Given the current media frenzy over President Obama’s ‘coming out’ to support gay marriage as well as North Carolina’s vote to define marriage as being only between one man and one woman, I found it interesting to find that most Americans have no idea how many gay, lesbian or bisexual persons live among us, or at least, they think they know but don’t. Certainly, anyone who watches television or most any other media knows that nearly every program has a gay or lesbian character or openly deals with the subject in one way or another. This media exposure has, perhaps, swayed the public perception of homosexuals in our population.
Back in 1948 Alfred Kinsey shocked the world when he estimated that fully 10 percent of American men were gay. But by May of 2011, the Gallup organization surveyed Americans and asked them to estimate how many Americans are gay or lesbian. What they found was that more than half of all Americans estimated that gays and lesbians represented at least 20 percent (1 in 5) of the population and 35 percent believed that gays and lesbians made up 25 percent (1 in 4) or more of all Americans (full survey results here) . Young people (those under 29), liberals, Democrats, and women are more likely to give a higher estimate while those over 50, conservatives, Republicans, and men are likely to give a somewhat lower answer. So what’s the truth?
The truth is that almost no one is even close to the truth. In Gallup’s survey, less than 4 percent of those taking the survey estimated that the population of gays and lesbians was less than 5 percent. These would be the only people whose guess was close. A quick look through Wikipedia and other available Internet articles provide estimates as low as 1 or 2 percent and as high as 6 percent but according to Gallup, the best available data puts the real numbers at 3.5 percent (gays, lesbians and bi-sexuals).
I don’t have any particular agenda to saying this other than I find it interesting how many people simply assume that the gay and lesbian population is nearly ten times larger than it really is. As we move forward, both as a nation and as people of faith, we need to have some important conversations about equal rights, fairness and compassion.
When we do, it might just be helpful to start with the truth.