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How Many Gay People Are There In America? Nope — You’re Wrong.

by David Badash on June 1, 2012

in News,Politics

Post image for How Many Gay People Are There In America? Nope — You’re Wrong.

“We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going to take it anymore!”

“We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it”

“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Homophobia’s got to go!”


“Gay by birth, fabulous by choice”

The slogans go on and on — as does the radical right’s perception of how many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people there are in America.

How many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are there in America?

In April of last year, The New Civil Rights Movement was one of the first to report on a new study by the Williams Institute, “How many people are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender?,” that found an estimated nine million Americans identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. That translates into almost 4% of the American adult population.


Yes, it’s true, and it’s far less than most people think.

Yesterday, writing in The Atlantic, Garance Franke-Ruta reported:

In surveys conducted in 2002 and 2011, pollsters at Gallup found that members of the American public massively overestimated how many people are gay or lesbian. In 2002, a quarter of those surveyed guessed upwards of a quarter of Americans were gay or lesbian (or “homosexual,” the third option given). By 2011, that misperception had only grown, with more than a third of those surveyed now guessing that more than 25 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian. Women and young adults were most likely to provide high estimates, approximating that 30 percent of the population is gay. Only 4 percent of all those surveyed in 2011 and about 8 percent of those surveyed in 2002 correctly guessed that fewer than 5 percent of Americans identify as gay or lesbian.

She adds:

Contemporary research in a less homophobic environment has counterintuitively resulted in lower estimates rather than higher ones. The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a gay and lesbian think tank, released a study in April 2011 estimating based on its research that just 1.7 percent of Americans between 18 and 44 identify as gay or lesbian, while another 1.8 percent — predominantly women — identify as bisexual. Far from underestimating the ranks of gay people because of homophobia, these figures included a substantial number of people who remained deeply closeted, such as a quarter of the bisexuals. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of women between 22 and 44 that questioned more than 13,500 respondents between 2006 and 2008 found very similar numbers: Only 1 percent of the women identified themselves as gay, while 4 percent identified as bisexual.

Overall, there have been fewer than 75,000 state-sanctioned same-sex marriages in the United States since they began to be permitted less than a decade ago, according to an estimate by Marriage Equality USA. Over the eight years since Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in May 2004 18,462 same-sex couples married in the Bay State. Another 18,000 were estimated to have wed in Californiaduring the few months before Proposition 8 passed in 2008, banning future ones; those marriages remain on the books, as the proposition was not retroactive. It’s not totally clear how many same-sex marriages have taken place in New York, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia, the other jurisdictions where it is permitted.

In our report here last year, we noted “that 11% of the population, more than 25 million Americans, acknowledge some same-gender sexual attraction.”

The study shows that an estimated .3% of Americans are transgender. Additionally, the Williams study shows 3.5% of American adults are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, including 1.8% of American adults who are bisexual.

Regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, 19 million American adults have had same-gender sex.

Since many believe, indeed, were shocked that the Williams Institute numbers were far smaller than what is commonly thought of as 10% of the population being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, I asked Gary Gates, the author of the Williams Institute study that very question via email last year. From our report:

Gates says the 10% figure “is from a passage in a 1948 Kinsey book that reads, “”Ten percent of males are more or less exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55″…even if he had used population-based data (which he did not), that is hardly a statement suggesting that 10% of the population identifies as LGBT.  The truth about 10% was that it was a brilliant political strategy as a figure that was large enough to “matter” but hopefully not so large as to threaten the general population.  The fact that the number remains so popular is a testament to that brilliance.  Kinsey was a notable scholar and scientist, but he never made a population-based estimate of the size of the LGBT community.”

I wondered if dramatically reducing the public’s perception of the size of the LGBT community helps us, or is self-defeating. Gates, a Williams Distinguished Scholar, responded,

“I guess I hold to a belief that, in the end, good science will be helpful to the community.  The stereotype of the community as rich, white, male, and urban is nearly as pervasive as the 10% figure.  The emergence of quality demographic data that includes questions about sexual orientation and gender identity has allowed us to highlight the diversity of the community in ways that we’ve just not been able to do in the past.  Getting sound information about the LGBT community is dependent on the willingness of surveys to ask sexual orientation and gender identity questions (and perhaps show that only about 4% of the population identifies as LGBT).   On the whole, I see that as a net positive and absolutely worth the risk.”


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AndrieuMoray June 1, 2012 at 8:54 am

I would like to know if there is any self-reporting differential between 2002 and 2011. Say, if 3% self-reported GLB in 2002 and 5% self-reported GLB in 2011 – that would mean that the percentage of self-reporting is based off of improving social attitudes rather than the gene pool. There is no way to know if these numbers are at all representative because of social stigma. Plus think about all the people never even consider if they are homosexual because the thought has never crossed their mind… for all they know, if its a lifestyle choice, and their feelings are normal, they just choose like everyone else to be straight…

So until society has deemed gay and straight orientations and relationships equal, not just the legal system, but society, etc – then we will not know. Self-reporting is what we have right now but its not very scientific.

GrantLV June 1, 2012 at 10:30 am

When ALL of the gay Americans feel comfortable to come out of the closet without fear of ridicule, discrimination, or personal harm, then we will have more accurate figures. That will probably not happen in our lifetimes. A survey conducted about 2-3 years ago found that about 10% of all heterosexually married males in the New York City area had engaged in homosexual behavior in the previous year. I am sure almost none of these men would check the "gay" box in a survey. And then there are the millions who, instead of realizing who they really are, suppress their desires and instead lash out against those who have the courage to be honest with themselves. So, these numbers don't mean much in my opinion.

Mykelbarber June 1, 2012 at 10:37 am

At 4%, we are still double the number of Jews in America who are legally covered under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which we are not. Discrimination continues, harassment continues, beatings and murders continue. Without proper legal standing as a minority group worthy of heightened scrutiny under the law, we will continue to be second class citizens who will continue to encounter a higher than average rate of health issues, legal problems, societal, economic and other problems. We need comprehensive legislation NOW. Contact your national legislators concerning the American Equality Bill and ask them to co-sponsor it today.

palacinky June 1, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Why is it the author of this article assumes the WIlliams Institute statistics are accurate? I can honestly say their methodology of counting the trans community was absurd… basically taking 2-3 old studies with absurdly bad methodology, and averaging out their totals. Moreover, the Instittute didn't even make a statement of who the trans community consists of. How can you make an accurate count if you don't clarify that? Moreover, there have been no studies which accurately states how many people are LGBTQ but firmly in the closet which, in the case of some of our communities, I suspect are larger than those who are out. It's also very obvious to me from reading about the Williams' numbers that they really didn't go out of their way to make sure they were getting accurate counts of people of color. I agree it doesn't matter whether we're 4%, 10% or 1%, we deserve equal rights. But if you're going to focus on the numbers, then try to at least focus on how they were arrived at.

peterblaise June 2, 2012 at 10:07 am

So the 1,000,000 Moms probably created 40,000 beautiful, deserving, GAY children, eh?

Yet …

Love and hugs,
Peter Blaise

peterblaise June 2, 2012 at 10:07 am

So the 1,000,000 Moms probably created 40,000 beautiful, deserving, GAY children, eh?

Yet …

Love and hugs,
Peter Blaise

maxo2222 September 2, 2012 at 9:23 am

4% is not accurate at all. Nobody can't really know the percentage of LGBT Americans. What about those who are in the closet who's people in their lives don't know . Do they also count?

And what about the ones who are in straight relationship and are sleeping with the same sex on a side.

Iam a Gay man and I had a relationship with a guy who was Bisexual and who was married with a woman, and the wife had no idea that he was married with a bisexual man. And there are many of those men accross America. and what about the LGBT children who are too young and not yet aknowledge who they are yet ?

So nobody can't really say the percentage of LGBT people in the country.
And in my own opinion I would say it's way much higher.

blahblahblah27 November 1, 2012 at 6:22 am

There are so many people in this country that are in the closet that it isnt even funny ;(! This is the country know for its freedom? Well it sure doesnt show it! this survey is just demoralizing!

blahblahblah27 November 1, 2012 at 6:24 am

What is wrong with most scientists in America in current times that they cant even realize the faults in their data?

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