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New Gallup Poll on LGBT population

October 18, 2012

The Task Force has been working to improve LGBT data collection through our Queer the Census campaign.

Gallup today released the results of a new polling question, “Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender?” This study asked over 121,000 respondents this very important question. Asking this question is important for two reasons. First, because data collection on the LGBT community has been woefully lacking. Second, through this question, we gain new insight into the LGBT experience in this county.

What did we learn? According to this poll:

  • 3.4% of respondents identified as LGBT. This is a similar estimate to other surveys.
  • Nonwhite respondents were more likely to identify as LGBT.
  • Women were more likely to identify as LGBT (3.6% vs. 3.3%)
  • Younger respondents are twice as likely to identify as LGBT than their older counterparts.
  • 13% of individuals in a domestic partnership, or living with a partner identify as LGBT.
  • LGBT respondents are more likely to have lower educational attainment and income than those who aren’t LGBT.
  • 7% of single, never-married people identified as LGBT.
  • LGBT-identified women are just as likely to be raising children as their non-LGBT counterparts.
  • LGBT people are more likely to live on the East and West Coast compared to other regions in the country.

Gallup should be applauded not only for asking an LGBT question, but also for not doing reflexively what so many other pollsters have done, which is to ask only about sexual orientation or identity as lesbian, gay or bisexual, citing a their belief that transgender people are just a small population. (According to Gates’ previous analysis, transgender people make up approximately .3% of the population, an estimate only able to exist because some have been willing to ask if respondents about transgender identity on general population surveys.)

By nature of the question, Gallup did not differentiate between LGB populations and T populations. Unfortunately, by conflating these four identities, we lose the ability to do a critical analysis of the data that include all members of our population. However, when there is room for “only one question” on a poll, having a combined LGBT question is so much better than just an LGB/sexual orientation question. As we said above, this is an incredibly important piece of data – and we are tremendously glad that Gallup took it on.

Gallup acknowledged this by saying:

Gallup chose the broad measure of personal identification as LGBT because this grouping of four statuses is commonly used in current American discourse, and as a result has important cultural and political significance. One obvious limitation of this approach is that it is not possible to separately consider differences among lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, or transgender individuals. A second limitation is that this approach measures broad self-identity, and does not measure sexual or other behavior, either past or present.

We know that transgender individuals have a remarkably different experience than their LGB counterparts. We also know that sometimes laws and policy affect transgender folks differently than they affect LGB people. Our laws aren’t conflating LGBT people when offering nondiscrimination protections; the transgender community have been routinely excluded from these protections for a long time. In order to have truly equitable and sound research to support equitable sound policy and laws, we have to ask the right questions to get the right answers.

We thank Gallup, in the private sector, for asking this question and look forward to the day when large governmental surveys ask LGBT identity questions, so that not only will we have an estimate of the size and basic demographics of the LGBT population, but we will have that data connected to health outcomes, labor and income measures, housing access, etc., separated by LGB and Transgender identities.

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