Religiosity, Identity Conflict Significant Predictors of LGBT Political Participation

Guest post by R.G. Cravens

Religious affiliation and participation are thought to cultivate civic and cognitive skills, which translate into secular political activity. This conceptualization of political resource theory, however, assumes that skills accrue equally for all religious adherents. Many religious traditions condemn sexual and gender identities that challenge traditional gender and sexual norms, and this likely deprives LGBT religious adherents of the organizational and cognitive resources necessary for translating religiosity into secular political participation.

My recent research featured in Politics and Religion analyzes potential sources of variation in participation among LGBT people, including ‘outness,’ LGBT group consciousness, and psychological conflict between one’s religious and sexual identity. While religiosity augments political participation, psychological resources such as outness and group consciousness do not equally accrue to religious and nonreligious LGBT people. Furthermore, identity conflict is negatively related to polticial participation, especially when one’s LGBT identity is implicated.

While patterns of religiosity differ between LGBT people and heterosexuals, a majority of sexual minorities in the United States report some religious affiliation. Figure 1 is constructed from data collected by the Pew Research Center.[1] As the figure shows, a Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 5.57.37 PMplurality of sexual minorities in the United States report no particular religious affiliation or agnosticism/atheism. However, a majority of respondents in both samples used in my analysis report some religious affiliation. Similar to national trends, Protestantism and Catholicism are prominent, while smaller proportions of the SJS sample report Jewish and Muslim religious affiliations.[2]

As I noted above, many faith traditions are established on heteronormative principles which reject homosexuality and/or sexual minority identity. This would suggest that positive civic and psychological skills may not accrue to religious sexual minorities equally. The identity-threat model of stigmatization predicts that sexual minorities who experience religious-based conflict with their sexual identity may avoid political activism which highlights their conflicting identities. This raises questions of how to quantify identity conflict and analyze its effect on sexual minority political participation.

To accomplish these tasks, I perform secondary analyses on two survey data sets. From each, questions pertaining to the relationship between respondents’ sexual identity and religiosity are used to operationalize conflict. Almost one-quarter (24.2% of the Pew sample and 22.3% of the SJS sample) of respondents across the two samples indicate experiencing conflict between their religious and sexual identities. Figure 2 depicts the distribution of identity conflict among the four most prominent categories of religious affiliation (Non-religious/Atheist, Protestant, Catholic, or Another faith tradition).

Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 5.57.50 PMNot surprisingly, significant proportions of Protestants and Catholics experience identity conflict. Interestingly, those who identify as non-religious or atheist also experience conflict.

Given all this, what is the effect of conflict on political participation? Studies of political activism among LGBT people suggest traditional economic resource variables have a negligible effect on political participation. Instead, membership in LGBT organizations or community centers are the most significant predictors of sexual minority political behavior. Like studies of African American churches, it is theorized that LGBT organizational membership and participation allow for the transmission of certain cognitive resources such as perceived political efficacy, ‘outness,’ shared political grievances, and even experience with stigmatization, which motivate political participation. If religiosity functions as a cognitive political resource among LGBT people, then I expect religious affiliation to be related to higher group consciousness and outness; and, similarly, after controlling for these cognitive resources, religiosity and denominational affiliations will not be significantly related to political participation among LGBT people.

To determine the nature of the relationship between religiosity and cognitive resources beneficial for political participation, I conduct independent samples t-tests using categorical indicators for religious affiliation and measures of LGBT group association and outness – or the extent to which a person is openly LGBT. Data from both samples indicate significant relationships between the variables. Specifically, outness is negatively associated with religious affiliation among Protestants and Catholics across both samples, while the negative association extends across all religious traditions except Judaism in the second sample. In five cases, non-religious sexual minorities psychologically associate with their LGBT identity more closely than religious sexual minorities. Again, Catholics across samples show less LGBT group consciousness, while Protestants in the Pew sample and Muslim and Jewish participants in the SJS sample exhibit similar patterns. The data here indicate religious affiliation does not appear to convey the psychological resources of outness and group consciousness, which are positively associated with political participation, in the same way as LGBT organizational membership.

To test the identity-threat hypothesis and assess the nature of the relationship between political participation, religiosity, and identity conflict, I estimate OLS regression models using additive indices of political activity as dependent variables. Based on the Pew data, the dependent variable is a measure of participation in six LGBT-specific political activities and two measures of voting behavior. The SJS data distinguishes between participation in activities for LGBT people, People of Color, and LGBT People of Color. From this, I create another index which also includes a measure of voting behavior.

The result partially confirms my hypothesis that, after controlling for cognitive resources such as outness and LGBT group consciousness, religion will not exhibit an effect on political participation. In one model using variables from the Pew data, religiosity exhibits a positive, although statistically insignificant, relationship with political participation while Evangelicalism actually exhibits a negative relationship. Using variables operationalized from the SJS data, however, religiosity exhibits a statistically significant positive relationship with political participation.

Also, consistent with my conflict hypothesis, religious and sexual identity conflict is negatively associated with political participation across data sets. Building upon the multi-issue activism literature, I then pursue a more nuanced examination of the relationship between participation in LGBT-specific political activity and religious conflict. Because the SJS data measures participation on behalf of LGBT people, People of Color, and LGBT People of Color, I am able to disaggregate the scale participation indicator into three separate behavioral scales, only two of which implicate LGBT identity. Regressing each participation scale on conflict reveals the measure is negatively associated with participation only when LGBT identity is implicated. That is, there is no significant relationship between participation on behalf of People of Color and conflict.

My study reveals that, ceteris paribus, religious LGBT people are more likely to participate in politics, suggesting the religious resource model does hold among sexual minorities. This finding is tempered, however, by specific denominational effects. Consistent with previous research, data from the Pew Research Center reveal Evangelical Christianity is negatively associated with political participation among LGBT people. Data from the SJS sample suggest further denominational effects especially among Protestant and Jewish LGBT people.

Furthermore, consistent with the identity-threat hypothesis, religious and sexual identity conflict consistently exerts a negative influence on political participation. Troublingly, the size of the effects across the four models in which the conflict coefficient achieves statistical significance suggests identity conflict has the potential to mitigate any positive participatory effects of religiosity.

Dr. R.G. Cravens is a Lecturer in the Department of Political Science and affiliated faculty in the Department of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at Bowling Green State University. He teaches and researches in the field of LGBT Politics with a focus on LGBT political attitudes and behavior. Tweet him @actualdrcravens.


[1] The article also contains affiliation information based on data from the Social Justice Sexuality Project (SJS).

[2] Limitations in the public data in this sample precludes a more nuanced examination of religious affiliation. However, the data are sufficient to demonstrate religiosity is a common feature of the sexual minority social experience, likely with significant implications for political behavior.


  1. Religious affiliation and participation are thought to cultivate civic and cognitive skills, which translate into secular political activity.

    I enjoyed your article. I often take issue with the popular notion that that religious affiliation and participation cultivates civic and cognitive skills (i.e., if those “skills” are a meant as a means to navigate social and political interaction in a positive way.

    From personal research (I’m not a scientist, just a fascinated individual) sexual identity appears, to me, to be a behavioral predisposition genetically set before birth. Religiosity is not. The religious beliefs of the vast majority of people are those that they were taught to believe from tot-hood. Thus, one’s religious beliefs and prejudices are a function of the happenstance of birth (which family, which culture into which they were born). Consequently, such beliefs have nothing to do with objective Truth.

    Concerning sexuality, clearly, there are many variations between genotype and phenotype. Human sexuality, in my opinion, is a spectrum, not a duality and certainly not a choice. For example, intersexuals, at puberty, often have a clear sexual orientation but are certainly not physically one gender or the other. In my debates with evangelicals—which occur often—none have been able to say if the law should even allow such an individual to marry at all, although they are adamant that homosexuals must not be allowed to marry.

    One can see, of course, that it is religion in general that causes existential behavioral conflicts in LGBT individuals, and the more fundamental the inculcated religion, the greater the conflict, and sometimes leads to suicide.

    Thanks again, Dr. Cravens, for your research and insightful article. I hope my comment was understandable. I often read articles by Georgia Platts, a fellow academic of yours, at She is a psychologist concentrating in the area of psychology of women and social psychology.


    • Max, thank you for your comments and for reading the article.

      From the perspective of collective political behavior (e.g. what motivates collective action?) both LGBT and religious identity can be conceptualized as a choice of sorts. For example, a great public opinion scholar wrote in the Washington Post after the Obergefell decision: “Although our best guess is that innate sexual orientation varies at random in the population, the share of the population identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual is not random.” ( While sexual orientation is likely an innate characteristic, the decision to identify with the socially-constructed group we commonly refer to as LGBT is influenced by a number of factors – including religious upbringing.

      Group affiliation (whether LGBT or religious) comes with its own set of advantages and limitations for political activity. Identifying as LGBT (or religious) and participating in LGBT groups/events (or religious activities) provides group solidarity, a shared sense of political grievances, and opportunities to develop skills needed to effectively participate in politics like public speaking and persuasive abilities. In this way, the skills likely only accrue to those who identify and participate with the group. As you mention, the conflict between these two identities, specifically, can have serious repercussions and the point of my article is to hash out the effects on political participation.

      Again, thanks for reading and for your thought on the article!


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