LGBT Identity: A Demographer’s Perspective

By Gary J. Gates
June 2012

In a recent study, Gates estimated that the self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community makes up 3.8 percent of the American population. The estimate was far lower than many scholars and activists had contended, and it included a relatively high proportion of persons self-identifying as bisexuals. This article responds to two of the central criticisms that arose in the controversy that followed.

First, in response to claims that his estimate did not account for people who are in the closet, Gates describes how demographers might measure the size of the closet. Second, in response to those who either ignored the reported large incidence of bisexuality or misconstrued the meaning of that incidence, Gates considers how varying frameworks for conceptualizing sexual orientation might alter the ratio of lesbian or gay individuals to bisexuals.

This article goes on to offer observations about the challenges and implications that are associated with the varying estimates of the size of the LGBT population. And it concludes by arguing that, today, the size of the LGBT community is less important than understanding the struggles of its members and informing crucial policy debates with facts rather than stereotype and anecdote.

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*Article published in the Loyola Law Review –┬áSymposium: LGBT Identity and the Law (Spring 2012)