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Why The Total Number Of Gay People In The World Can't Be Counted

How Many Gay People Are There?

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Why The Total Number Of Gay People In The World Can't Be Counted
© Glen Allison/Getty
The number of lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons in the U.S. is subjective and GLB population studies are estimates at best. The most widely accepted statistic is the 1 in 10 convention (for every ten people, one is gay); however research shows that the number may be more like 1 in 20. Nonetheless, The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, a sexual orientation law and public policy think tank, estimates that the total number of GLB persons in the U.S. is near 8.8 million, based on the 2005/2006 American Community Survey, an extension of the U.S. Census.

So, why can't the actual number of GLB people be counted?
There are a number of factors that contribute to cloudy GLB population statistics:
  • First, how does one define gay, lesbian or bisexual? Different studies define GLB people in different ways and researchers have yet to agree on a common definition. Is being gay a behavior? Does an attraction make one gay? Or, is being gay an identity?

  • Secondly, only those willing to identify can be counted. Not all GLB people identify as such and not all GLB persons are willing to admit their sexual identity, attraction or behavior on paper. Information gathered on surveys is only as accurate as the information given and the way the survey is conducted (see first bullet).

  • Third, since same-sex couples are not recognized under DOMA, government agencies such as the Census Bureau can not explicitly ask citizens if they reside in same-sex headed households. As a result, census data will only count same-sex couples as "unmarried partners."
What do the experts say?
When asked about GLB population statistics, Gary J. Gates, a Senior Research Fellow at The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, says:

"That's the single question that I'm asked the most. The answer is unfortunately not simple. I'll respond with a question. What do you mean when you use the word 'gay'? If you mean people who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual in a survey, then the answer is that it's likely not one in ten, but closer to one in twenty. A recent government survey found that 4 percent of adults aged 18-45 identified as 'homosexual' or 'bisexual.' A similar proportion of voters identify as GLB. If you define gay as having same-sex attractions or behaviors, you do get higher proportions that are a bit closer to the one in ten figure." Read more of my interview with Gary Gates.

The Measurement of Same-Sex Unmarried Partner Couples in the 2000 U.S. Census gives greater insight into unclear GLB population statistics.
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