by Gary J. Gates, Williams Distinguished Scholar
Williams Institute – UCLA School of Law
Increasing numbers of population-based surveys in the United States and across the world include questions that allow for an estimate of the size of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) population. This research brief discusses challenges associated with collecting better information about the LGBT community and reviews eleven recent US and international surveys that ask sexual orientation or gender identity questions.
The brief concludes with estimates of the size of the LGBT population in the United States.
Key findings from the research brief are as follows:
An estimated 3.5% of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay,or bisexual and an estimated 0.3% of adults are transgender.
This implies that there are approximately 9 million LGBT Americans, a figure roughly equivalent to the population of New Jersey.
Among adults who identify as LGB, bisexuals comprise a slight majority (1.8% compared to 1.7% who identify as lesbian or gay).
Women are substantially more likely than men to identify as bisexual. Bisexuals comprise more than half of the lesbian and bisexual population among women in eight of the nine surveys considered in the brief. Conversely, gay men comprise substantially more than half of gay and bisexual men in seven of the nine surveys.
Estimates of those who report any lifetime same-sex sexual behavior and any same-sex sexual attraction are substantially higher than estimates of those who identify as LGB. An estimated 19 million Americans (8.2%) report that they have engaged in same-sex sexual behavior and nearly 25.6 million Americans (11%) acknowledge at least some same-sex sexual attraction.
Understanding the size of the LGBT population is a critical first step to informing a host of public policy and research topics. The surveys highlighted in this report demonstrate the viability of sexual orientation and gender identity questions on large national population-based surveys. Adding these questions to more national, state, and local data sources is critical to developing research that enables a better understanding of the understudied LGBT community
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Federal data sources designed to provide population estimates in the United States (e.g., the Decennial Census or the American Community Survey) do not include direct questions regarding sexual orientation or gender identity. The findings shown in Figure 1 suggest that no single survey offers a definitive estimate for the size of the LGBT community in the United States.
However, combining information from the population-based surveys considered in this brief offers a mechanism to produce credible estimates for the size of the LGBT community. Specifically, estimates for sexual orientation identity will be derived by averaging results from the five US surveys identified in Figure 1.
Separate averages are calculated for lesbian and bisexual women along with gay and bisexual men. An estimate for the transgender population is derived by averaging the findings from the Massachusetts and California surveys cited earlier.
It should be noted that some transgender individuals may identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. So it is not possible to make a precise combined LGBT estimate. Instead, Figure 5 presents separate estimates for the number of LGB adults and the number of transgender adults.
The analyses suggest that there are more than 8 million adults in the US who are LGB, comprising 3.5% of the adult population. This is split nearly evenly between lesbian/gay and bisexual identified individuals, 1.7% and 1.8%, respectively. There are also nearly 700,000 transgender individuals in the US. Given these findings, it seems reasonable to assert that approximately 9 million Americans identify as LGBT.