Years ago there was a commercial for a brand of magnetic tape cassettes (for those of you under 40, check out Smithsonian.com to find out what I’m talking about). And to emphasize their fidelity, the commercial had an opera singer live shatter a glass and then her voice played back on the Memorex brand cassette where it did the same.
I use this commercial as an analogy when describing the just published Gallup poll, self-lauded as the first official study to count gay, lesbian, bi and transgender individuals state-by-state. After polling about 100,000 adults in all 50 states where it asked if the participant “identified” himself or herself as LGBT, our numbers averaged a 3.4 % nationwide with a low of 1.7% in North Dakota (surprise! surprise!) and 5.1% in Hawaii (ya think the warm weather and lazy lifestyle has anything to do with it? Duh). Every state polled with supposedly LGBT populations of 4% or higher have laws prohibiting same sex discrimination or are leaning towards or have already approved same-sex marriage or an equivalent thereof.
O.K., and I respect and believe Gallup’s methodology – I even use their polls as beacons of accuracy in the college argumentative writing class I teach – but are these stats even close to reality?
Or are they Memorex?
First, Gallup concludes that contrary to popular opinion, LGBT communities aren’t based solely in urban centers. Sure, we’re all over the place like dog shit on a sidewalk, but I still think the vast majority of us live in the Chicagos, New York Citys, and LAs for a couple of pragmatic reasons: jobs, and gay ghettos where we feel more comfortable living and where there’s more gay or gay friendly businesses and in-the-flesh social outlets, though admittedly the web has lessened the isolation of living in the boonies.
Secondly, the study says non-whites (blacks, Latins, Asians) are more likely than white populations to identify as LGBT, i.e., 4% or higher vs. 3.4% of whites. I think this is somewhat distorted since (a) from my humble observations as a bar fly, 85% of the guys I see in the bars and bathhouse are white; (b) some Latins or even Asians may classify themselves as “white:” and (c) and this is not a racist conclusion. but maybe, just maybe, since there are more whites than blacks in the general population and therefore in the working population, there are more white boys making “big money” and so are less likely to say they’re gay because they have more to lose. Like a nice six figure job with a conservative, even homophobic employer. According to the Census Bureau, 86.01% of all households in the top two upper-middle range incomes were headed by a person who identified him or herself as white, while only 7.21% were being headed by someone who identified as being Hispanic, and 7.37% by someone who identified as being African American. I know, I know, the poll results were probably collected on a confidential basis, but confidential or not, many people, be it 2013, are still paranoid about the world knowing about their sexual orientation.
Interestingly, when you look at results correlated with age, a whopping 6.4% of individuals under 29 who are less closeted than the rest of us ID’d themselves as LGBT vs. 3% or under for older folk; and this same age bracket also had the lowest earning power, under $24,000 a year. Again, less to lose by opening up about their sexual orientation?
But what strikes me particularly confusing is that this Gallup study isn’t in sync with Kinsey, who while his stats may have been skewed, claimed 10% of us were gay, or the U.S. Census Bureau, which sneakily extrapolates how many of us there are through counts of solo or same sex households. Or the findings of other scientifically compiled surveys like the one recently conducted by Indiana University in which 15% of the American population, ages 14 to 94, identified themselves as “homosexual or bisexual,” which means we may be as many as 30 million strong. And those university surveyors concluded, “the percentage of people who have had same gender sex is probably higher.”
So, what’s my take on all this? That the Gallup poll may be flawed or incomplete, and that we may exist in much greater numbers than we even think – or are willing to admit.