Just How Many Gay People Are There? And Does It Matter?

The question of how many people are lesbian, gay, or bisexual is complicated and not entirely answerable. A new Gallup poll suggests that the general public thinks the number is quite higher than anyone estimates it actually is. In fact, people think there are now more LGB people than they thought there were nine years ago, with over half the population believing that at least 20 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian:

Compare this to the recent study from the Williams Institute showing that about 3.5 percent of adults (about 9 million Americans) identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. And neither number resembles the 10 percent estimate offered by the Kinsey Reports that many refer to.

The increase in perceived LGB populations likely reflects increases in cultural visibility in the media, as well as possibly more people coming out. A 2009 Gallup poll showed that people who know someone who is gay are more likely to support LGBT equality, and recent polling shows that support for marriage equality, as an example, is higher than ever.

Still, it’s also important to remember that the 3.5 percent represents people who openly identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. The National Survey of Family Growth (2006–2008) (PDF) showed that as many as 11 percent of Americans admit acknowledging at least some same-sex attraction. It could very well be that the increase in visibility is also shifting the zeitgeist to be more open-minded about sexuality so that individuals are more willing to explore — or at least acknowledge — that their own sexual orientation is more complex than they would previously have admitted.


At the end of the day, the answer is irrelevant. Whether the number is as low as 3.5 percent or as high as 35 percent, how many LGB people there are offers no argument for denying equality to that population. Everyone, regardless of how they identify, should be free from discrimination based on sexual orientation.