Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Gay in the USA: Williams Institute report

The 10 year old Williams Institute, established at UCLA, addresses issues related to LGBT Americans with sober, fact-based research.

You know, the kind of thing that can stand up to cross-examination.

Their most recent report (PDF) is a snapshot of who is gay in the USA.
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.
Being a scientist, I like data and facts.

It used to be that we thought 10% of Americans were gay. Now we know better. It's best for our side to have sober, careful and well researched information.

But there are still some problems with this. As the blog at Equality Matters noted,
There are a number of important qualifiers about the study that were not always apparent in the press coverage it received.

The report was merely an analysis of admittedly insufficient existing polling and survey information from 2004-2009. The reports author, Gary J. Gates of the Williams Institute, took an average. As such, it was really just an “educated guess” (my words) based on the available information (which included one survey indicating gays, lesbians, and bisexuals made up 5.6 percent of the population).

Moreover, it only included adults who were comfortable enough with their sexual identity and the circumstances under which the surveys were conducted to self identify.

The political blogger John Aravosis of AmericaBlog, in a post he called "8m US adults willing to tell a stranger they are gay (LGB)," says “there is no way you're going to get anywhere near 100% of gay people admitting they're gay, period. I wonder if you get more than 50%. Married gays, forget it. Dating a girl, forget it. Closeted, forget it. People afraid for their jobs, forget it. Work for the military, forget it. Older gays, less likely. Living in a scary state, or small town, more likely not to admit it.”

Finally, the survey did not include people who had had sexual contact with persons of the same sex or people who had same-sex attraction (but who in each case didn’t self identify as gay or bisexual). Interestingly, the inclusion of these groups would have substantially raised the averages.
Umm, this last complaint is plainly wrong, as the executive summary specifically says 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.

Remember, this wasn't a survey. It was a meta-analysis (a survey of surveys) and the primary data in the report, linked above, make fascinating reading.

We may still be undercounted. But the Williams Institute (which just merged with the Palm Center) is on the way to get there.

Happy Birthday, WIlliams Institute! Thanks for all you do.

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