August 6, 2014 at 4:27 pm EST | by Peter Rosenstein
How many of us are there?
how many gays, gay news, Washington Blade

Less than 3 percent of the population identifies as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Many think that this number is much too low and that the LGBT community was under-counted.

Once again, the release of a new federal survey has stirred debate about how many gays and lesbians there are in the United States. Many believe that for political reasons it is important to know what percentage of the population we make up. In the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) the answer is less than 3 percent of the population identifies as gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Many think that this number is much too low and that the LGBT community was under-counted. It shouldn’t matter, yet the reality is that it would be better for us if we could say that five or 10 percent of the population is gay or lesbian.

As we achieve success in our fight for civil and human rights, gays and lesbians are assimilating very quickly into the broader community and are getting married, having children, and worrying about christenings, a bris, getting kids into the best pre-school, confirmations and bar and bat mitzvahs. What happened to the good old days when a gay guy could move to the Castro in San Francisco, Greenwich Village or Chelsea in New York, or Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. and enjoy life without family pressure to get married and have kids? But then as far back as 2007 the New York Times published an article with the title “Gay Enclaves Face the Prospect of Being Passé.”

Numbers do count in politics and whatever the true numbers are we have made a statement for our community that would seem to come from more than three percent. Our clout also comes from the resonance of what Shane Snowdon, director of the health and aging program for the Human Rights Campaign is quoted as saying in Sandhya Somashekhar’s column in the Washington Post, “There’s a saying within the Beltway that ‘you don’t count if you’re not counted,’ and I really contest that. We would deserve protection if our numbers were a fraction of what they are in the NHIS.”

In the same column Jeff Johnston, issues analyst with Focus on the Family, a Christian nonprofit that opposes gay rights said, “What’s interesting is comparing that number with public perception. The average person thinks the percentage is much higher, probably because of the high profile that entertainment, news media and other influential sources have given homosexuality in recent years.”

Well that may be true and it is possible we are represented in higher numbers in those communities or they just are more passionate about securing civil and human rights for all people. Somashekhar writes, “There are broad misconceptions about the numbers, however. Many Americans believe the proportion of U.S. gays to be 1 in 10 — a false figure promoted in the 1960s, drawn from a book by sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. The polling organization Gallup has found that a majority of Americans actually believe the proportion is even higher, closer to 25 percent.” My own thought on that last figure is it may come from interviews with single straight women in D.C. about what their experience has been in finding a decent, single straight man to date.

In all seriousness, the numbers do count for many reasons. They include training doctors to deal with issues particular to gays and lesbians and having a builder determine whether it is a wise business decision to build senior housing specifically for the LGBT community. In addition, understanding that when we teach our children about diversity in our communities issues related to the LGBT community should be included in those lessons. And explaining to legislators why it is crucial to pass legislation to protect the LGBT community from discrimination in jobs and housing among other areas.

Whatever our numbers, we are children of God like everyone else. We need to continue the fight until we have all of our civil and human rights guaranteed by law and are accepted in the culture of every community.

  • Pogovio

    It’s impossible to get statistically valid answers to sensitive questions by asking the question directly. But there is a much better survey method, called “veiled reporting”. A respondent is given a list of 4 or 5 yes/no questions and asked how many they answer “yes”. One question in the list will be a sensitive question, and the others will be innocuous questions whose statistics are already known. (Google “veiled question survey method”.)

    With this method, it’s impossible to know any given respondent’s answer to the sensitive question, but in a large sample it’s possible to calculate statistically what percentage counted a “yes” for the question.

    In a study reported by Pew Research, the percentage of men who say they’re not heterosexual almost doubled (1.9) when the veiled method was used. For women, the ratio was 1.4. The percentage expressing anti-gay attitudes also rose significantly with the veiled method.

    The purpose of the study was to compare the veiled method with the direct method; it did not claim to determine true national percentages, because the sampling method probably skewed toward a younger and more educated population.

    There is still reason to believe that 10% gay is as close to the truth as 4%.

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