalist and other liberal faith traditions (2.9%) and New Age groups (2.4%), such as Wiccans and pagans. The Jewish and Buddhist faiths also attracted small percentages (2% each) of LGB adults.

LGB adults also differ from the general public in that they are much more likely to be unaffiliated (41%), almost twice the rate of Americans overall (22.8%), the study found.

In 2013, Pew Research Center surveyed the attitudes of LGBT Americans, including their views of religion. Even though the LGBT survey uses a somewhat different methodology and includes a small number of transgender Americans (the current study did not include a question about transgender identity), some of its data on religion adds interesting context to the affiliation data on gays, lesbians and bisexuals contained in the 2014 Religious Landscape Study.

For instance, the 2013 survey found that many LGBT adults regard major faith groups as “unfriendly” to their community. Large majorities said that they perceived Islam and the Mormon Church (84% and 83% respectively) as unfriendly to LGBT people. Likewise, 79% saw the Catholic Church as unfriendly, and 73% said the same of evangelical churches.

In addition, the 2013 survey found that roughly three-in-ten LGBT adults (29%) said they personally were made to feel unwelcome in a religious organization.

Topics: Christians and Christianity, Gay Marriage and Homosexuality, Religion and Society, Religious Affiliation

  1. is a senior writer/editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

11 Comments

  1. Daayiee Abdullah1 year ago

    After reading the article, I was surprised and then disappointed it did not cover Muslims more thoroughly, as the 2013 Pew Report spoke about Muslims specifically, and commented on LGBTQ Muslims. I hope they were not as loose in researching other non-Christian faiths. I do believe a better piece of research could have been produced.

  2. Gwen Boucher2 years ago

    Jesus said that religion would be a battlefield. Today we think of extremist Muslims doing all the killing but if one studies history, we find that Christians have been equally blood thirsty. Who murdered the Essenes, and what about the Inquisition? Do people understand why the original colonists came to America? Are Americans aware of the early slaughter of the first Mormons?

    I am American Muslim and do not see that ending. If we really believe in God, then we should eschew murder and slaughterings in the name of our God, because if one truly studies the Quran, leaving out the errant tribalism, we find that in the context of today’s American culture, there is not an excuse for the unholy Jihad.

    And in places like Africa Islamic thought is shot through with brutal tribalism and the followers often become shaitans.

    Oddly, I did not find religion until my late 20’s and became an Evangelical. Over the years the condemnations and hatred began to wear on me and eventually I decided that my denomination had no idea who God or Jesus Christ was. I left and became Muslim. As most know, Islam has its own issues.

    Mormons come about as close to true followers of Jesus Christ as anyone I have met, though we are still working out what to do with my Hijab, and how to treat the LGBT equitably.

  3. Tom Osborne2 years ago

    To me the interesting statistic is the % in each group who consider themselves “evangelical” protestants. The differential there is 2-to-1 (13 percentage points versus 26 percentage points). Given that the greatest predictor of one’s religion is the religion you grew up in, it would suggest that gays are deserting evangelicalism at a far more significant rate than they are leaving other faiths.

  4. Leigh Greenhaw2 years ago

    Of the 48% who reported belonging to a Christian faith group, it appears that 15% are in the Mainline Protestant group. A few of these, like the United Church of Christ, welcome and affirm openly GLBT people and others do not, like the United Methodists. Is there a significant difference in GLBT affiliation among differing Mainline Protestant churches?

  5. Chuck Richey2 years ago

    The content of this survey deserves book. There is so much cross causation working through the changes reflected here. Very valuable.

  6. Michael2 years ago

    And by “religious” they mean what religion they were born into or whether or not they celebrate Christmas or Hanukah..

  7. Nancy2 years ago

    A Christian would not identify themselves or someone else according to sexual desire/inclination/orientation, for to do so, sexually objectifies the human person and is a direct violation of Christ’s teaching regarding lust and the sin of adultery. Christians are called to Love one another and thus respect the inherent Dignity of all our brothers and sisters in private as well as in public.

    1. JCF2 years ago

      Huh? I’m a queer Christian. I am a Christian, and I am queer. Both. At the same time. Without conflict or contradiction.

  8. Ken Martin2 years ago

    The graph shows that the largest Christian identity was Catholic. Yet the Catholic church is the most strongly opposed to gay behaviors. Isn’t this worth pointing out in the article?

    1. Linda Zambanini2 years ago

      A good example of Stockholm Syndrome, IMO!

  9. John Bunyan2 years ago

    A very small point. Not all Unitarian Universalists (themselves very small in number) are “non-Christian” although in the USA, the majority probably are. The Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship brings together unitarian Christian individuals and churches (the most notable of the latter the historic King’;s Chapel in Boston).