Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 719–740 | Cite as

The Religious Origins and Destinations of Individuals Identifying as a Sexual Minority

  • Christopher P. ScheitleEmail author
  • Julia Kay Wolf
Original Paper


Religion has been, and continues to be, a source of external hostility and internal struggle for many sexual minorities. This has potential implications for the observed religious origins and current religious affiliations of individuals identifying as a sexual minority. Regarding origins, self-identified sexual minorities might be less likely than heterosexuals to have come from religious traditions that have tended to be hostile to minority sexualities, as individuals raised within those traditions might be hesitant to identify as a sexual minority even if they have same-sex attractions. Regarding destinations, self-identified sexual minorities might be more likely than heterosexuals to switch away from religious traditions that have tended to be hostile to minority sexualities. We examine these expectations using nationally representative survey data from the 2008 to 2014 General Social Surveys. The analysis shows that sexual minorities do not significantly differ from heterosexuals by the religious traditions in which they were raised. Sexual minorities are, however, more likely than heterosexuals to move away from Christian traditions and towards disaffiliation or reaffiliation with “other” traditions that include Judaism, Buddhism, and liberal nontraditional religions such as Unitarian Universalism. For gay and lesbian individuals, these patterns of disaffiliation and reaffiliation can be attributed to higher on average education and lower likelihood of being married and having children; however, these sociodemographic factors do not explain the disaffiliation and reaffiliation of bisexual individuals. Further research should explore the different religious experiences of sexual minority sub-groups.


Disaffiliation Identity conflict LGB Religious affiliation Sexual minorities 



The authors did not receive funding to conduct this research.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Author Scheitle declares that he has no conflict of interest. Author Wolf declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

The data used in this research come from the General Social Survey (GSS), which is publicly available at Informed consent is obtained from all GSS participants. This research is in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA

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