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Explaining Regional Differences in Attitudes toward Gay Men and Lesbians: The Contextual Influence of Education


LGBT policies governing hate crimes, discrimination, adoption, conversion therapy, health care, restroom access, and gender identity documentation all differ by state. In order to better understand this geographic disparity, this thesis explores variability in attitudes toward gay men and lesbians within the United States. Employing 1984-2016 American National Election Studies (ANES) data, I assess the power of state-level economic, social, cultural, and political factors to explain attitudinal differences across US states. Results show that the educational attainment of a state’s population is the most robust macro-level predictor of individual attitudes toward homosexuality. An increasing percentage of college graduates leads to generally more positive attitudes across the state, even among those who are not themselves college educated. Other contextual level variables, such as economic development, religious fundamentalism, or political and legal conditions, do not explain the association between population level educational attainment and attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. Understanding what explains regional differences in attitudes can help social scientists and policy makers mitigate disparities in outcomes for and treatment of sexual minorities.

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