June 13, 2017

5 key findings about LGBT Americans

David Silverman/Getty Images
(David Silverman/Getty Images)

Americans’ views toward those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) have changed substantially in recent years, and a majority of U.S. adults now say homosexuality should be accepted by society. The legal landscape for LGBT people has also shifted, including through a Supreme Court decision two years ago this month that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Here are five key findings about LGBT Americans:

1Americans are becoming more accepting in their views of LGBT people and homosexuality in general, and the number of people identifying as LGBT has grown in recent years. For example, 63% of Americans said in 2016 that homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared with 51% in 2006. LGBT adults recognize the change in attitudes: About nine-in-ten (92%) said in a 2013 Pew Research Center survey of adults identifying as LGBT that society had become more accepting of them in the previous decade.

Perhaps as a result of this growing acceptance, the number of people who identify as LGBT in surveys is also rising. About 10 million people, or 4.1% of the U.S. adult population, identified as LGBT in 2016, according to the latest estimates from Gallup. This represents a modest but significant increase from 8.3 million people (3.5% of adults) who said they were LGBT in 2012.

Survey researchers face a number of challenges in measuring LGBT identity, and there is no consensus about how best to measure sexual orientation. Some rely on respondents self-identifying as LGBT (the technique used in surveys such as the Gallup and Pew Research Center polls), while others base their estimates on reports of sexual behavior or sexual attraction, which usually result in higher estimates. Other challenges include the stigmatization of identifying as LGBT in some cultures and respondents being unfamiliar with the terms used.

2Bisexuals make up the largest share of LGBT Americans. An analysis by UCLA’s Williams Institute in 2011 found that bisexuals accounted for about 1.8% of the total U.S. adult population at the time. A slightly smaller share (1.7%) were gay or lesbian. And the latest Williams Institute estimates, from 2016, find that 0.6% of U.S. adults, or 1.4 million people, identify as transgender.

In Pew Research Center’s 2013 survey of LGBT Americans, 40% of respondents said they were bisexual, while 36% identified as gay men, 19% as lesbians and 5% as transgender.

3Gay men and lesbians are more likely than bisexuals to be “out,” according to the 2013 Pew Research Center survey. Overall, only 28% of bisexuals say that all or most of the important people in their lives are aware that they are LGBT. Meanwhile, 77% of gay men and 71% of lesbians say the same. Bisexual women are much more likely than bisexual men to say most of their friends and family know about their sexuality.

The overwhelming majority of bisexuals who are married or in a committed relationship have an opposite-sex partner, which may contribute to the fact that bisexuals are less likely to be “out” than other LGBT Americans.

4Most LGBT Americans say they have never lived somewhere that is known as an LGBT neighborhood. According to the 2013 survey, 72% say they have never lived in one of these neighborhoods, while 14% say they have lived in one in the past and 12% say they currently do. While 56% say it is important to maintain places like LGBT neighborhoods and bars, 41% say these venues will become less important over time as LGBT people are more accepted into society. Gay men are the most likely of any of the LGBT subgroups to say that these distinctive venues should be maintained (68%).

5There are demographic differences in who identifies as LGBT. The most notable is by age. Young adults, ages 18 to 36, are by far the most likely to identify as LGBT (7.3%). By contrast, much smaller shares of those ages 37 to 51 (3.2%), 52 to 70 (2.4%) and 71 and older (1.4%) say they are LGBT, according to Gallup.

Some 4.4% of women and 3.7% of men identify as LGBT. Whites are somewhat less likely (3.6%) than blacks (4.6%), Hispanics (5.4%) and Asians (4.9%) to say they are LGBT.

There are some modest differences by household income as well, with those making less than $36,000 annually more likely to say they are LGBT (5.5%) than those with higher incomes. These differences may be driven in part by age. There are virtually no differences by education level.

Note: Read more about Pew Research Center research on the LGBT population.

Topics: Demographics, Gay Marriage and Homosexuality, Social Values

  1. Photo of Anna Brown

    is a research analyst focusing on social and demographic trends at Pew Research Center.


  1. Alexander Joo (Skyrien)2 months ago

    i think this proves the author and the study’s point that confusion over terminology exists and makes for challenging data collection. a fair point though that not all “LGBT” subcategories necessarily all see things the same way. you could say that about various suburbanites among races as well.

    that said, it’s obviously so far, still a useful term.

  2. Anonymous2 months ago

    Hm? I’m transgender and lesbian, I don’t find the term LGBT offensive, and I’ve always been 100% confident in my gender identity as well, thank you very much.

  3. Anonymous2 months ago

    One other reason for the undercount is likely the use of the term ‘LGBT’ – it is disconsonant, esoteric, inaccurate, vague, redundant, and offensive. I know many gay people (myself and my husband included) but I have never met a ‘LGBT’. I would certainly self-identify as gay as I am completely out, but am not ‘LGBT’. Hopefully, the questionnaire wording is carefully to define the term in a way that is less offensive or unclear. For example, all lesbians are gay, so why would you have an ‘L’ along with a ‘G’? The same probably could be said about bi people; they are gay as well as heterosexual. The transgender (‘T’) is the most problematic as transgender people have nothing to do with gay people and should not ever be included in the same grouping. Almost all transgender people are heterosexual and all gay people are quite confident in their biological sex and gender identity.

    1. Nate Ball2 months ago

      First, I disagree with your dislike of the acronym of LGBT. It is a fitting description, commonly understood by many people to mean “not straight”. Second, transgenders are included because they are most certainly related in that both homosexuality and transexuality are sexual identities that differ greatly from the norm. Third, the whole comment about bisexuals is completely irrelevant because the “B” in LGBT stand for bisexual.

  4. Anonymous2 months ago

    Certainly this is great news that people are becoming more open about their sexual orientation. Overall, there is still a dramatic undercount as the vast majority of gay people remain closeted. It is interesting that, when one looks at dating, sexual behavior, and romantic and erotic attraction and crushes, the percentage of gay people is much higher (usually over 10%) than if you use self-reporting of identity. However, even these feelings and behaviors are greatly under-reported. Thankfully younger Americans are much less likely to be closeted to themselves or to other people. As a Christian, I am praying that we soon reach a day where no one anywhere has to feel ashamed of his God-given sexual orientation and all people have their marriages, love, and families equally recognized and valued.

  5. Diana L2 months ago

    The title is very misleading, from reading the article the title says LGBT but in reality it is only about LGB. I don’t see anything about transgender people.

  6. Anonymous2 months ago

    The danger of this report is that it serves to influence future polls. Consider point #1:

    “Americans are becoming more accepting in their views of LGBT people and homosexuality in general, and the number of people identifying as LGBT has grown in recent years.”

    What would compel an increase in acceptance? To some, it might be personal knowledge of someone so afflicted. However, it is natural for one to forgive, at least to some extent, the bad behavior of someone close. The closer that person, the more likely the acceptance/forgiveness and to what degree. Consider a mother and her son. Some mothers will never accept bad reports about their sons, even when sober reflection will compel them to admit the kid ain’t no saint. But still, they will downplay the character deficiency of their boy.

    It is the same with this issue. For any who discusses or debates the issue on-line, it isn’t all that uncommon to be met with, “The homosexuals I know act more Christian than most Christians I know.” That may be merely defensive, but it does indicate that personal knowledge has an influence on the moral quality of the behavior by which they are defined.

    It is also necessary to consider the degree to which the general public is informed about all the negatives attached to the issue versus the glowing representations of it by activists and enablers. If all one hears are glowing reports, one cannot help but begin to feel that perhaps there’s no reason for all the fuss. Worse, when one is never exposed to the negatives, what excuse, then does one have for opposition…particularly if one has no religious affiliations that inform their concept of sexual morality?

    Thus, to say that polls indicate growing acceptance itself influences whether or not acceptance grows. It is self-perpetuating. And it has a decided impact on point #5, where demographics shows greater acceptance and identification among the young. These are the people most indoctrinated by the one-sided reportage that favors the LGBT community. The young aren’t as inundated with the negatives as they are with the more favorable reports, images and depictions of homosexuality. Thus, they are more inclined to be open to experimenting, and where they find pleasure and gratification, they are more likely to continue indulging and/or supporting the behavior and those who engage in it.

    I’d love to see Pew do a poll focusing on the negative consequences of homosexuality, transgenderism and the like. How many are actually aware that negative consequences to homosexual behavior, even without the introduction of STDs, exist and are unique among the community as compared with heterosexuals?

    1. Anonymous2 months ago

      I’d love to see a poll on the negative effects of religion. FYI, the same STDs effect both hetero and homosexuals.

    2. Anonymous2 months ago

      Hi, as a young person, I’m curious about some of these negative aspects of homosexuality/being an LGBT person that you started to bring up. I feel like most studies that talk about LGBT health issues focus either on AIDS or on the psychological impacts of homophobia, and I would be interested to hear about the negative consequences of homosexuality and transgenderism that you say are unique among the community as compared to heterosexuals. I’m not trying to call you out or troll or anything; rather, I make it a point to try and learn as much as I can about all sides of an issue. I assume you and I have that in common since we’re both on Pew. 🙂

  7. Anonymous2 months ago

    Acceptance and tolerance are not the same as favoring a campaign of positive discrimination .
    Isn’t that more like what this era is experiencing?
    Old guy.

  8. sheryl clyde2 months ago

    All that reflects is what groups are more closeted than the others are. There is no difference in percentages. The amount in the ad’s on line is the same and the same in the bar scene.

  9. Gloria D Merritt2 months ago

    These percentages are helpful. The Media would have us believe that the LGBT population is much larger, because there is a disproportionate amount of LGBT people in widespread media: tv, movies, cable, etc. Personally, I am doing my best to be accepting of people regardless of their sexual orientation, but I feel that I cannot express my opinion on the morality or Biblical teachings about this lifestyle. I am also aware that any sexual deviation from the Biblical model is against God’s best plan.

    1. B. John Masters2 months ago

      Unfortunately, your problem is the Bible doesn’t say what you think it does about homosexuality. For example, take the famous story of Sodom. If you actually read the story, and look at the time line, God had decided, before the visit by the Angels, to destroy the City, and according to Genesis, that was because they were haughty, and well off, but no caring for the poor and orphans, and not being hospitable. The laws around hospitality were very important in those times.

      Yes, some Angels made an appearance to determine if Lott was right, that there were righteous people in Sodom, and the people of the city responded rashly. But this wasn’t about “homosexuality,” it was about a gang rape. Something violent and forced, and in those days, it was not at all uncommon for men to rape other men as a show of dominance. I think most people can agree that any sort of sexual violence is wrong…but the story is not about adult consensual relationships. BTW, if you read Ezekiel and the words of Jesus himself, they both say that the sin of Sodom was not caring for the widows and orphans (the poor) and being in-hospitable. Nothing about sex.

      Then, you’ll want to refer to Paul. Paul’s letter were to specific groups of people, addressing specific issues for those groups (not to mention being at a specific point in time). You have to read the epistles within the appropriate context. For example, in one chapter, Paul says his followers shouldn’t get married at all, and if they are married, they should act as if they aren’t. Would you consider that a hard and fast teaching today?

      First, there is some issue with the translation of the word which is often translated as homosexuality. The word used in the original Greek text was apparently a word created by Paul, as it does not occur in any other written text of the time. In addition, Paul is listing a long list of sins, and chastising them about temple prostitution (again, something I’m sure we can agree isn’t a good thing), and doing things were not natural for them. If a straight person engages in gay sex, it’s not natural for that person. Likewise, if a gay person engages in straight sex, that is unnatural for them. The point Paul was trying to make is that this specific group had some bad stuff going on sexually and a number of other moral failings. He really wasn’t as specific about it involving LGBT people as some translations would lead you to believe.

      It’s also important to consider what Jesus said on the subject, which is “nothing.” Some people call it an argument from silence, but if it was such an important issue, don’t you think he would have mentioned. He had the perfect opportunity when he discussed the sin of Sodom, but he included no mention of it.

      Might I suggest the book, God and The Gay Christian by Matthew Vines. Vines’ father is fairly prominent in the Evangelical movement, and contributed to the book. It’s a very good read that provides a very detailed and academic assessment of each of the Bible verses on which you are likely relying to support your position.

  10. Anonymous2 months ago

    Surely the AIDS crisis had an effect on the numbers of older gay men. The disease also had racial differences, with white people making up most of the early cases, but black people eventually becoming the most-affected racial group.

    1. Anonymous2 months ago

      No, the number of deaths per year due to HIV is not significant to impact the total population. What you are witnessing is that older people are more closeted and more conservative. All polls show that when you survey conservative leaning subgroups the number of people who say they are gay declines even though there is no reason to think there are fewer gay people. Southern states have lower numbers, rural areas have lower numbers, religious groups show lower numbers, the more people have to lose the more closeted they become.