These are heady days for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and all Americans devoted to equality. Last month, the Supreme struck down the offensive Defense of Marriage Act and made marriage legal again in California. In national polling, support for marriage equality moved from just 27 percent in 1996 to 55 percent currently. Reflecting this change, last November voters in four states broke a long string of electoral losses and supported marriage at the ballot box.
And yet, for all the progress of the last year, important work remains. A 70 percent majority of the country lives in states where marriage remains illegal. It is still legal under federal law and in most states to fire someone simply for being gay. That matters because the LGBT community lives throughout the country, not just in California or New England.
With this context in mind, Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign completed a tour of the South this week. The tour was supported by a bi-partisan polling team that included Anna Greenberg and Dave Walker from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (Democrat) and Alex Lundry from Target Point Consulting (Republican) with surveys conducted in Mississippi, Arkansas and Virginia.
Surveys show both opportunities and challenges in these states
The LGBT community is a visible presence in all three states. A strong majority know at least one gay individual, ranging from a low of 61 percent in Mississippi to a high of 71 percent in Virginia. LGBT workers do not enjoy employment protection in any of these dates, and yet at least 60 percent support state and federal laws protecting gay and transgender people from employment discrimination. Among people under age 30, convincing majorities of these southerners support marriage equality. Those who report changing attitudes toward the LGBT community describe themselves as growing more accepting of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Yet, there is work to do here, too. Arkansas and Mississippi are not where the rest of the country is on marriage (38 percent support in Arkansas, 36 percent in Mississippi). The challenge in Virginia is distinct. Legally, this is one of the most conservative states in the country in terms of civil rights protections for LGBT community. Yet, 55 percent support marriage equality, 73 percent support a state employment protection law, and 60 percent support adoption.
As a country, we have taken huge steps over a fairly short period of time. But millions of LGBT people live in states where employment discrimination is legal, marriage is illegal and where social ostracism is all too common.
Written by GQR Vice President Dave Walker.
Memos outlining poll results in individual states can be found here:
 1996 citation reflects a survey conducted by the Gallup organization. National figure reflects a May 2013 survey of adults conducted by Washington Post/ABC news.