By Margie Nichols, Ph.D.
Recently I saw a special report put out by the Gallup organization on the results of polling done last year. Gallup asked 120,000 people the following questions: ‘Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?’ This is the largest number of Americans who have EVER been polled about their sexual orientation in history (by comparison, the highly regarded NORC survey done by University of Chicago asked 2,000 people).
The results are fascinating, and upend some of the more common stereotypes about queer people. 3.4% answered ‘yes,’ 92.2% answered ‘no,’ and 4.4% said they didn’t know, or refused to answer. It’s important to understand that the 3.4% represent people who are willing to publicly declare their queerness to a pollster, and that this number is far smaller than:
- The number of people who identify this way but won’t disclose this, which in turn is smaller than
- The number of people who live an LGBT life but don’t self-identify, which is smaller than
- The number of people who experience LGBT attractions and inclinations but don’t act on them
Anyway, you get the idea – a very significant minority of people are at least a little bit ‘queer,’ and 3.4% probably under-represents LGBTQ people a bit.
But the breakdown of the Gallup stats shows a dramatic difference by AGE – and to some extent, gender. 6.4% of 18 to 29 year olds identified as LGBT, compared to 1.9% of those 65 or older. And a whopping 8.3% of 18-29 year old women identified as queer.
Something is happening here. Either people stop being queer as they get older – or there are striking generational differences. Not surprisingly, as LGBT people are increasingly accepted and integrated into mainstream society, more people feel comfortable identifying themselves openly.
We’re recruiting the young. Well, not exactly. To be more precise, the culture is allowing people who might have lived in the shadows or never expressed themselves at all to live full, free and open existences. If the number of LGBTQ-identified people increases, as it seems sure to continue to do, it will not be the result of indoctrination. Rather, it is a testimony to how many people are still hiding- in some way – now.
Other results of the poll fly against statistics in almost all previous but smaller and older surveys. Gallup found the rates of LGBT identification to be higher in less educated, lower income, and minority respondents – past studies have shown the opposite. It’s intriguing to speculate on why this is so, and I’ll probably write another article when I’ve pondered it more. The rates of motherhood among lesbian and heterosexual women are now identical, another statistic probably attributable to increasing social acceptance.
But those generational numbers excite me. I have a vague feeling of a revolution coming, a cultural revolution of gender and sexuality that is starting as a wave of queer young people, led by women, and will eventually transform the way we look at these dimensions now.