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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 8, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 14
New survey tries to estimate LGBT population
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New survey tries to estimate LGBT population

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

How many LGBT Americans are there?

More than 9 million, according to Williams Institute researcher Gary Gates.

The Williams Institute is a think tank associated with UCLA Law School that studies law and public policy as they relate to sexual orientation and gender identity. Gates is a demographer at the Institute and the author of a number of previous surveys of LGBT population.

According to a new report by Gates released on April 7, about 3.5 percent of Americans identify themselves in surveys as being Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual.

The study also reported an estimated 700,000 Transgender individuals in the U.S. - about 0.3% of the population.

In total, the study suggests that approximately 9 million Americans - roughly the population of New Jersey - identify as LGBT.

Gates says he arrived at the estimates by averaging results from five surveys conducted in the U.S. between 2004 and 2009. In the survey results, the range of people who say they are Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual varied widely, from a low of 1.7 percent to a high of 5.6 percent.

Gates said that many people have heard estimates as high as 10% of the population.

That figure, he said, comes from a 1948 study of male prisoners done by Alfred Kinsey.

Kinsey noted at the time that one in 10 men was 'more or less, exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55.'

'The number stuck,' Gates said. 'Here we are, decades later, and it's still the most predominant number cited.'

The question of how many LGBT folks there are depends in part on how the terms Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender are defined, and who researchers decide to include.

'In measuring sexual orientation,' the Gates study notes, 'Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual individuals may be identified strictly based on their self-identity or it may be possible to consider same-sex sexual behavior or sexual attraction.'

The Gates study bases its numbers only on self-identification. In other words, individuals must tell researchers they are LGBT to be counted in one of those categories.

Gates does acknowledge that a different definition would yield different numbers, however.

'Estimates of those who report any lifetime same-sex sexual behavior and any same-sex sexual attraction are substantially higher than estimates of those who identify as LGB,' the study says.

'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.'

People who engage in same-sex relations or experience same-sex attraction may not identify as Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual for a number of reasons, including but not limited to social, family, or religious pressures, absence of a visible LGBT community, or perceived danger in being out.

'Defining the Transgender population can also be challenging,' the report continues. 'Definitions of who may be considered part of the Transgender community include aspects of both gender identities and varying forms of gender expression or non-conformity.'

Getting an accurate count of LGBT Americans is not merely an academic pursuit for Gates.

'The number matters,' he said to reporters. 'An unfortunate part of our political system is that you don't really count unless you're counted. LGBT Americans still are not routinely counted. That allows legislators and policymakers to say they really don't matter much, because if they did, we'd have this data.'

Gates is also the creator of the Gay/Lesbian Index, which measures the proportion of same-sex couples among all households in any given U.S. metropolitan area.

The idea that most LGBT people live only in urban enclaves like the Castro in San Francisco or Chelsea in New York City is a myth, Gates notes.

'Gay people live everywhere,' he says, 'in cities, suburbs, and even in the country - one in seven same-sex couples live in rural areas.'

The 2000 Census found same-sex couples living in 99% of U.S. counties.

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