Unia’s survey on the acceptance of homosexuals/bisexuals: a positive evolution in mind-set even though there is still progress to be made

12 May 2016
Grounds of discrimination: Sexual orientation

Upon Unia's request, iVOX conducted a survey among 1,000 people on the social perception of homosexuality/bisexuality and attitudes towards LGB (lesbians, gays and bisexuals) people. Despite an advanced legislative framework and positively evolving social acceptance, the survey revealed continuing blockages among certain groups or in sectors such as teaching and employment. During Belgian Pride and the international day against homophobia and transphobia, Unia launched a campaign to combat stereotypes that still persist regarding homosexuals/bisexuals.

First, the positive points: approximately 60 % of respondents say that they have absolutely no problem with homosexual/bisexual people. This is conveyed in concrete terms through their reactions and behaviour: almost 9 out of 10 respondents (88 %) wouldn't tolerate one of their friends calling a homosexual couple "dirty faggots". And 63 % of those questioned consider it normal for a couple of gay friends to kiss in the street. However, only 43 % think the same about a gay couple that isn't part of their circle of friends.

"These results are encouraging. The overall view of homosexual/bisexual persons is positive. An acceptance that wasn't obtained without action, and that came about thanks to the work of associations defending LGBT rights and policies over the past 20 years. Laws on adoption and same sex marriages, for instance, illustrate this evolution", Patrick Charlier, director of Unia, underlines.

A more masculine problem?

We should however point out that acceptance is more difficult among men. Forty-seven percent of the men surveyed said that they clearly explained to their son that heterosexual relations were the only norm, compared with 26 % of women questioned. Women also seem to be less bothered by the sexual orientation of their colleagues, with 23 % of them more easily seeking help from a homosexual colleague in case of a problem, compared with 9 % of men. Finally, a majority of women (60 %) state that they couldn't be friends with someone homophobic whereas 45 % of men don't see it as being a problem.

Heterosexuals and homosexuals

Among the survey's results, one figure stood out: four out of 10 of all the participants said that they didn't feel 100 % heterosexual. And between this group and those defining themselves as 100 % heterosexual, there was a clear divergence in attitudes towards LGB people. Of the 60 % who define themselves as 100 % heterosexual, one in five think, for instance, that within a professional context, LGB employees who are in contact with customers must hide their sexual orientation, i.e. almost double that for the other group (11 %).

Generational difference?

Seeing two men walking hand in hand in the street still seems to be a problem for more than one in 10 of those surveyed (12 %). A figure that rises to 20 % among respondents older than 55, whereas the figure "only" stands at 8 % among young people between the ages of 18 and 34.

Differences between French-speakers and Dutch-speakers

The opinion on homosexuals also varies between French-speakers and Dutch-speakers. For instance, 29 % of French-speakers find it "strange" that their daughter's lesbian teacher tells anecdotes about her holidays with her partner (compared with 10 % of Dutch-speaking respondents).

Furthermore, 21 % of French-speakers clearly didn't agree with the idea that children should learn at school that a homosexual relationship is equivalent to a heterosexual one. That is twice as much as Dutch-speakers. Finally, 13 % of French-speaking respondents would feel uneasy if their male boss were to come to a staff party with their husband, compared with only 2 % of Dutch-speakers.

The influence of one's circle of friends

What this survey also tells us is that the more we are in contact with LGB people, the more tolerance grows. The less contact or relations there are with homosexuals, the more acceptance is a problem. Forty-one percent of people who still have difficulties with homosexuality also say that they don't want to be friends with a homosexual. Whereas a large majority (67 %) of those who maintain relations and friendships with homosexuals say that this isn't a problem for them.

Encouraging results but points that need to be monitored

Unia underlines an increased acceptance towards homosexuals/bisexuals. "But this doesn't mean that the problems should be swept under the carpet. On the contrary, some results require us to be vigilant as shown by the results in our annual report for 2015. Regarding discrimination against LGB persons, 92 files were opened concerning sexual orientation, i.e. 12 more than in 2014. In total, we received 203 reports. Sadly, these figures only represent the visible part of the iceberg."

To conclude, Unia highlights a final figure: 49 % of people questioned think that sex between men isn't natural. "This shows us how much ground we still need to cover: homosexuality is tolerated but not yet accepted."

Raising awareness is still necessary in order to encourage people to change their mind-set. This is why Unia is also launching a campaign to combat the prejudices and stereotypes that still exist regarding homosexuals/bisexuals. This campaign will be rolled out in the form of posters and drinks mats in bars and clubs in five cities in Belgium (Charleroi, Liège, Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels). It will also be put on Facebook. The slogan is simple and direct: "Les préjugés ne mènent à rien, ensemble on va plus loin" (Prejudices lead nowhere, together we'll go further). Unia will also be present at the Belgian Pride parade that will take place on Saturday 14 May in the streets of Brussels.

The survey was conducted online by iVOX among 1,000 people living in Belgium aged between 18 and 75 years old, between Thursday 5 May and Tuesday 10 May 2016.