(So where are the rest of us?)
by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
A new Gallup survey released October 18 reports that 3.4% of Americans identify as LGBT. According to the pollsters, this was 'the largest single study of the American LGBT population on record.'
Gallup conducted 121,290 phone interviews between June 1 and September 30, asking the question, 'Do you, personally, identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender?'
The 3.4% claiming to be LGBT is similar to a 3.8% estimate based on averaging a group of smaller studies done in the period 2004-08, but it is substantially less than the 'one-in-ten' often cited as an estimate of the LGBT population. So it makes sense to ask, 'Where are the rest of us?'
The answer is complicated by the fact that sexual orientation is not a protected class, at least not in federal law, as race and sex are. As a result, the U.S. Census Bureau is not mandated to count LGBT people as a category, nor do all schools or employers apply affirmative action rules to sexual orientation. As a result, no accurate numbers exist for LGBT Americans as they do for the number of women, African Americans, and Hispanics.
The other complication is the fact that the 10% number comes from Alfred Kinsey's 1948 report, Sexuality in the Human Male, in which Kinsey reported that 10% of men in his study reported having had at least one same-sex sexual experience. Kinsey envisioned sexuality across a continuum - from exclusively same-sex partners to exclusively opposite-sex partners - and not as a specific identity, in the way we now speak of 'being' Gay or Lesbian.
STIGMA PREVENTS ACCURACY
Still another complication comes from the methodology of the poll itself, since the assumption underlying the telephone poll is that respondents will be candid with random strangers asking about their sexual orientation. While this may be true for some LGBT people living in cosmopolitan cities, it is questionable for those living in less LGBT-friendly environments, as Gallup admits.
'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,' the pollsters said.
'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.'
Presumably straight Americans are not 'in the closet' about being straight, and would respond candidly to Gallup's questions about their sexuality. On the other hand, even if LGBT people are out to friends and family, they might be reluctant to be out to a disembodied voice on the phone.
So we might expect a relatively large proportion of LGBT respondents not to answer Gallup's question about their sexual orientation. In fact, more people refused to answer the question, or said they 'didn't know' their sexual orientation, than said they were LGBT.
Gallup reported that 3.4% of their respondents said they identify as LGBT, while 4.4% either refused to respond or 'didn't know.' Adding these figures, we get 7.8% who do not claim to be straight, a number closer to the 10% figure that can be extrapolated from the Kinsey study.
AGE ALSO A VARIABLE
More evidence that Gallup's results are skewed by respondents' reluctance to be candid about sexual orientation comes from the survey's age bracket crosstabs.
Respondents aged 18 to 29 are more than three times as likely as seniors aged 65 and older to identify as LGBT. Some 6.4% of the youngest respondents said they were LGBT, as compared to only 1.9% of the oldest respondents. For other age brackets, self-identification as LGBT declines with age - 3.2% of 30-to-40-year-olds, and 2.6% of those aged 50 to 64 said they are LGBT.
Among the oldest age group, 6.5% refused to answer the question or said they 'didn't know' their sexual orientation, while among the youngest group, only 3.5% refused to answer or 'didn't know.'
If the Gallup survey were actually measuring sexual orientation, as opposed to willingness to discuss sexual orientation, we would expect LGBT identity to be evenly distributed across age brackets. What Gallup is reporting is that younger LGBT people are more comfortable discussing their sexual orientation with strangers.
Interestingly enough, among the youngest respondents, the number who did not claim to be straight adds up to 9.9% - a number that corresponds almost exactly to estimates based on Kinsey's study.
The full Gallup survey results, including fascinating data on LGBT income levels and an apparent 'gender gap' in LGBT self-identification, can be found at www.gallup.com/poll/158066/special-report-adults-identify-lgbt.aspx.
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