Speaker: Patrick Egan (Associate Professor of Politics, New York University)
Title: LGBTQ Identities in the U.S.: Untangling the Roles of Ascription and Selection
Abstract: The share of Americans who call themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) has climbed markedly, particularly among the nation’s youngest generations. Using a mix of original and publicly available survey data drawn from nationally representative samples, I endeavor to understand this development via two intertwined processes--ascription and selection--that shape individuals’ pathways to identification as LGBTQ. LGBTQ people commonly attribute the etiology of their identities to ascribed sexual and gender characteristics over which they have little control. Survey data corroborate the idea that LGBTQ people are “born this way,” in that these identities are tied to distinctive aspects of the self--such as personality characteristics--that are stable over the life span. But whether one responds to these innate characteristics by selecting to identify as LGBTQ is a decision, and survey data show that one’s upbringing, politics, education and religion play strong roles in determining this choice. I conclude by considering the continuing impacts of ascription and selection on the membership of the LGBTQ coalition in an era of liberalizing norms and continuing controversies over sexuality and gender.