Gay Atheists: Facing Religious Hostility, LGBT Americans Abandon Faith: Pew Study

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June 19, 2013 3:19 AM EST

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Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults are far more likely to identify as atheists than the general public, and even those who are religious feel a conflict between their faith and their sexuality, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center.  

The report, part of Pew’s recently released “Survey of LGBT Americans,” shows that almost half of LGBT Americans describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or having no religious affiliation, compared to only about 20 percent of the general population. Among LGBT adults who do have a religious affiliation, 33 percent say they feel a conflict between their religious beliefs and their sexual orientation or gender identity. At the same time -- and perhaps not surprisingly -- LGBT Americans also report feeling unwelcomed by religious institutions, which may account for some of the decreased religiosity within the community.

“Many LBGT adults see major religious institutions as unfriendly toward them,” the study’s authors wrote. “[A]bout three-in-ten LGBT adults (29 percent) say they personally have been made to feel unwelcome in a church or religious organization.”

Among six major religions, LGBT respondents rated the Muslim religion as being the most hostile, with 84 percent calling it unfriendly and 13 percent calling it neutral. Only 1 percent thought the Muslim faith could be described as friendly. The Mormon Church ranked a close second, with 83 percent rating it unfriendly, 13 percent rating it neutral and 2 percent rating it friendly. The Catholic Church came in third, with 79 percent rating it as unfriendly, 16 percent rating it neutral and 4 percent rating it friendly. The Jewish religion and Non-Evangelical Protestant churches ranked the most welcoming, with 10 percent of LGBT respondents describing those faiths as friendly.  Survey respondents were asked to rate all six faiths, regardless of their affiliation. 

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Like younger populations as a whole, LGBT Millennials are turning to atheism in greater numbers. Among 18- 29-year-old LGBT adults, 60 percent say they have no religious affiliation, almost double the rate for the general public, at 31 percent. Among LGBT Gen Xers, 45 percent say they have no religious affiliation, compared to 21 percent of the general public. Among LGBT adults 50 and older, 39 percent say they have no religious affiliation, compared to just 13 percent of the general population.

Pew’s study backs up previous research showing how young people are becoming increasingly turned off by religious institutions’ intolerance toward homosexuals. In the 2007 book “Unchristian,” published by the evangelical Christian polling firm the Barna Group, researchers revealed that today’s 16- to 29-year-olds are more critical of Christianity than previous generations, with 91 percent of young non-Christians and 80 percent of young churchgoers describing Christianity as “anti-homosexual.”

Pew’s new report is based on a survey of 1,197 self-identified LGBT adults, 18 years of age or older. It’s part of the larger “LGBT in Changing Times” series, which looks at attitudes about sexual orientation and identity against the backdrop of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage expected later this month.

Read the complete series here.

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