Gallup Reports on Minuscule LGBT Population, Actually Gets Some Stuff Right

You gays! There’s a new study out about how many of us there are out there and this time they’re saying Club LGBT is even smaller than we thought. In what is the largest study to date of LGBT demographics in the U.S. — over 120,000 individuals were surveyed — Gallup reports that 3.4 percent of American adults identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Their results are similar to last year’s William’s Institute study that reported that 3.5 percent of the population is LGBT.

But before we get to the cold hard facts, let’s take a second to talk about their methodology. When it comes to statistics, looking at the research they performed tells us almost as much as the data. In this case, Gallup added a new question to their Gallup Daily tracking interviews starting in June. Along with questions about health, politics and other demographic information, respondents were asked, “Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender?” Of course, limiting the question to those four identities and grouping them together puts constraints on the study. Our genderqueer and pansexual brethren are just as queer as we are, but many of them are excluded from the data because they don’t “personally identify” as L, G, B or T.

Whether or not they’re aware that their wording excludes a significant segment of the rainbow, Gallup seems to recognize its limitations and is upfront about what their data does and does not tell us. They explain that they “chose the broad measure of personal identification as LGBT because this grouping of four statuses is commonly used in current American discourse, and as a result has important cultural and political significance.” They also realize that asking about self-identification during a phone interview won’t result in a figure that reflects the true number of queer people in the country:

Measuring sexual orientation and gender identity can be challenging since these concepts involve complex social and cultural patterns. As a group still subject to social stigma, many of those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender may not be forthcoming about this identity when asked about it in a survey. Therefore, it’s likely that some Americans in what is commonly referred to as “the closet” would not be included in the estimates derived from the Gallup interviews. Thus, the 3.4% estimate can best be represented as adult Americans who publicly identify themselves as part of the LGBT community when asked in a survey context.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the key findings

+People of color are more likely to identify as LGBT than white respondents. 4.6% of Black interviewees, 4.3% of Asians, 4% of Hispanics and 3.2% of white identify as LGBT.

+Younger people are more likely to identify as LGBT. 6.4% of 18-29-year-olds, 3.2% of 30-49-years-olds, 2.6% of 50-64-year-olds and 1.9% of 65+-year-olds answered the interview question in the affirmative.

+Slightly more women identify as LGBT. Looking at the 18-29 age group, the gap greatly widens. LGBT people account for 8.3% of young women and only 4.6% of young men.

+LGBT people tends to have lower levels of education and income. The education cohort who identified most frequently as LGBT were those who’ve had some college. At 4%, they’re followed by individuals with a high school education or less, college graduates and people with a postgraduate education. LGBT people also accounted for the highest percentage of the population in the lowest earning brackets. They compose 5.1% of respondents who make less than $24,000 annually.

+Individuals in domestic partnerships and single people who have never married are more likely to be LGBT. 12.8% of domestic partners and 7% of singles are LGBT while only 1.3% of married people are.

+LGBT women are just as likely as non-LGBT women to be raising children. 32% of all women have a child under 18 living at their home. 31% of non-LGBT men are raising children while only 16% of LGBT men are.

Gallop Gallup

Do you know what I see here? Intersectionality! Microsoft Word might not know it’s a word, but we sure as hell do and we’re here to talk about it. When it comes to data like this, there’s still a lot that’s left to interpretation. For example, reading that many LGBT people are less educated and earn less money appears to be a dismal (although understandable, considering the history of discrimination) stat. But what if, instead of telling a story about LGBT people, it’s simply illustrating facts about what it’s like to be young in the U.S.? In an excellent breakdown of the education/income question, Jezebel shows how a lurking variable like age can totally change the way we see the situation. 24-year-olds (6.4% of whom are LGBT) are significantly less likely to earn $80,000 than 53-year-olds (LGBT rate: 2.6%). If we could control for age, we would have a better idea of what’s going on, causality-wise.

Similarly, relationship and parent status might benefit from a little three-way table action. One interpretation of the data that shows that roughly half as man LGBT men as non-LGBT men and all women are raising kids is to assume that women are naturally nurturers and that, without the companionship of women, men are unwilling or unable to care for children. It wouldn’t be the first time gay men would be stereotyped as shallow, apathetic party boys. Controlling for relationship status might reveal more about the structures of these families and allow us to consider alternatives that take custody laws (perhaps a gay woman is raising children from her former marriage to a man) or the difficulties of adoption (the high cost and various anti-gay state laws make it difficult for gay men to have children) into account.

One of the most inscrutable findings of the study revolves around race. Despite a lack of visibility of LGBT people of color in the media and, as Gallup themselves point out, enduring “stereotypes that portray the LGBT community as predominantly white, highly educated, and very wealthy,” 33 percent of respondents who identified as LGBT were people of color. While it’s difficult to find research that sheds much light on this outcome, this kind of information could help encourage further research on an often-overlooked segment of the community. It also helps fight back against damaging beliefs about people of color and their acceptance of queerness. The more we know about our mutual struggles and joys and our unique conflicts, the harder it becomes to tear each other down.

A larger study on LGBT identities takes us one step closer to what I hope to see happen some day soon: a queer question on the Census. It’s not just about recognizing our existence, it’s about knowing how to improve society. Each study written and every interview performed allows us, our neighbors and our government to know more about the queer experience. Even with its flaws, Gallup’s poll — and their promise to include the question on all future surveys — is a valuable tool for finding solutions to demonstrably real problems.

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Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

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  1. It would be cool if they had a big chart thing that shows like what percentage of each group surveyed fell in another group (e.g., 18-24 year olds that fall in the less than $20,000 income) to show all the data accurately.

    Also, it would be cool to get geographic region and urban/suburban/rural statistics. Since I’m pretty sure that could have a large effect on whether someone would out themselves to a survey or even be out to themselves.

  2. I love the in-depth analysis in this article and the original report on the Gallup site. From Gallup:

    “3.4% of U.S. Adults Identify as LGBT”

    The analysis:
    “Thus, the 3.4% estimate can best be represented as adult Americans who publicly identify themselves as part of the LGBT community when asked in a survey context.”

    So we still don’t know what the actual percentage is of LGBT people in the population, but our survey showed that 3.4% will publicly identify as such if asked in a survey. Woohoo! New Gallup survey shows how people will respond to questions asked as part of a survey!

    Also: “LGBT people tends to have lower levels of education and income.” Ha!

    One thing the survey doesn’t mention is that its findings are heavily biased towards those who will answer ‘yes’ when cold-called and asked if they will participate in a survey.

  3. I thought the ‘don’t know / refuse to answer’ percentages were interesting. How many completely straight people would be unsure or not want to state that they *do not* identify as LGBT? And when you add those ‘DK/Ref’ percentages to the percentages of people who *do* identify as LGBT, you get pretty near 10% for most age-groups.

  4. I always thought that 10% seemed ridiculously high. From personal experience, I would reckon the number to be around 4-5%. 3.4% doesn’t seem drastically low to me.
    The 65+ category is probably skewed due to the amount of them that won’t admit to it. Also, and I know no one wants to say this, there’s a missing generation of gay men who died during the AIDS epidemic who will skew these numbers.
    I think a more productive study would be a breakdown by age and then education status etc… The sample they’ve used above is ridiculously young.

    • the 10% number was never an actual statistic from a study, it was the results of Kinsey’s study, and Kinsey only interviewed people who volunteered to be interviewed about their sex lives in the 50s, which is a really self-selecting group. obviously people who were willing at that time to talk about sex to a sex researcher is hardly a representative slice of the population, but somehow the 10% myth lived on.

    • taylor, you make a good point about AIDS though; there is a missing generation, and perhaps that speaks to the male/female disparity. Although currently, there is a little more cultural space for the “sexual fluidity” of women, as opposed to men; I think there are likely to be more bisexual men who are closeted to themselves and others.

  5. My only key finding of this survey (and the WIlliams Institute one) is how completely absurd their numbers and conclusions are. Case in point for both studies… neither one even identified who the transgender community includes. How can you count a population when you don’t even have an assumption as to their identity? Many trans people don’t self-identify as transgender and are uncomfortable with the word. The largest group in the trans community (cross dressers) are also the most closeted and many of them have a hard time admitting to themselves, much less some stranger on the phone what their gender expression and identity is. For a community which is still routinely fired, not hired and legally persecuted for coming out as trans (even legally so in states like New York) and for whom supposed legal protections actually supply relatively little hedge against unemployment once someone’s trans status is known, how can anyone possibly have a pretense they’re going to get positive responses? (yes, I’m going to go there), it’s kind of like calling up the Frank family in 1942 Netherlands and asking them “hi, I’m a nameless voice on the phone, do you identify as a Jew in hiding?” Accepting these statistics as legit in any way is just a joke.

    • ” For a community which is still routinely fired, not hired and legally persecuted for coming out as trans (even legally so in states like New York) and for whom supposed legal protections actually supply relatively little hedge against unemployment once someone’s trans status is known, how can anyone possibly have a pretense they’re going to get positive responses?”

      this is a really valid point i think, and also i think speaks to the age issue and decreasing numbers of self-reported gay people as the age bracket gets higher and higher — gay people who lived through the time when being out was NOT an option, ever, are less likely to feel comfortable telling an anonymous person on the phone their sexual orientation. and for trans people, that time of dire-consequences-for-being-out is actually still NOW in most cases, and similarly i can’t imagine they’d feel comfortable saying so, as you said, at any age.

      • Riese, I think there are a large percentage of trans-spectrum people of ALL ages, young people included who, if they received a phone call from Gallup about this and thought there was anyone else in the house who might overhear, would NEVER admit to being transgender. You might ask Annika what she would have said 4 years ago if she were at home and someone called asking that question. I know I would have been freaked if someone asked me that before I transitioned and there are lots of young trans people who would be scared talking about it on the phone (even just replying ‘yes’ or ‘no’) while their parents, siblings or partner are in the vicinity. I see posts like that on TUMBLR every day.

        I’m not minimizing how hard it is coming out as a non-trans LGBQ person to come out, but I think you can ask anyone who previously came out as such and later had to come out as trans that they aren’t the same, either in difficulty nor potential danger on many different fronts. It just isn’t and having some stranger calling you up talking about it (with no real promise of confidentiality) is just absurd.

        • I can tell you as a trans person (if I’d have gotten past “this is a survey”) I would never have admitted it before I was out to my family. There are way too many things to lose and nothing to gain from talking about it before you are ready. I was almost completely self sufficient and in my last term of college when I told my parents, because I didn’t want to rely on them if it went bad.

  6. if 6.4% of 18-29 year olds identify as LGBT (and also it’s so weird that “T” is just thrown in there, gender identity and sexual orientation are two different studies, or two different questions, really), I feel like that’s the most telling statistic. i think in about 50 years studies like this will show 6.4% of all people are LGBT.

    • It’ll probably get higher, as these things become more acceptable… and then higher as it becomes ‘trendy’ and then a little lower again as it becomes just as normal and boring as being straight.

    • i know! it’s not like people are gayer now, it’s just that we’re more willing to admit it. I’m also willing to guess the fact that younger people are children of “the information age” and are used to personal information being public has to do with the age gap.

  7. Am I the only one who thinks that it’s more like 15% that are LGBT? (and not self identified on the phone, like actually or secretly or etc.). Also, how long does the “gay” acronym have to become before people wake up and realized that each letter in there represents something distinct that will bring different percentages when taken separately (like, if all people surveyed were honest, I’d suspect that the percentages of bisexual, even slightly bisexual, people would be wayyy higher).

    And if this 3.5% thing IS true, I still maintain that it only includes those people who are super super gay, like…6 or 6+ on the Kinsey scale AND comfortable enough to say so on the phone. Hell, i’m a raging lesbo but I don’t know if i would have said so if some random researcher called me up six years ago right before I came out. I hadn’t even admitted it to myself at that point, how would I have been able to tell a sociologist?

    If we were to look at the scale as a whole, (and all people were 100% honest on this survey, because really, I’m picturing some woman standing in front of her husband in the kitchen and trying to answer these questions or vice versa), I think you’d see the percentages go up as it moved toward the middle. Like 8% of people would be 90-10 (homo to hetero), 10% 80-20, 13% 70-30, etc.

    I’m not a statistician nor a mathematician, so I realize my percentages are flawed and probably way too high. But i can’t help but think that there are a LOT more closeted or semi-closeted or semi-bi and subconciously closeted people out there than we realize. just now, I looked at craigslist men seeking men for funsies and a huge chunk of the postings said “i’m straight but looking for a guy” etc etc. What about THOSE people? Where are they?

    oh sexuality. you’re so fun.

    • I definitely agree with you. There are a shit ton of people that either were at one point, or are currently not being honest with THEMSELVES about their sexual identity so much less some random phone survey. I honestly don’t think those numbers come close to being accurate what with all the other problems with how they actually carryout the surveying. Like who has a landline anymore?

  8. Do Gallup polls call cell phones? Right now, I have no landline, just my cell. And that’s pretty common, especially for people with shaky living situations (or communal ones, like dorms or shared apartments and whatnot).

    If the next census collected info about gender identity and sexual/romantic orientation (in a way that’s safe and not too narrowly categorized, of course), if they defined all the identity language *we* know but people like my grandparents and my super sheltered religious cousins don’t, right on that form, anonymous and on paper instead of cold over the phone–the data would be so, so different, and it would be amazing.

    • I was curious about the cell phone thing too and looked it up and apparently they gallup does call cell phones now and are aware that more young people and people in lower income brackets are less likely to have landlines. They’re still refining the way they do the cell phone thing but they are at least doing that and aware of the issues and stuff.

  9. My dad read a report on this survey and took the statistic of 8.4 women between ages 18-24 and a much smaller percentage of older women identifying as LGBT to sequay into ‘reminding’ me that I ‘may still change my mind’. Thanks, Dad.

  10. Isn’t it still legal to be fired in something like 32 states? I think it’s a miracle as many as 3.4% of people (on average) were willing to identify as LGBT to some random stranger over the phone!

    I’m out to pretty much every human, living in a fairly liberal city and a country with decent legal protection, and I would still refuse to answer that question.

    I just can’t accept that figure as meaningful at all. (Though the subsets of data like the 33% people of colour and the age rates are very interesting.)

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