Counting gays

Gary Gates writes:

In a recent study, the author of this article estimated that the self- identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community makes up 3.8 percent of the American population. The author’s 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, the author 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, the Author 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.

No graphs, but lots of discussions of statistical measurement.

7 thoughts on “Counting gays

  1. “In either case, how might we measure the closet? In essence, we are attempting to measure a population that, by definition, does not
    want to be measured.” <– great line!

    Speaking as an LGBT person, the importance of drawing bright, clear lines around things like sexual identity and gender identity fades a bit once you accept yourself/are accepted by others as you are, but is very important in a process leading up to that point… or maybe young people, demographers and skeptics just need these things to be stated unambiguously before they will believe, XD.

    Funnily enough, cultures like Thailand, Iran, South Korea which are relatively less accepting of lifetime same-sex behavior can also be more accepting of lifetime non-conforming gender behavior. So these things are obviously culturally constructed…

  2. Pew Research shoewd the total LGBT population in America at 1.4 percent…and they are the experts. And how can you estimate the “closet”? How would you know if your estimate is high or low? We should deal in real numbers…estimates are just that and are of no value.

    • Huh? Gary Gates is an expert too. All these numbers are estimates. The thing to do is to be transparent about where the estimates come from. Then if different estimates disagree, it should be possible to understand where these differences are coming from.

  3. Pingback: Making up statistics for good causes | Ceteris Non Paribus

  4. ” All these numbers are estimates ”


    … and what are the margins-of-error in these estimates ?

    There are good estimates and bad estimates.

    Ya gotta know something about how the estimate was made.

  5. I have a few questions about the way he arrived at 3.8%

    It seems to me that he estimated that 3.5% of the population is LGB and .3% of the population is transgender, then by adding those together he got that 3.8% of the population is LGBT. It is unclear whether he tried to estimate the proportion of transgender people who are also LGB and then took that into account in the estimate of 3.8%, or if he assumed (falsely) that these are disjoint groups.

    Secondly, I was also wondering if he arrived at 3.8% from a weighted average of the data from the 11 surveys. I can imagine that some of the surveys had attributes that made them seem more reliable (large sample size, higher response rate, and so on), but it is not clear if weighting was used.

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