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Published by: towleroad on Apr 07, 2011
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How many people arelesbian, gay, bisexual,and transgender?
by Gary J. Gates, Williams Distinguished Scholar
Executive Summary
Increasing numbers of population-based surveys in the United States and across the worldinclude questions that allow for an estimate of the size of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, andtransgender (LGBT) population. This research brief discusses challenges associated withcollecting better information about the LGBT community and reviews eleven recent US andinternational surveys that ask sexual orientation or gender identity questions. The brief concludes with estimates of the size of the LGBT population in the United States.Key findings from the research brief are as follows:
An estimated 3.5% of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual andan estimated 0.3% of adults are transgender.
This implies that there are approximately 9 million LGBT Americans, a figure roughlyequivalent to the population of New Jersey.
Among adults who identify as LGB, bisexuals comprise a slight majority (1.8% comparedto 1.7% who identify as lesbian or gay).
Women are substantially more likely than men to identify as bisexual. Bisexualscomprise more than half of the lesbian and bisexual population among women in eightof the nine surveys considered in the brief. Conversely, gay men comprise substantiallymore than half of gay and bisexual men in seven of the nine surveys.
Estimates of those who report any lifetime same-sex sexual behavior and any same-sexsexual attraction are substantially higher than estimates of those who identify as LGB.An estimated 19 million Americans (8.2%) report that they have engaged in same-sexsexual behavior and nearly 25.6 million Americans (11%) acknowledge at least somesame-sex sexual attraction.
Understanding the size of the LGBT population is a critical first step to informing a hostof public policy and research topics. The surveys highlighted in this report demonstratethe viability of sexual orientation and gender identity questions on large nationalpopulation-based surveys. Adding these questions to more national, state, and localdata sources is critical to developing research that enables a better understanding of theunderstudied LGBT community.
April 2011
Increasing numbers of population-based surveys in the United States and across the world includequestions designed to measure sexual orientation and gender identity. Understanding the size of thelesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) population is a critical first step to informing a host of public policy and research topics. Examples include assessing health and economic disparities in theLGBT community, understanding the prevalence of anti-LGBT discrimination, and considering theeconomic impact of marriage equality or the provision of domestic partnership benefits to same-sexcouples. This research brief discusses challenges associated with collecting better information about theLGBT community and reviews findings from eleven recent US and international surveys that ask sexualorientation or gender identity questions. The brief concludes with estimates of the size of the LGBTpopulation in the United States.
Challenges in measuring theLGBT community
Estimates of the size of the LGBT communityvary for a variety of reasons. These includedifferences in the definitions of who is includedin the LGBT population, differences in surveymethods, and a lack of consistent questionsasked in a particular survey over time.In measuring sexual orientation, lesbian, gay,and bisexual individuals may be identifiedstrictly based on their self-identity or it may bepossible to consider same-sex sexual behavioror sexual attraction. Some surveys (notconsidered in this brief) also assess householdrelationships and provide a mechanism of identifying those who are in same-sexrelationships. Identity, behavior, attraction,and relationships all capture related dimensionsof sexual orientation but none of thesemeasures completely addresses the concept.Defining the transgender population can also bechallenging. Definitions of who may beconsidered part of the transgender communityinclude aspects of both gender identities andvarying forms of gender expression or non-conformity. Similar to sexual orientation, oneway to measure the transgender community isto simply consider self-identity. Measures of identity could include consideration of termslike transgender, queer, or genderqueer. Thelatter two identities are used by some tocapture aspects of both sexual orientation andgender identity.Similar to using sexual behaviors and attractionto capture elements of sexual orientation,questions may also be devised that considergender expression and non-conformityregardless of the terms individuals may use todescribe themselves. An example of thesetypes of questions would be consideration of the relationship between the sex thatindividuals are assigned at birth and the degreeto which that assignment conforms with howthey express their gender. Like the counterpartof measuring sexual orientation throughidentity, behavior, and attraction measures,these varying approaches capture relateddimensions of who might be classified astransgender but may not individually address allaspects of assessing gender identity andexpression.Another factor that can create variation amongestimates of the LGBT community is surveymethodology. Survey methods can affect thewillingness of respondents to reportstigmatizing identities and behaviors. Feelingsof confidentiality and anonymity increase thelikelihood that respondents will be moreaccurate in reporting sensitive information.Survey methods that include face-to-faceinterviews may underestimate the size of theLGBT community while those that includemethods that allow respondents to completequestions on a computer or via the internetmay increase the likelihood of LGBTrespondents identifying themselves. Variedsample sizes of surveys can also increasevariation. Population-based surveys with a
larger sample can produce more preciseestimates (see SMART, 2010 for moreinformation about survey methodology).A final challenge in making population-basedestimates of the LGBT community is the lack of questions asked over time on a single largesurvey. One way of assessing the reliability of estimates is to repeat questions over time usinga consistent method and sampling strategy.Adding questions to more large-scale surveysthat are repeated over time would substantiallyimprove our ability to make better estimates of the size of the LGBT population.
How many adults are lesbian,gay, or bisexual?
Findings shown in Figure 1 consider estimatesof the percentage of adults who self-identify aslesbian, gay, or bisexual across nine surveysconducted within the past seven years. Five of those surveys were fielded in the United Statesand the others are from Canada, the UnitedKingdom, Australia, and Norway. All arepopulation-based surveys of adults, thoughsome have age restrictions as noted.The lowest overall percentage comes from theNorwegian Living Conditions Survey at 1.2%,with the National Survey of Sexual Health andBehavior, conducted in the United States,producing the highest estimate at 5.6%. Ingeneral, the non-US surveys, which vary from1.2% to 2.1%, estimate lower percentages of LGB-identified individuals than the US surveys,which range from 1.7% to 5.6%.While the surveys show a fairly wide variation inthe overall percentage of adults who identify asLGB, the proportion who identify as lesbian/gayversus bisexual is somewhat more consistent(see Figure 2). In six of the surveys, lesbian- andgay-identified individuals outnumberedbisexuals. In most cases, these surveys wereroughly 60% lesbian/gay versus 40% bisexual.The UK Integrated Household Survey found theproportion to be two-thirds lesbian/gay versusone-third bisexual.

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