Northern Ireland survey: Four in ten would object to a relative’s gay relationship

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

A survey into social attitudes and discrimination in Northern Ireland has found a quarter of people would object to having a gay or bisexual neighbour and four in ten would object to a close relative forming a relationship with a gay or bisexual person.

‘Do You Mean Me?’, published today by the Equality Commission, found that one in three people thought they had been unfairly treated or harassed for belonging to a particular group, with people over 70, gay people and disabled people being groups perceived to be at most risk of discrimination.

Since 2008, the last time the three-yearly survey was performed, the number of people who perceive such discrimination against themselves has risen from 16 percent to 33 percent.

27 percent of people polled said they would mind having a gay, lesbian or bisexual person living next door, compared with 14 percent in 2005.

Four in ten would be unhappy about them becoming an in-law, a rise of 13 percentage points over the last six years.

With the survey asking about trans people for the first time, 35 percent of people said they would mind a transgender person as a work colleague. 40 percent objected to the idea of having a transgender person as a neighbour and 53 percent would mind if a trans person had a relationship with a member of their family.

However, 91 percent of people agreed with the need to protect the equality of all citizens under the law.

Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner said: “This study provides a valuable insight into our society, how we connect with others and who we are as people.

“The key question is “Do you Mean Me?” and this is double-edged. It is not just have I experienced discrimination because of who I am, but do I have negative attitudes towards others just because of who they are? Where the answer to the second question is yes, then we each need to address what makes us think like this and challenge our own beliefs and stereotypes.

“The survey also highlighted that 30% of the respondents feel that some forms of prejudice are acceptable and equivalent surveys in other parts of UK show similar results. This is a worrying insight into the population’s psyche and proves that much work remains to be done to break down barriers in our mindsets to create a fairer and more equal society for everyone in Northern Ireland.”

The Equality Commission in Northern Ireland linked the hardening negative attitudes with increased contact with people of different groups over the last six years.

37 percent of people said they would mind if a relative married someone with mental health problems. A quarter would have object to working alongside an Eastern European migrant worker and more than half would object if a Traveller married a close relative.

John O’Doherty, Director of The Rainbow Project said: “This report provides some startling information about attitudes towards LGB people and people who identify as transgender. Not only do negative attitudes still exist, they are on the increase. What this report clearly shows is that not enough is being done to address the negative perceptions that exist against LGB&T people. While Government Ministers continue to refuse to introduce legislation to allow same sex couples to adopt children or get married, no consideration is given to the impact this has on attitudes towards our community. While government continues to treat LGB&T people as second class citizens there is the risk that this is how LGB&T people will be viewed by the general public.

“Northern Ireland is unique in relation to how we view ‘good relations’. We only address good relations for people of different religions, political opinions and race and with this comes the strength of the Community Relations Council, Peace III funding and Good Relations Units in each local council. What is clear from this report is that this definition is much too narrow and is not based on the best evidence available. There is no good reason why the Government is so limited in its approach to good relations in Northern Ireland; the definition should be extended to include people of different sexual orientations.

“The Equality Commission also needs to step up. This is the third time they have carried out this wide ranging research which shows attitudes towards LGB people are getting progressively worse. Attitudes towards transgender people are very stark also. The question for the Commission now is: as the leading agency in Northern Ireland tasked with addressing these issues, what are you planning to do about it?

Mr O’Doherty concluded: “As the LGB&T community becomes more and more visible there is a risk that negative attitudes will continue to grow. It is paramount that the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Equality Commission ensures that good relations work is extended to address the additional areas identified in this report; that the Sexual Orientation Strategy and Action Plan is developed as a priority, and that Political Parties continue to support the move to have the Strategy for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration inclusive of issues relating to LGB&T people and people living with disabilities.”

1,101 people were asked face-to-face about their attitudes last year.