Do Gay People Count?

No one knows how many LGBT Americans there are. You've surely heard the one in ten estimate, derived from Alfred Kinsey's groundbreaking studies; he claimed, based on research from a study of male prisoners, that one in ten men were "exclusively homosexual" for about three years of their lives. That's hardly generalizable to the idea that one in ten of us land somewhere to the right of center on the Kinsey Scale. More recent studies and estimates suggest that the number is somewhere between 1 and 3 percent of the population.

But no one knows. And that matters for all kinds of things. If you don't count a group, that group doesn't count. Gay bashings didn't get taken seriously until the Bureau of Justice Statistics started keeping track of how many there were. The LGBT voting bloc gets taken more seriously now that sexual orientation is one of the questions asked in exit polling. (About 3 percent of voters self-identify as LGBT in those polls.) Researchers want more information about LGBT health, wealth, welfare, parenting status, and so many other aspects of gay life—not the media depiction thereof, but the real, day-to-day lives of LGBT folks in every zip code, every race, every religion in the country. This week, a House panel heard testimony about the whether the U.S. Census should add questions about sexual orientation or gender identity, right alongside race, religion, marital and cohabitation status, and all the rest. You can find out more at the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force's "Queer the Census" page. 

Here's what I recently learned: several Latin American countries—including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia—have started counting us, or at least, counting same-sex marriages or partnerships.

I'd love to know what the real numbers are. Is it true, as I read somewhere, that one-third of San Francisco is gay? How evenly is that divided between men and women? Is it true, as so many of us generally believe, that Boston's LGBT community overrepresents the ladies?  Is there anyone in Dayton, Ohio—the city closest to the exurban/rural township where I grew up—who's gay?

Oh wait! I know the answer to that last one! Dayton, Ohio, of all the unlikely places in the universe, is considering a domestic partnership ordinance. Go, Dayton!  

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