Studies show through increased LGBT statistics that the LGBTQ community is getting bigger, fast.
How Much of the Population Identifies as LGBT?
The number of Americans identifying as LGBTQ is on the rise, and even more people are starting to wonder how much of the population is gay, lesbian, transgender, or queer. This is hardly surprising, considering the increase of gay and trans rights conversations in the media, and the increase in coverage rightly corresponds with more people coming out.
A Gallup study released earlier this year reports that nearly 10 million Americans identified somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum in 2016 — a whopping 1.75 million more than did in 2012. What’s more, millennials — people born between 1980 and 1998 — were more than twice as likely to say they belonged to the LGBT community. Although they account for only 32 percent of the adult population, millennials comprised 58 percent of the total number of self-identified LGBTQ Americans.
A recent GLAAD survey offers even more significant findings, indicating that nearly 12 percent of the entire population openly embraces identifying as LGBT, including 20 percent of all millennials worldwide.
While landmark events like the Supreme Court’s recognition of same sex marriage and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies in the military have undoubtedly had a major impact on these rapidly increasing numbers, let’s take a look at some of the other factors at play.
A Rise in LGBT Representation
Stigma surrounding identifying as LGBT has steadily lessened over the past decade, due in large part to increasing representation in mainstream media. As LGBTQ identities are seen and expressed more widely in ways that do not adhere to harmful stereotypes, people — particularly young people — are more likely to openly claim their true identity.
According to GLAAD, the 2016-17 television season boasted the highest-ever percentage of LGBTQ characters. Of the 895 regular characters appearing on primetime scripted broadcast programming, 43 (4.8 percent) were identified as LGBTQ, up from 4 percent during the 2015-16 season and an abysmal 1.1 percent during the 2008-09 season.
These onscreen characters can serve as powerful validation for viewers still coming into their sexual orientation and gender identity. What’s more, such gains across mainstream media have played an essential role in educating non-LGBTQ audiences about the diversity of gender identities, sexual orientations, and experiences in a non-threatening, elective, and largely depoliticized context.
As networks and streaming services continue to expand the scope of public discourse through diverse and representative programming, the number of individuals openly identifying as LGBTQ will continue to grow.
While gay men often take center stage in discussions and portrayals of LGBTQ culture in the media, the Gallup poll notably reported that 4.4% of women identified as LGBTQ in 2016 — compared to just 3.7% of men — and that more women have responded affirmatively to the poll since it was last conducted in 2012. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Gallup demographer Gary J. Gates said this had to do with more women self-identifying as bisexual and queer.
Overall, Gates found the LGBTQ community “has become larger, younger, more female and less religious.” He saw similar increases in LGBTQ presence for all income brackets, and slightly larger increases for racial and ethnic minorities when compared to white non-Hispanics.
This increase isn’t just referring to sexual orientation, as transgender and gender non-conforming Americans are also reported to have grown in presence and visibility. A recent study from The Williams Institute estimated there to be roughly 1.4 million trans adults in America today. This figure reflects an enormous change in state and federal data, nearly doubling estimates of trans adults in the U.S. made 5 years ago. Due in no small part to vocal celebrity figures like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Caitlyn Jenner, trans experiences and identities are more visible than ever.
Terminology Evolves, “Queer” Makes a Comeback
Terms like “lesbian” and “gay” are taking a backseat as monikers like “queer” rise in popularity to refer to non-heterosexual orientations and non-cisgender identities. Historically used as a pejorative referring to gay men, “queer” has been recently reclaimed as an inclusive umbrella term to encompass the growing LGBTQIA+ acronym. Though the term remains controversial to some, the current definition of “queer” is used to refer to anyone who isn’t cisgender or heterosexual.
In early 2016, the Huffington Post changed its dedicated LGBT vertical from Gay Voices to Queer Voices, explaining:
“We, like many others before us, have chosen to reclaim ‘queer.’ ‘Queer’ functions as an umbrella term that includes not only the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people of ‘LGBT,’ but also those whose identities fall in between, outside of or stretch beyond those categories, including genderqueer people, intersex people, asexual people, pansexual people, polyamorous people and those questioning their sexuality or gender, to name just a few.”
Despite ongoing debate as to whether there remains a better semantic alternative, the rise of the term “queer” reflects a growing understanding of both sexuality and gender as fluid concepts — concepts with which more people are comfortable identifying.
The Road Ahead for Those Identifying as LGBT
Growing numbers and increasing visibility stand to create a more affirming and empowering space for LGBTQ community members to connect, educate, and expand our cultural and political footprint. But despite such hopeful gains, there remains, as always, more work to be done. Discrimination toward LGBTQ individuals remains widespread, with sexual orientation motivating 17% of hate crimes. Individuals occupying multiple marginalized groups, like trans people of color, are especially at risk, and experience alarmingly high rates of homelessness, extreme poverty, and HIV.
In light of the Trump administration’s persistent attempts to eliminate hard-won protections for the LGBTQ community, efforts to increase visibility and invite discussion have never been more important. With recent losses in the fight for transgender-accommodating bathrooms in schools and the rollback of important healthcare protections for gender minorities, our LGBT community’s rights are at high risk. Tangible action must continue in order to ensure the health and safety of all LGBTQ people, eliminate remaining stigmas, and ensure access to essential and appropriate LGBT resources.
These efforts can and should come at every level — from government agencies to advocacy groups to individuals. We must continue to push for open dialogues, inclusive language and facilities, federal protections for marginalized groups, affordable and comprehensive healthcare for everyone, and attitudes of acceptance that cultivate an environment where every person can thrive.
Thankfully, we can now offer help with one of those things — improving healthcare availability and options for LGBTQ people. Use our LGBT health provider search to find the best gay, lesbian, and trans-friendly doctors who truly understand your health needs.