Survey: 3.4 Percent of Americans Identify as LGBT

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 19 2012 1:27 PM

How Many Americans Self-Identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender?

A new Gallup poll estimates that 3.4 percent of Americans are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

Photo by Prakesh Mathema/AFP/Getty Images.

There's a lot of variation when it comes to estimates of how many Americans self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, but a survey out this week from Gallup thinks it has the best answer yet: 3.4 percent.

The survey is based off of interviews with 121,000 people, which according to the pollsters makes it the biggest of its kind. The 3.4-percent firgure will seem low to many: As the Atlantic explained earlier this year, Americans tend to greatly overestimate the percentage of gay Americans, and it's not entirely clear-cut as to why:

On the one hand, people who overestimate the percent of gay Americans by a factor of 12 seem likely to also wildly overestimate the cultural impact of same-sex marriage. On the other hand, the extraordinary confusion over the percentage of gay people may reflect a triumph of the gay and lesbian movement's decades-long fight against invisibility and the closet.

The percentage misperception could also have something to do with the source of the 1-in-10 number that's been a popular citation for years. As the Atlantic notes, that number comes from Alfred Kinsey's 1948 report, "Sexuality in the Human Male," which was based on experience and notions of tendency, rather than the Gallup survey's use of identity as the central factor used to quantify the LGBT population. This shift also reflects a change in the language used to discuss such issues over time.

But the overall percentage isn't really the interesting part of the study, which also looks at the demographic breakdown of that percentage. Some of the most interesting tidbits:

  • First, non-white Americans are more likely to identify as LGBT than white Americans are: 4.6 percent of African-Americans identify as LGBT, as do 4.0 percent of Hispanics and 4.3 percent of Asians. By comparison, 3.2 percent of white Americans identified as LGBT.
  • Second, there was a pretty big generational gap. 6.4 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 identified themselves as LGBT, and the percentage sharply declined from there. Self-identified LGBT Americans include 3.2 percent of Americans aged 30-49, 2.6 percent of those between 50 and 64, and just 1.9 percent of those over 65.
  • Third, LGBT identification was highest among those with lower levels of income and education, with percentages slightly higher among those with a high school diploma or some college but no degree than among those with a college or postgraduate degree. And just over 5 percent of Americans who make less than $24,000 a year are LGBT, with numbers a couple ticks lower for higher income groups.

Finally, its worth noting that the Gallup poll, like other surveys attempting to document and quantify groups subject to some sort of social stigma, faced some challenges in getting accurate answers. As they explain:

"Measuring sexual orientation and gender identity can be challenging since these concepts involve complex social and cultural patterns. As a group still subject to social stigma, many of those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender may not be forthcoming about this identity when asked about it in a survey. Therefore, it's likely that some Americans in what is commonly referred to as "the closet" would not be included in the estimates derived from the Gallup interviews. Thus, the 3.4% estimate can best be represented as adult Americans who publicly identify themselves as part of the LGBT community when asked in a survey context."

Check out the full survey results over at Gallup.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.



The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers


Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.