Uh, about that 10 percent. For as long as I can remember, the gay movement proudly proclaimed that we’re 10 percent of the population. Ten was a nice round number, easy to work with, looked good on protest signage, and was—it turns out—totally wrong.
I don’t know how the ten percent thing got started. It was probably Alfred Kinsey or Liam Neeson.
Here’s what I think happened. An early gay or lesbian pioneer, say Frank Kameney or Barbara Gittings, was being interviewed, and was asked yet again some version of the snarky, “So what is the population of this so-called gay community?” They were probably tired from working full-time jobs by day and doing organizing by night, so Barbara or Frank looked the hostile reporter right in the eye and answered authoritatively, “The gay population is 10 population of the general population.” The figure stuck. And it was great branding.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender movement has come a long way since Barbara Gittings’s Daughters of Bilitis, and Frank Kameney’s Mattachine Society. We have wonderful sociologists, historians, statisticians, and endowed institutes dedicated to producing high-quality LGBT research. A recent study from the Williams Institute estimates that the percentage of adults in the United States who identify as L, G, or B is 3.5 percent. The percentage who identify as Transgender is 0.3 percent. That brings our combined LGBT total to 3.8 percent or 9 million LGBT Americans, roughly equivalent to the population of New Jersey. But don’t tell Governor Chris Christie. He’ll refuse more federal funds.
As you might imagine with such a downgrade the traditional family values folks are having a non-stop gloat fest. The exodus ex-gay movement is claiming full responsibility. Jerry Falwell might even come back!
Many LGBT critics complain that the new figures play into the hands of the fundamentalists, ignoring the fact that everything does: natural disasters, high school proms, bathrooms.
The Williams Institute survey shows two of the challenges of getting accurate LGBT numbers. First is the disheartening, intransigent power of the closet. Still. After four decades, LGBT people fear coming out. A recent Michigan LGBT survey found that 20 percent of LGBT people describe themselves as fully out of the closet, while 80 percent say they aren’t. In another survey of employees in corporations with nondiscrimination clauses, only 49 percent of LGBT workers say they are out in their workplace.
Second, the study shows the enormous challenge of collecting LGBT data. Scholars analyzing 2010 Census household numbers are forced to use torturous algorithmic deductions to kinda sorta guestimate LGBT numbers. For meaningful public policy and future population studies, state surveys and the 2020 Census must include clear sexual orientation and gender identity questions.
My galpal reassures me that the 3.8 percent figure may be low. Two other findings of the Williams’s study suggest she’s right, as usual. “An estimated 19 million Americans (8.2 percent) report they have engaged in same-sex sexual behavior and nearly 25.6 million Americans (11 percent) acknowledge at least some same-sexual attraction,” the report finds. According to my activist abacus, that’s forty-four million Americans.
LGBT strategists like to go on about “winning hearts and minds” campaigns for equality, despite the fact that our fiercest enemies generally have neither. Perhaps we need to rethink the H&M strategy and aim for the 19.2 percent moveable middle or the organs just below it where a whole lot of same-sex action and attraction has been reported. With that 19.2 percent and our 3.8 percent we would have a 23 percent voting block. An LGBT [and thee] Party.