March 12, 2014

How Many Americans Are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, And Transgender?

With more and more data on sexual orientation in the United States, Kinsey's 10% figure has been challenged, and smaller percentages have been offered.

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Census 2010 Inclusion of Same-Sex Couples

Census 2010 Inclusion of Same-Sex Couples

One of the primary questions researchers have sought to answer since the beginning of research on homosexuality and bisexuality is how many people are lesbian, gay, and bisexual.  Dr. Alfred Kinsey and his team of researchers offered one of the first estimates in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  (You can see more here.)  With more and more available data on sexual orientation in the United States, Kinsey’s 10% figure has been challenged, and smaller percentages have been offered.  Researchers have had an even more difficult time determining how many people are transgender and gender non-conforming.

So, How Many People Are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, And Transgender?

Increasingly researchers and research centers (e.g., UCLA’s Williams Institute) have collected data using samples that are representative of the entire country, looking specifically at sexual orientation and gender identity.  Looking across several large, nationally representative surveys, The Williams Institute noted that approximately 3.8% of the US population identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.  That translates into about 9 million Americans, which is approximately the size of population of New Jersey.  Interestingly, while slightly less than 10% of adults reported engaging in same-sex sexuality in the The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, conducted by Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion, the majority of these individuals do not identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual; rather, the majority of these people identify as heterosexual.

And, Why Does It Matter?

Knowing how many people report being attracted to people of the same gender, who engage in same-gender sexuality, and who identify as LGBT is not simply a matter of interest to demographers.  Other researchers and research centers (e.g., the Fenway Institute) rely on such information to better understand how health varies by sexual identity, sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and gender identity.  For example, compiling data from several sources, the Institute of Medicine released a report earlier this year that documents the many ways in which sexual and gender minorities (i.e., LGBT people) experience worse physical, mental, and sexual health than heterosexuals and cisgender (i.e., non-transgender) people.  Researchers have also been able to better assess how prevalent experiences of discrimination and violence are against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, as well as transgender and gender non-conforming people.

As researchers collect more data that considers Americans’ sexual identity (and behavior and attraction) and gender identity and expression, we will continue to better understand how these aspects of individuals lives matter for health, discrimination, voting and political attitudes, marriage and family, work and employment, religion, and other important parts of society.