Americans Believe 25% of Population is Gay, Weren’t Born That Way

New statistics from Gallup reveal that Americans believe one in four people are gay and lesbian. 35% think more than one in four people are riding the train to homo-ville and 52% of our fine American citizenry think that at least one in five Americans are gay. Wow! MATH!

At first glance this seems promising — they’re recognizing our existence! But honestly this makes the consistent denial of our civil rights even more perplexing — do our fellow Americans actually think the gay agenda has been THAT successful? Do they think we’re everywhere and we have each other and so we don’t need equal rights? Do they think we’re legitimately taking over the world and therefore they must stop us before we steal all the children and dress them in gender neutral clothing and chant Heather Has Two Mommies into their earholes as they sleep? The most recent “credible study” on the actual homogay population shows about 3.5% of the population is gay, which is significantly less than the 10% figure we’ve been using since we saw Kinsey in 2005 and way less than these estimates.

Gallup says:

“Americans perceive that there is a large U.S. gay population — one far larger than is likely reality. Perhaps more informative than the exact figure Americans give is the trend that more Americans now than in 2002 feel they have enough information offer an estimate. This suggests Americans have had even more exposure to gays and lesbians, be it in their personal lives or through entertainment or other means.”

Also, Americans are just generally shitty at guestimating:

Gallup previously found that a majority of Americans personally know someone who is gay or lesbian, though Gallup did not ask Americans how many gay or lesbian individuals they know, or whether they know more individuals now than they did before. Additionally, Americans tend to have difficulty estimating percentages of population groups whose numbers are more widely known. Gallup a decade ago found Americans estimating much larger U.S. black and Hispanic populations than what the U.S. Census Bureau reported for those groups.

However only 40% of Americans think gay people were born that way. 42% blame upbringing and environment! Unsurprisingly, those who think people are born gay are more likely to support gay rights:

Gallup says:

A statistical analysis of the data reveals that Americans’ beliefs about the origins of same-sex orientation are much more strongly related to their views of the legality and morality of gay or lesbian relations than to party identification, ideology, religious commitment, age, and other demographic characteristics, taking all those factors into account simultaneously.

But support of gay rights is at an all-time high! +

Of all these statistics the one that’s most compelling to me is that young people overestimate the gay population. Yeah, it’s easy enough to conclude that like “less educated people,” young people just are stupid and wrong, but maybe that’s not the only reason — hopefully they’re also seeing something very different in their peer groups than prior generations. It’s been socially unacceptable to be a homo for so long that many homos chose to stay in the closet or repress their true selves, but as homosexuality edges its way into the national conversation and the internet connects more and more people to other homos, more and more people feel comfortable coming out. Furthermore, at least where women are concerned, discovering their latent homosexuality is coming quicker than it has in prior generations. See — when men don’t respond sexually to women, they’re quickly pegged as “gay.” But when women don’t respond sexually to men, they’re just pegged as — you know — women! Women aren’t socialized to expect sex to be pleasurable, often turning to Cosmo articles and special lotions rather than considering they’re maybe sleeping with the wrong gender! More gays for everyone!

Statistics will change not because there are more gay people, but because there are more OUT gay people.


This is what Gallup thinks:

Americans are now as accepting of gays and lesbians as at any point in the last three decades, if not in U.S. history. This greater acceptance extends to their views of the morality of gay and lesbian relations, of their legality, and of whether marriage should legally be granted to same-sex couples.

If the trends continue and political leaders are responsive to public opinion on the issue, one would expect more states and the federal government to expand the legal rights of gays and lesbians, including the right to legally marry.

Do these statistics surprise you? Can you believe that 42% of Americans thinks it’s your mom’s fault that you’re gay? That blows my mind.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3211 articles for us.


  1. Actually, the correlation between thinking a person is born gay and thinking that person deserves equal rights depresses the hell out of me. I don’t feel like I was born gay. I feel like my preference for involvement with female people has to do with a lot of factors—not that it was a casual choice nor that it was the result of my upbringing, but definitely not that it’s all to be found in my genetic code.

    So, even amongst the people who claim they believe in equal rights for ‘mos, am I excluded because I opted for the life that makes me happiest and healthiest and most loving—instead of simply being coerced by my biology into gayness?

    What I mean is, within the 81% of “believe people are born gay” responders who also “believe gay relations morally acceptable,” would my existence somehow change some of their minds? Cause that is a f@#$ing bummer.

    • I’m cheering myself up, though, by imagining living in an America that is 25% gay. That’s a much happier thought.

    • Correlation does not imply causation: you shouldn’t conclude that when people believe sexual orientation is partly innate, it’s the only measure they reference in favour of same sex relationships.

      Ultimately, people are going to have different viewpoints, but it’s not incompatible to see someone as “born gay” but able to make a choice. Perhaps that perspective might be that you were fortunate to be born as bi/pan and so were able to make a choice? A lot of people, conversely, feel they cannot. We all need to be able to express our identities and there has to be room for disagreement without negation. That all experiences are valid, irrespective of how we may rationalise them.

      I doubt we’ll ever see a situation when we’re all in agreement about this kind of thing, or that there is a definitive answer. But respect for differing identities, of all kinds, is still possible.

      • I sure hope it didn’t sound like I was suggesting that “my” version of gayness is the only, best or most important kind. I believe without qualification that there are people who were born gay, and they’re as vital a part of my queer family as the “this is where I ended up” types like me.

        If you can point me to the spot in my post that sounded like a “negation” of other identities/expressions, please do, because I would like to not make anyone feel that way again.

        I think, in fact, we COULD see a situation where we’re all in agreement about this kind of thing: a situation in which we agree, “Whatevs, it doesn’t matter where gayness comes from because it rocks, so let’s stop debating who deserves equal rights.”

        • I wasn’t trying to imply there was anything wrong with your statement: I’m sorry for giving that impression. You just sounded a bit down and I figured it was worth pointing out an alternative line of thought; that these findings don’t necessarily imply that your own path is any less valid in these peoples eyes :)

          I like your closing comment, but I think there will always be different points of view :)

          • Oh. Got it! Thanks for the clarification :)


    • Amen.
      I mean, personally I guess I’m agnostic about whether or not I was born queer, but I HATE how “we were born this way!” is used as an argument in favor of queer acceptance and civil rights. I mean, “we can’t help it–don’t hate us”? What a terrible argument! Psychopaths and pedophiles might be “born that way,” too–it doesn’t make their behavior morally acceptable.
      The reason why people should accept us as regular, healthy members of society isn’t that we can’t help who we are–it’s that there’s nothing fucking wrong with what we’re doing.

      • I believe that the reason people have been jumping on the “Born this way” bandwagon is because of legalities.

        Remember [or learn today!] that being GAY used to be considered a MENTAL ILLNESS. Right up there with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. It was not removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders until 1973. Sure, I wasn’t born then, but my parents were high school and college age. GAYNESS AS A MENTAL DISORDER is still in LIVING MEMORY of the people that are RUNNING THIS COUNTRY.

        If you can prove [or seem to prove] that gay people were born gay, and can obviously be productive members of society, that turns the gay population into a legally legitimate minority population, like racial or ethnic minorities, we get to ride the Civil Rights train to equality. Which, I might add, took DECADES and LOTS of strife to bring about into the constitution and mainstream society.

        While it may not be ‘Right’ or correct to teach that gay people are born this way, it is easier to use an existing legal policy of protection [Civil Rights] than to create a new one. The gay population is already confusing because it is something you can’t visibly see. It is easier to say ‘they were born that way’ and offer them rights and protection than to say ‘maybe they were born with it, maybe their mother shouldn’t have divorced their father while they were children/smoked/let them watch tv’

        So though I’m not wholly sold on the belief that ‘Every gay was born that way’, I DO believe that it’s the quickest way to get full and equal rights, and isn’t that what we want?

        • brilliant comment.
          “GAYNESS AS A MENTAL DISORDER is still in LIVING MEMORY of the people that are RUNNING THIS COUNTRY.”
          quoted for truth

        • You may be right that saying we were born gay advances our legal argument–but I still think it’s a terrible moral argument. And the legal argument for minority rights is prefaced on there being nothing morally wrong with the minority group. We have to prove our moral argument before we can even get to the legal one.
          But I’m not sure how being born gay is supposed to prove that gayness isn’t a mental illness. It’s my understanding (please correct me if I’m wrong) that many mental illnesses have a strong genetic component–that is, that people are born with a susceptibility to mental illness that gets turned on (or not) as they get older. But even though people with mental illnesses are, in a manner of speaking, born with their illnesses, we still consider them illnesses, and not alternative, healthy behaviors.
          Thank God being gay is no longer considered a mental illness–but I don’t think that claiming we were born this way really has anything to do with that.

          • I agree that it is a terrible moral argument…However, I believe that the ‘born gay’ movement is trying to take gayness from the moral arena to the scientific arena, and so is not a moral argument at all.

            When morals get involved, things like religious beliefs come into play. As much as this country tries to act on a ‘Separation of Church and State’, this country was heavily influenced by Puritans and Calvinists, an influence that remains today. This has always been a Christian country. Trying to argue the moral rightness of being gay with people that have been raised hearing interpretations of Sodom and Gomorrah…well, arguments can go ’round and ’round.

            I had wondered if someone would bring up that mental illness often have a genetic component; you are quite correct in saying that. But a mental illness by definition is a condition that causes pain/distress, disability and/or loss of autonomy. Thankfully, there are now plenty of successful, productive, and out and proud members of society, some of them quite famous; so people can no longer really argue that gayness is in itself a mental illness.

            Also, the differences and similarities that encompass the human race have strong bases in genetics, be that skin or eye color, skeletal structure, immune systems, even intelligence levels and how well you communicate can all be traced to genes. OF COURSE there are thousands of other things that influence how people turn out the way they do, but a black couple will [generally] give birth to a black child. That child, as a result, is born into a racial culture that has in its memory a time when people who looked like her were treated as property, less than human. If this child is born in America, she has to grow up in a culture that is STILL recovering from the aftereffects of slavery and segregation. It’s not her fault, she can’t change her genes or her parents or the culture she was born into. The Civil Rights Act [and Affirmative Action] is an attempt of the Law to protect her from the leading majority and their prejudices, and to continue to slowly change the way the country is run so that someday it really won’t matter what color you are born with.

            Things get fuzzier with gay people since straight couples give birth to gay children, and nowadays, vice versa. But when a child is born in Small Town, USA, to straight, right-wing Christian parents, and she grows up hearing her whole life how ho-mo-sexuals are the mark of the Devil on Earth, and STILL turns out a lesbian? You have to admit, the ‘born this way’ hypothesis is a decent way of explaining it to the general public.

          • “when a child is born in Small Town, USA, to straight, right-wing Christian parents, and she grows up hearing her whole life how ho-mo-sexuals are the mark of the Devil on Earth, and STILL turns out a lesbian?”

            Okay. So. Who are you and how do you know my life story? :P

    • Well, I had my first crush on a woman when I was 5. So that makes me born gay, I figure.

      • OMG Minz don’t think that way. I have given hand job to a friend of mine when I was 13.I am straight.In my country we don’t give any importance to Gay people so every child thinks that everyone around his is perfectly normal and he wont even think that he is a Gay even after giving a hand job to his friend at his adolescence.So I think if we give more importance to so called Homosexuality then it will affect the mindsets of children in their adolescence and they might think that they are Gay at certain circumstances(in my case the hand job incident) and will live accordingly.
        Who knows maybe you were born straight and because of your creepy thoughts after some incidents(in my case the hand job incident) that you confirmed that you are born gay and if you had no idea what homosexuality is when that incident occurred you might have taken it as a funny incident.

    • But I do agree that it shouldn’t matter whether it’s a choice or not… other people simply don’t have the right to dictate who you can love!

    • I agree with you Maddie…I mean, I know that my sexuality is innate, but I also believe that something as profoundly central to an individual’s life such as sexual expression, partner choice, etc. should not be policed by the state. I read a really compelling argument by a lawyer arguing in favor of same sex marriage that the immutability debate within the gay marriage debate is actually completely irrelevant and should have no involvement in the issue. equal rights should not be denied when it involves basic liberty and the pursuit of happiness

    • Don’t feel bad. Really, it’s their problem that they don’t realize that the thing that something is “learned rather than innate” does not automatically mean it is bad.

      I remember reading on Hugo Schwyzer’s blog how he thought that while it was important that the LGBT rights movement stress that “ex-gay therapy” is ineffective and harmful, the more important point is that they are trying to fix something that isn’t broken. That there’s nothing wrong with being gay/bi/trans/etc.

      I think this is especially important with the B in LGBT. Bisexuals do have a choice in whether we want to date the opposite sex (thereby “choosing heterosexuality” in the eyes of homophobic bigots) or the same sex (“choosing homosexuality”). If the reason to accept it is because we are born this way and can’t do anything about it, that doesn’t explain why bisexuals should be out instead of just dating opposite-sex people because we have that option.

  2. Yes, Americans are shitty at guestimating. That’s the main thing to take away from these sorts of surveys. Also, polls about the gay are particularly stupid. They ask the wrong question(s). Are “born that way” and “due to factors like upbringing and environment” really my only choices?

  3. Oops, misplaced apostrophe in the title!

    Those statistics blow my mind too! Who ARE these people who think it’s upbringing? And who think we’re a quarter of the population? I mean, do they just not understand what 25% means, or…?

    • Yes, if I took a poll that asked how many Americans I thought were not proficient in percentages or fractions, I’d guess 75%! ;)

  4. This confuses me. Oh American population, pur-lease. You really think 1 in 4 people are gay? How. Um. I don’t… What. Etc.

    I’m amused by the description as “homosexual or gay”, because I sort of thought they were the same thing, and by being one you are automatically the other. You know, like Donald Trump = douchebag.

    • It’s funny, I remember a study that (I think) showed people were more in favour of “gay” marriage than “homosexual” marriage. I’ll try to find it again, but the upshot was that people respond more favourably if you use the term “gay” rather than “homosexual”.

    • Sorry, I didn’t mean to reply to you directly or single you out, I meant that as a general comment but hit the wrong button or something.

  5. “nsurprisingly, those who think people are born gay are more likely to support gay rights”

    Not surprising, but there is NO LOGICAL CONNECTION between those two things. Which maybe makes it even less surprising…

    Also, google is putting a SUPER OFFENSIVE AD about gay being a “race” on my sidebar of this site…

  6. Can’t we get to a point where even if people are choosing to same-sex date everybody is all “nbd”, you know?

    • Hope so; feeling like we’re further from that even amongst our “allies” than I had previously thought :(

  7. This is the most numbers I have willingly looked at… ever. I second what maddie0 said.

  8. When I see figures like this, I feel I need more information: how do participants understand the term “gay or lesbian” and who do they include? How do they understand the idea of being “born gay”?

    It seems possible that the perception of the LGBT community could be wildly inaccurate if people are capable of making such, apparently, wild overestimations. I wonder if there’s an inverse correlation between the size of an individuals estimation for the community and support for gay rights? Does othering correspond to a misperception of (per capita) influence?

  9. People in general don’t put two and two together. If the questions were asked in a single poll (how many gays are there, were they born that way, and should they have rights), they’d be forced to confront some serious incoherence in their thoughts about gay people.

    If 1 in 4 people were gay, we would have pwned every gay rights ballot initiative. But in reality we’re 3% of the electorate and pretty much at the mercy of straight voters.

  10. I have a sick love for infographics, charts, tables, and all these related to visual displays of statistics.

    So happy to see an explosion of this in an Autostraddle article!

  11. What really boggles my mind is the 10% who think people are born gay but think that gay/lesbian “relations” are morally wrong.


  12. well, i involuntary blush with any gay paraphernalia. pretty sure that qualifies me as being born gay.

  13. Well, my mum IS a tattooed roller-derby player with an Alternative Lifestyle Haircut.
    And my dad was symbolically sacrificed as the Corn God by some lesbian witches back in the 70s.
    So maybe it IS their fault I was born gay…

    My dad keeps getting me to listen to k.d.lang…not that I’m complaining.

  14. Some people are born with the potential to be attracted to the same sex.

    Some people are born without the potential to be attracted to the same sex.

    Some people are born with the potential to be attracted to the opposite sex.

    Some people are born without the potential to be attracted to the opposite sex.

    Insert other innate factors and the environment and you get homosexuals, bisexuals, heterosexuals and asexuals.

    The thing is, it’s difficult to know if you were born with the potential unless it gets turned on. I only know that I’m effectively homosexual because if there is some potential for me to be attracted to the opposite sex, it’s never been turned on. But given how society pushes heterosexuality, it seems more likely that I just lack any potential to be attracted to the opposite sex. If my potential to be attracted to the same sex had never been switched on, I think I’d just be asexual. In fact, I felt asexual until some point during puberty.

    Wouldn’t it be funny if those people who guessed 20-25% are straight people who are aware of their own potential to be attracted to the same sex and are projecting that onto the rest of the population?

    I do think that many people who believe homosexuality is a choice believe so because they’re aware that they could be attracted to the same sex. However “could be” doesn’t mean will be or would be.

    • this is the best explanation i’ve ever seen for how i feel about the whole “born gay” thing. i’m stealing it to use whenever i talk about these things!

  15. So much beautiful math! Thanks for sharing all these stats. Also, that Snooki chick just seems like a fuckwad.

  16. I’m gonna go ahead and say one reason why Americans’ estimates of how many gay people there are is that it’s their ignorance and homophobia talking. It’s a psychological thing–if you’re afraid of zombie dogs, you’re going to see zombie-looking dogs everywhere you go and you’re going to think dog zombification is a much bigger problem than it really is, especially when Bill O’Reilly and Pat Robertson tell you zombie dogs are the cause of the recession, America’s moral decay, and the tornados in the Midwest. Even IF Lady Gaga thinks zombie dogs were born that way.

    • **Please note that I am not condoning the zombie lifestyle or zombification of any species.

      PS. I think 25% of my city’s population actually is gay. Or maybe there’s just an overabundance of queer-looking hipster girls.

    • This was my first thought, too. Same phenomenon as the ‘phobes who say there are SOOOOOOOOOO many gay people on TV, or folks with racist tendencies who say the same thing about ethnic minorities. Pretty much everyone who hates a group believes the group to be way, way bigger than it is.

      But it could be the same phenomenon without the hatin’: People are becoming aware of queers more and more, so suddenly we’re salient. They walk around and inadvertently play Spot the Queer all day. Sort of like when you buy that silver Saturn L200 and suddenly realize that FULLY ONE HALF OF YOUR CITY owns the same car, not because you hate all Saturns and don’t believe they should have full rights, but just because you have reason to notice them.

  17. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. I think the numbers will continue to trend in our favor, but I am very surprised 40% still think being gay is not something you’re born into. However, just because someone things it is an environment factor doesn’t necessarily mean they think you can change it, so maybe that explains why 50%+ approve gay marriage and only 40% think it’s biological. I wonder what the numbers would be like if the public was asked whether they think someone can choose to be gay vs. say, 10 years ago.

    • I don’t think the options are “born into it” or “chose it”. (Not explicitly in the survey, but how people might discuss and interpret it’s results).

      I wasn’t born into my orientation, but nor did I choose it. My sexuality has changed over my lifetime; it was not and is not fixed. I don’t choose my attractions though, they shift on their own. I think that’s a false dichotomy that too many people buy into (even queer people…even people here!) I don’t like being erased in these discussions (by homophobes and gay activists alike), and I don’t like that my existence is a political liability.

    • Sorry, I didn’t mean to reply to you directly or single you out, I meant that as a general comment but hit the wrong button or something.

  18. The scariest stat on here for me is that only 64% of people feel that “gay or lesbian relations between consenting adults” should be legal. The remaining 34% thinks I should be jailed for having sex with my girlfriend. It’s not even a question of marriage or all the other rights we’re denied, that 34% wants to police what goes on in my bedroom. I can’t even.

    • although then they would also know that boys who “like boys” and girls who are lebanese are indeed born this way.

  19. “Homosexual or gay” and “homosexual or lesbian.”
    um, what? These things are synonyms.

  20. I think people are born gay. That’s a fact. HOWEVER, it’s also 100 percent acceptable and reasonable that people can develop their sexual orientation over time. Life isn’t black and white, so why should we expect sexuality to be so cut and dry? For a lot of people, sexuality is black and white, which is great. Some people are born gay and some people are born heterosexual. What about those of us, however, who never really knew? Who weren’t hiding their identities throughout their childhood or their teenage years? What about those who one day felt differently and knew that there wasn’t any going back? The whole lady gaga born this way narrative bothers me because I feel as if it excludes a good percentage of the queer population. I forgot where I read it, but I remember a quote about how everyone is born with a homosexual gene, yet some have it turned on at birth, some have it never turned on, and then some have it turned on OVER TIME, perhaps by environment or some occurrence. It doesn’t have to be dramatic…it could be as simple as a move to another city or some change in one’s life. It’s hard enough as it is to come out, but imagine not being taken seriously because you didn’t pop out of the womb trumpeting, “Hey, I’m gay and I’ve always known it!” In a world that’s already so judgmental, why can’t we just accept that yes, some people are born gay AND YES, some people aren’t.Also, the sky is blue. Also, double thumbs up to thinksmall.

    • I think the “born this way” doctrine advances our cause pretty well, so you know, southern Christian mothers can stop blaming themselves and learn some acceptance, but it does edit out those of us who developed a fluid sexual orientation over time. Of course I put my figuring out I liked girls so late as a “I had other stuff to worry about, I could have cared less if I liked girls.”

  21. I actually do not care why I am gay. It’s interesting to ponder sometimes, but it doesn’t really matter.

  22. I was born gay but didn’t always know it! Thanks, hetronormative world. It made sense once I worked it out though.

    IMO, believing that being gay is born rather than a choice results in higher acceptance levels because it’s then seen as another innate characteristic like having blue eyes. You can wear coloured contacts, but you’ll always have those eyes.

  23. I feel like I should send my mom a card:

    Smile! 45% of Americans blame you for the way I turned out. <3

  24. I think this survey pretty much proves that there’s no way 25% of the population could be gay, because if that many people actually were gay, their estimates would be way smaller. I mean, let’s be real, how many gay people have ever felt like that many people were on Team Gay?

  25. Its weird for me. At my school, you forget that in the rest of the world, heater-normative people exist, and it’s like, everyone, and even though you never think about them, the actively hate you, and youre like “woah. I live a happy sheltered gay little life…”

  26. I don’t think the options are “born into it” or “chose it”. (Not explicitly in the survey, but how people might discuss and interpret it’s results).

    I wasn’t born into my orientation, but nor did I choose it. My sexuality has changed over my lifetime; it was not and is not fixed. I don’t choose my attractions though, they shift on their own. I think that’s a false dichotomy that too many people buy into (even queer people…even people here!) I don’t like being erased in these discussions (by homophobes and gay activists alike), and I don’t like that my existence is a political liability.

  27. It’s obvious to me that gay people were born that way. By the way, why can’t people answer my questions which deboogle anything they have to say to whether being gay or even your orientation is a choice.
    1. If being gay is a choice, why would people choose to get bullied and treated like second class citizens?
    2. If being gay is a choice, why would you want to be connected to horrible things like beastality(which is irrelevant anyway), child molestation, etc.?

    • It’s not so bad for queer people everywhere. And there are plenty of chosen identities that carry plenty of stigma – feminist, mother, working woman, married, single, artist. Doesn’t make them any less valid. You weigh up the good and the bad and choose based on what’s important to you.

Comments are closed.