2010 Rainbow Census Hand

Less LGBTs in the US Than Previously Thought

There may not be only one gay in the village, but there are certainly less people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered than most of us queers would like.

A recent study, How Many People Are LGBT?, released by demographer Gary Gates at UCLA’s Williams Institute, has determined that:

  • An estimated 3.5% of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
  • An estimated 0.3% of adults are transgender.
  • There are approximately 9 million LGBT Americans, a figure roughly equivalent to the population of New Jersey.
  • Women are substantially more likely than men to identify as bisexual. Bisexuals comprise more than half of the lesbian and bisexual population among women.
  • An estimated 19 million Americans (8.2%)  report that they have engaged in same-sex sexual behavior and nearly 25.6 million Americans (11%) acknowledge at least some same-sex sexual attraction.
Alfred Kinsey portrait
Kinsey came up with the oft-quoted "1 in 10 are gay"

This figure, that 3.8% identify as LGBT, might seem to be a far cry from the generally accepte figure that 10% of the population are LGBT.

That figure was released by famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey after a 1948 study of male prisoners. At the time, however, there was not as much of a “gay identity,” so the study was simply looking at same-sex activity. Kinsey wrote that one in ten of these guys were “more or less exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55.”

So Gates’ study actually corroborates that of Kinsey: 11% of Americans acknowledge at least some same-sex attraction.

While that’s not the same as living exclusively as a homosexual, it certainly demonstrates that at least 1 in 10 have some same-sex tendencies. Have we really been using a figure from over 60 years ago after studying the behavior of male prisoners?  For us modern gays, it’s kinda obvious that there would be a lot more gay sex in prisons!

Gates, in a statement, referred to last week’s push for more federal research of the LGBT population:

“Last week, the Institute of Medicine at the National Academies released an analysis of LGBT health research calling for federal statistical agencies to quickly move toward LGBT inclusion in their data collection.

The surveys highlighted in this report demonstrate the usefulness of sexual orientation and gender identity questions on large-scale national population-based surveys. Better data can provide the building blocks for critical information to understand the lives of the 9 million LGBT Americans who have been historically marginalized in both society and research.

A community of 9 million is definitely a sizable one, and nothing to scoff at. I was personally disappointed nonetheless, after previously hoping that there would be at least 30 million self-identified LGBT people in the US. It certainly seems easier to have a larger community when arguing and fighting for our rights as citizens of this country.

I was instantly worried that this figure would be used against us – and I was right.

The Washington Post reports that opponents of marriage equality in Maryland instantly jumped on the numbers.

Donald H. Dwyer Jr., a Republican, pointed out that the number was considerably smaller than that used by gay marriage proponents, saying: “Delegates in Maryland heard from the their constituents. That’s why same-sex marriage failed this year. Until there’s a wide acceptance of it across the state of Maryland, I don’t think those bills are going to be successful.”

2010 Rainbow Census Hand
The LGBT community: 9 million strong!

It’s a shame that these numbers can be used to marginalize us even further, with gay rights opponents saying, “Look! The community isn’t that big after all! It’s only 9 million Americans!” To that, I call BS. 9 million people is still a massive community, a community that a democracy can’t ignore.

A minority might be smaller than previously thought but that doesn’t justify discrimination any more than it did when people thought there were 30 million self-identified LGBT people; just because we make up only 3.9% of the population makes us no less human!

I am comforted by the fact that more than 10% of the population had some same-sex attraction. As more people meet and get to know gay people, they will understand that having same-sex attractions is not this terrible, deep, dark secret.

It’s those people who might have had same-sex experience, but do not identify as gay, that are our true allies. We have to embrace these people, and not accuse them of being in denial of their own gayness. Our community can be blind sometimes to the diversity of sexuality within our own same-sex attractions. These are not necessarily gays in hiding or denial, but the people that we need to be our fiercest advocates.

We have over 30 million people in this country who acknowledge some same-sex attraction. Confirmation of this fact is wonderful!

Thoughts on the 3.8% LGBTs in the United States?

  • Anonymous

    It would be beneficial to see the researcher’s methods, as well as the populations sampled. We can’t take research for face value. For instance, people might not identify as LGBTQ if they are called out in front of a group; but if asked in private, would certainly identify. It also matters where the researcher took samples of information. Did he merely walk down a country dirt road and ask around in some rural area? Did he take samples from suburbs and cities? Did he inquire in all regions of the country or just the southwestern states?

    I urge my fellow LGBTQ citizens to not get down about these findings (if indeed they are founded in correct methods). There are millions of Americans who support us even though our numbers may be smaller than previously thought.

  • People who identify as pansexual and genderqueer weren’t added on this report, which causes some skepticism as they may have been seen as part of the original ten percent, but got lost because they don’t fit in such specific definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity.

  • Anonymous

    Just because somebody isn’t ready to identify as a sexual minority, does not mean that systematic and institutional marginalization is not still occurring. For those millions who engage in same sex behaviors or experience same sex attractions, they are still being given the message that who they *really* are, in their innermost beings, is wrong, and should be hidden. I would argue that the LGBT community is not smaller than we thought. It’s just that the majority of said community is not (or not yet) identifying as such. This could be due to religious reasons, fear of persecution, fear of harrassment/rejection by family, friends, and coworkers, lack of self reflection…. the potential reasons are too many to list. Therefore, the numbers are still there, but our heteronormative society is keeping them invisible. This study highlights the importance of healthy, visible, LGBT role models and an increase in the LGBT affirming messages to our youth (and adults!!! many women tend to come out later in life). For example — where do our girls read about princesses (for example) who long for the attentions of the princess, rather than just the prince?

    However, the fact remains that regardless of identity, nearly 11% of us have same-sex tendencies. We just don’t necessarily feel the freedom yet to express said tendencies.

  • FWIW, the Williams Institute is highly respected, and rightly so — they’ve been a crucial center (pretty much *the* center) of credible research on LGBT issues. I encourage everyone to check out their website, which has all sorts of *phenomenal* information. (That isn’t to say that folks shouldn’t look closely at the data for themselves — it’s always a wise idea.)

    In this case, the study draws from several different population studies, each of which has its own methodology, and the report talks about those. As ever, the challenge in evaluating LGBT demographic data comes down to the definitions used by each set of researchers (identity, behavior, attractions, etc.).

    While I want to get to a place where everyone who wants to be out *can* be out, I also don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the fact that perhaps only 3.8%-ish of the US population self-identifies as LGBT. As someone noted, the rights of minorities aren’t protected because there are a lot of them — that’s kind of the WHOLE POINT. LOL

    And to those who’d use the smaller numbers against us, I say, “If there are so few of us, then why should anything we do bother you? If we’re a negligible subset of the population, then your arguments about our impact on society go out the window.”

  • admittedly I’m not at all a math, statistics or demographics whiz BUT it sounds to me as if the figures (10% -ish of population) have simply been confirmed, see this bit here:

    o An estimated 19 million Americans (8.2%) report that they have engaged in same-sex sexual behavior and nearly 25.6 million Americans (11%) acknowledge at least some same-sex sexual attraction.

    So what am I missing that is making all the headlines read “Less LGBTs in the US Than Previously Thought”? Sounds like it more accurately say “Pretty Much the Same % of Population as Originally Thought”.

  • JingleFae51586

    I’m definitely one of “those people,” and have a good handful of close friends who are, as well. I went from coming out as “bisexual” as a teen, to being in an exclusive lesbian relationship for 3 years, to finally deciding what I called myself didn’t matter – I find both men and women attractive, and I love my friends and lovers for who they are, regardless of gender. Period. So, while I may not refer to myself as bisexual, and am in an exclusive relationship with a man, the fact has not, nor will it ever change that I acknowledge and embrace my sexual and emotional attraction to both men and women as a profound part of who I am. In other words, I definitely count.