Opinion | The Decade We Changed Our Minds


In 2010, for the first time, American’s acceptance of “gay relations” crossed the 50 percent mark. Now that number is well into the 70s. Over the same period, acceptance of same-sex marriage went from the 40s to the 60s. Acceptance of gay adoption went from below 50 percent to above 70 percent.

Being gay became mainstream. And, this reaches further than just gays and lesbian. There is a new visibility for trans people, drag and fluidity. A YouGov poll asked Americans to place themselves on the Kinsey scale, “where 0 is completely heterosexual and 6 is completely homosexual.” While only 5 percent rated themselves as completely gay, 20 percent rated themselves somewhere between completely gay and completely straight.

That is not to say that homophobia disappeared, or that there isn’t a tremendous amount of work still to be done around the issues of bullying, discrimination, safety and sexual health. But it is to say that the American society took a quantum leap forward in just a few years on these issues.

The other issue is our view of drug usage.

This one is very much driven by racial considerations. When drug addiction was primarily seen as an inner-city problem plaguing black and brown communities, policymakers and the public at large rushed to impose harmful penalties. Now that white people in the suburbs and rural areas are disproportionately affected, the language and policies have shifted from pathological criminality to sympathetic victimization.

Drug overdoses involving heroin skyrocketed, with white people outpacing all others. This in part led to a sharp increase in mortality among white, less educated Americans. As CBS put it, “In 1999, the mortality rate for this demographic was about 30 percent lower than those of African-Americans. But by 2015, their mortality rate had eclipsed that of blacks by 30 percent.”

Furthermore, the legalization of marijuana has seen a surge in support. In October 2010, 46 percent of Americans believed that the drug should be legal, according to the Pew Research Center. Now that number is 67 percent. A number of states have legalized recreational usage, and it has become a big business. Even John Boehner, the former speaker of the House, has become a lobbyist for the cannabis industry.

On these two major issues, this is the decade that America changed its mind.

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