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Estimates of LGBT population, and what else matters

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By Adam Bink

An interesting piece from Gary Gates:

Nine million. That’s my estimate for how many Americans identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender — about 3.8% of the adult population. Clearly, for many LGBT people, that number is more than just a statistic.

A recent story in The Advocate citing the estimate prompted a response in the comments section from famed author and advocate Larry Kramer, who challenged my analysis, stating, “The question to me has always been why Gates … wants to punish us so.”

For the record, my study actually posited three estimates: 9 million adults self-identify as LGBT, 19 million (8%) report same-sex sexual encounters, and nearly 26 million (11%) acknowledge some same-sex attractions.  I argue that all three figures are components in accurately estimating the size of the LGBT population. Nevertheless, that 9 million figure unleashed powerful angst.

When the study was first published, prominent gay bloggers and their followers labeled me “irresponsible,” hailed one critique of my work as a “great takedown,” and even compared me to the Nazis. That’s quite a bit of emotion attached to a number, and it certainly constitutes the strongest reaction I have ever received to any of my publications.

The history of the LGBT community demonstrates just how important “the” number is. A figure of 10%, still often cited today, originated in an obscure passage about male same-sex experiences within a book by prominent sexologist Alfred Kinsey, who made no attempt to estimate the size of the LGBT population. Early LGBT activists latched on to this percentage: large enough to matter and small enough to not frighten a general public still threatened by the mere existence of LGBT people.

And they were right to do so. Countless LGBT people, myself included, derived comfort and strength when we looked at a room filled with a hundred people and thought, Wow, there are nine other people here like me. It also gained political traction, helping to change the perception of LGBT people as a fringe group of sexual deviants to a minority group subject to discrimination and worthy of legal protection.

LGBT Americans live in a very different world today than at the time of the Stonewall riots or in the early days of the HIV epidemic. Today, federal law prohibits hate crimes against LGBT people and the Supreme Court has declared sodomy laws unconstitutional. Same-sex couples can marry in Iowa, synonymous with America’s heartland, along with five other states and in the nation’s capital. LGB people will very soon be serving openly in the U.S. military. Houston has a lesbian mayor, and an openly gay man was recently confirmed by the Senate as a federal judge. As Larry Kramer and many LGBT activists still frequently point out, LGBT people are far from full equality in this country. But remarkable progress has been made.

That progress can be linked to the decision by millions of LGBT people to come out of the closet and live their lives openly. Today, surveys show Americans encounter LGBT people in virtually all parts of their lives. They are no longer some abstract “other” in the fabric of American society.

Today, the evidence suggests that Americans care little about how many LGBT people there are. After all, even at 9 million, the LGBT population would be larger than the individual populations of 40 states and comparable to the combined populations of Jews and Mormons in this country. If anything, Americans substantially overestimate the size of the LGBT populace. A recent Gallup poll found that the average American thinks that 25% of the population is LGBT.

While most Americans don’t appear to care much about the size of the LGBT population, they do, however, care about their lesbian aunt, their bisexual friend, and their transgender classmate. Knowing someone personally who is LGBT is one of the best predictors of general support and concern for LGBT people and causes.

Gates goes onto talk about the Census data. The point is that visibility and coming out matter a great deal, perhaps as much as the “estimates” themselves.

31 Comments

  • 1. Warner  |  September 4, 2011 at 9:31 am

    I find the number irrelevant in the sense that rights are rights, and it doesnt matter if it is 90 people, 9 million, or 90 million. We should win our fight because it is right, not because of how many people will gain equality. Equality cannot be won on a number that can only be an estimate, given the stimga that keeps so many people afriad to be themselves, thereby making any estimate irrelevant by the fact that we cannot make a solid estimate. I understand the impulse to have a number here, but it is not going to matter in the long run… at least in my opinion.

  • 2. socalliberal  |  September 4, 2011 at 11:18 am

    I agree with you that it doesn't matter how many we are. However, I think the practical reality is that our political support does depend on our presence and how large a community we are.

  • 3. John  |  September 4, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    Agree, the number is irrevelant.

    If there is only ONE black person…. is slavery okay ? Can we call him a nigger and laugh at him/her ?

    If there is only ONE jewish person….is the holocaust is justified – let's burn the kike ?

    If there is only ONE gay/lesbian person … is it okay to laugh at the faggot ?

  • 4. Dee  |  September 4, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    Your point is well taken, but IMHO it could be made without the language.

  • 5. Ann S.  |  September 4, 2011 at 10:34 am

    §

  • 6. Kathleen  |  September 4, 2011 at 10:36 am

    "…surveys show Americans encounter LGBT people in virtually all parts of their lives." reminded me of this video:

    U.S. Department of the Interior: It Gets Better
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOUPIGoVa5c

  • 7. Ann S.  |  September 4, 2011 at 11:23 am

    That was a very nice video! It made me so happy to see that all those people were very comfortable being out and participating in a government agency video.

  • 8. MichGuy  |  September 4, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    This video is from our government under the Obama administration. I can assure you that if a republican was in office as president they would not allow their administration to provide these types of helpful message to the community. I think we should give Obama some kudo points for allwoing the leaders in under his direct control to inspire gay americans as they have done in this movie. Thank you Obama for supporting us.

  • 9. MichGuy  |  September 4, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    I work for the federal government also and I would like it if our agency also did a video such as this. I would def sign up to participate!

  • 10. Kathleen  |  September 4, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Perhaps you can request this from the head of your agency?

  • 11. Ray in MA  |  September 4, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    One of the best IGB videos I've seen… REAL people.

    (I'm still here)

  • 12. Gregory in SLC  |  September 5, 2011 at 5:48 am

    Hi Ray : D ! I love this video! (Thanks Kathleen for posting!)

  • 13. socalliberal  |  September 4, 2011 at 11:16 am

    These are all fair points. But I think that the reason why there is a great angst over the numbers as they are reported is that small numbers are often used by right wingers to minimize us and our struggle for equality. I share that angst to a great extent (though I think you make good points to relieve that angst). If the average American believes 25% of the population is gay, that's a good thing. It may explain why support for sexual orientation equality has grown. If the average American believed we only comprised 3.8% of the population, I think that attitudes might not be what they currently are.

  • 14. Ronnie  |  September 4, 2011 at 11:41 am

    "That progress can be linked to the decision by millions of LGBT people to come out of the closet and live their lives openly. Today, surveys show Americans encounter LGBT people in virtually all parts of their lives. They are no longer some abstract “other” in the fabric of American society."

    (me) LOVE IT!!!!!… subscribing & sharing…….. Actor, singer, songwriter, & dancer Leon Thomas from Nickelodeon's "Victorious" joins the "Straight But Not Narrow" campaign……… <3…Ronnie:
    [youtube WgXI4POun-E&feature=feedu http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgXI4POun-E&feature=feedu youtube]

  • 15. Sagesse  |  September 4, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Gates's estimate is 9 million LGBT adults. I don't have the exact figures in front of me, but I recently did the calculation of how many LGBT Americans there are under the age of 18, and it was an additional 2.3 million. To discriminate against them at the ballot box is, in a sense, more offensive, because they don't yet have a vote, and may or may not have asked themselves who they are, let alone come to a conclusion.

  • 16. Sagesse  |  September 4, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Minnesota Gay Marriage Opponents Secure Booth At State Fair
    http://www.ontopmag.com/article.aspx?id=9402&amp;…

  • 17. Gregory in SLC  |  September 5, 2011 at 6:19 am

    love the glittering of the Minnesota State Fair booth that Ronnie posted below!

  • 18. Sagesse  |  September 4, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Keith Ablow's views are truly obnoxious.

    Chaz Bono On DWTS Might Cause Kids To Wish They Were Amputees, Keith Ablow Says
    http://www.ontopmag.com/article.aspx?id=9404&amp;…

  • 19. Gregory in SLC  |  September 5, 2011 at 8:29 am

    I think I'll make it a point to record/watch/support DWTS this season!

  • 20. Sagesse  |  September 4, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    This article links to video of the LCR appeal hearing. The audio was posted here earlier. Haven't watched it yet, but it was difficult to tell who was speaking in the audio recording. I think this will be another example where the facial expressions and body language add to understanding.

    Ninth Circuit Hears Log Cabin Arguments, Considers Whether DADT Repeal Ends Case
    http://www.metroweekly.com/poliglot/2011/09/on-th

  • 21. Sagesse  |  September 4, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Christian Consultant Fired by Bank of America Over Gay Marriage Book
    http://www.christianpost.com/news/christian-consu

  • 22. Sagesse  |  September 4, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Fairgoers give support to same-sex marriage
    http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2011/09/fa

    "Stonewall also collected signatures on petitions for a new battle: to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which recognizes only opposite-sex mariage for federal purposes."

  • 23. Sagesse  |  September 4, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    NOM’s Idea Of “Excellent” Analysis: Calling Homosexuality An “Addictive,” “Learned” Behavior
    http://equalitymatters.org/blog/201109010010

    NOM’s Month Of Anti-LGBT Misinformation: August, 2011
    http://equalitymatters.org/blog/201109010002

  • 24. MichGuy  |  September 4, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    News Story about Gays marrying Lesbians
    http://news.yahoo.com/israeli-rabbi-pairs-gays-le

  • 25. Ronnie  |  September 4, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    "Glitter Rains Down on Anti-Gay Booth at MN State Fair" (video)……. ROFLMGAO…… SPARKLE!!!… SPARKLE!!!!…… <3…Ronnie:
    [youtube FCcuIgl9qUk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCcuIgl9qUk youtube]

  • 26. Jacob Woods  |  September 5, 2011 at 4:14 am

    "Knowing someone personally who is LGBT is one of the best predictors of general support and concern for LGBT people and causes." – this right here is exactly why gays and lesbians should come out. Even if there is a little stigma, it couldn't hurt to come out. Great work, very informative piece you have here!

  • 27. Sagesse  |  September 5, 2011 at 5:22 am

    Discharged for Being Gay, Veterans Seek to Re-enlist
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/05/us/05reenlist.h

  • 28. Gregory in SLC  |  September 5, 2011 at 8:45 am

    I'll do it (vote)! If Donnie Osmond can win…and Marie almost.. (both part of a minority group) why not chaz! After all, were talking about the son of Cher ; ) !

  • 29. LCH  |  September 5, 2011 at 11:15 am

    ♀♀=♂♂=♀♂=∑♡

  • 30. Lodrelhai  |  September 6, 2011 at 4:04 am

    Sorry to say, Jacob, but coming out CAN hurt.

    My father, who is the more tolerant of my parents, has told me time and again he hates gays. Can’t stand them. But he believes there is no legal or social reason for them not to marry, so he’s voted in favor of it at the polls.

    My mom thinks that not only is gays marrying an abomination, allowing anyone but a Christian pastor to perform a marriage should also be illegal. I’ve tried discussing gay rights with her, but it inevitably dissolves into her screaming about how it’s wrong and evil and she’ll never support it. This despite her very much carrying for and about her cousin, who is gay and lost his life partner a couple years ago to cancer. She honestly believes her cousin did not deserve to marry the man he loved, and does not deserve any of the survivor’s benefits he would’ve been eligible for if he’d married a woman.

    As I’m currently disabled and dependent on my parents, I don’t dare come out to them unless I’m physically and financially capable of moving out. I don’t think they’d kick me out, but I know for sure that my mom would call her prayer circle, and they’d be on me in an instant with unwanted counseling and prayer sessions, trying to save me from a demon of deception and perversion. It happened when I became interested in the New Age movement as a teen, and didn’t stop until I renounced it and was safely back in the fold.

    All that said, I actually have it pretty good. My father is a wonderful man, and my mom very loving, if very set in her ways. So maybe I’m a coward because I’m not willing to risk my relationship with them over this truth about myself. But if I, with the otherwise-understanding parents I have, am afraid to come out to them for fear of the religious retribution that’d come my way, I can easily believe there are others who’d face much worse coming out to their loved ones.

  • 31. Sara  |  April 10, 2014 at 5:19 am

    Good post made here. One thing I’d like to say is the fact that most professional felids consider the Bachelors Degree as the entry level requirement for an online diploma. Although Associate College diplomas are a great way to get started, completing a person’s Bachelors reveals many entrances to various professions, there are numerous internet Bachelor Course Programs available via institutions like The University of Phoenix, Intercontinental University Online and Kaplan. Another concern is that many brick and mortar institutions provide Online types of their qualifications but typically for a drastically higher amount of money than the organizations that specialize in online diploma programs.

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