As America celebrated National Coming Out Day yesterday, two new reports show that more Americans than ever before now know a gay person.

Two studies released on Wednesday, show that more Americans are becoming personally acquainted with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, and thereby are also increasingly becoming more supportive of equality. These two new studies quantify the GLBT march for equality moving in a direction of increased support for equal rights under the law as more GLBT Americans live their lives more openly.

“We have known all along that our country continues to head in the direction of equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “The reports released today provide us with even greater insight to how important it is for us to live our lives openly and honestly by telling our stories. As we continue to introduce our lives and relationships to Americans, more are responding in a positive way and being increasingly supportive of full equality under the law.”

The first report is a national survey conducted by Harris Interactive, in conjunction with Witeck-Combs Communications Inc. The online poll of 2,932 U.S. adults (ages 18 and over) found that seven out of 10 (70 percent) heterosexual adults in the United States said that they know someone who was gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Furthermore, 83 percent of those who self-identified as gay or lesbian considered themselves “out.” In general, when asked if they considered themselves open about their sexual orientation, large majorities of gays and lesbians said they were “out” to their close friends (92 percent) and to their parents (78 percent). Many gays and lesbians also said they were “out” to other relatives such as grandparents or cousins (68 percent), acquaintances and casual friends (68 percent) and co-workers and colleagues (66 percent).

The second new report provides even further insight into what living openly as GLBT Americans means to the advancement of equal rights. Not only are more Americans becoming familiar with the lives of GLBT people, but as they become more familiar, they are more supportive.

This new report, compiling data from a wide variety of polling, found that, in 2001, having a gay or lesbian family member raised the typical American’s support for marriage equality by 17 percentage points, and it raised the typical American’s support for adoption rights for same-sex couples by 13 percentage points.

The report, titled “‘Coming Out’ and Americans’ Attitudes on Gay Rights,” comes from the Hunter College Center for Sexuality and Public Policy. Conducted by Kenneth Sherrill, professor of political science at Hunter College, and Patrick Egan, visiting scholar, Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University, the report draws upon the first-ever national archive of public opinion surveys about GLBT Americans.

“The proportion of Americans who say that they personally know someone who is gay or lesbian is growing. Furthermore, a generation after the first National Coming Out Day, contact with people who are openly gay or lesbian continues to be strongly associated with the public’s attitudes on key gay rights issues,” said Sherrill.

Using data from 2004, the report found that contact with gays and lesbians is associated with a 13-percentage-point increase in support for some sort of legal recognition of same-sex couples (either marriage or civil unions) among heterosexual Americans who are otherwise typical with respect to characteristics such as age, education and political party. Similarly, personal knowledge of a gay or lesbian person was associated with a 13-point decrease in support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban marriage for same-sex couples.

“If seven out of 10 heterosexuals know someone who is GLBT, then many gays and lesbians are making their identity apparent as a natural part of their lives – just like their age, height, hair color or personality,” said Mark Shields, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s National Coming Out Project. “For most people, coming out or opening up to someone starts with a conversation. And for those interested in fostering strong, deep relationships with their friends and family, living openly often allows for closer relationships with the people they care about most.”

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