How many LGBT people are there?
The actual number of people who identify themselves as LGBT is not known. Because of a lack of research focusing on the size of the population and the fear that many LGBT people, especially youth, have concerning revealing their sexual identity, reliable data are difficult to obtain.Moreover, in the few surveys that do provide data, respondents are usually asked about sexual behavior, not orientation or identity.
The popular estimate that 10 percent of the male population and 5 to 6 percent of the female population are exclusively or predominately gay and lesbian is based on the Kinsey Institute data. Laumann and associates (1994), using the national probability Health and Social Life Survey combined with data collected in the General Social Survey, found that 2.8 percent of men and 1.4 percent of women identified as gay or lesbian, while 7.7 percent of men and 7.5 percent of women reported homosexual desire. Michaels (1996) analyzed the limited available data and estimated that in the United States 9.8 percent of men and 5 percent of women report same-gender sexual behavior since puberty; 7.7 percent of men and 7.5 percent of women report same-gender desire; and 2.8 percent of men and 1.4 percent of women report homosexual or bisexual identity. An analysis of U.S. census data has provided the most solid evidence of the presence and certain social characteristics of lesbians and gays among the general population. In the 1990 census, gay and lesbian respondents could identify themselves as unmarried partners. Estimates from the 1990 census indicate that 1.63 percent of people aged 15 and older nationwide reported themselves as unmarried partners of the householder.
Bisexual individuals are perhaps the most misunderstood population within the spectrum of LGBT populations. For some bisexual people, their bisexual identity is continuous and fixed across their life span. For others, sexual orientation may be more fluid and marked by changes from heterosexual to either lesbian or gay or vice versa. It is not uncommon for gay men and lesbians in recalling their “coming out” process to remember self-identifying as bisexual. Although the stages of homosexual identity formation denote that this is a very common experience, that does not negate the fact that bisexuality is a distinct sexual orientation. Nevertheless, mistaken beliefs about bisexuality are prevalent among lesbians and gays as well as the heterosexual population, and, unfortunately, may also be internalized by bisexual people. The following are some of the most persistent myths:
- Bisexuals are confused about their identity.
- Bisexuals are afraid to be lesbian or gay because of social stigma and oppression by the majority.
- Bisexuals have become “stuck” in the coming-out process.
- Bisexuals have knuckled under to the social pressure to “pass” as straight.
- Bisexuals are hypersexual and will have sex with anyone.
As health care providers may also embrace some of those myths and be inclined to view bisexual individuals as being psychologically or emotionally damaged, being developmentally immature, or having a personality disorder, Fox (1996), in reviewing the literature, asserts that “research has found no evidence of psychopathology or psychological maladjustment in bisexual men and women.”
Gender identity is even less understood. “Transgender” is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of people including transsexuals, cross-dressers, drag kings and queens, as well as bigender and androgynous individuals. "Transgender” came into common usage during the 1980s. Previously, people with mixed gender and sexual characteristics were described as transsexuals or transvestites, terms emanating from the psychiatric vocabulary. “ Transgender” comes from the transgender community and is, therefore, the preferred term in working with transgender people.
There are no probability studies of transgender people reported in the literature and no effort underway to develop measures for inclusion in Federal surveys. Some psychiatric literature estimates that 1 percent of the population may have had a transgender experience, but thisestimate is based only on transgender people who might have sought mental health services. Approximately 25,000 U.S. citizens have undergone sex reassignment surgery. An estimated 60,000 consider themselves candidates for such surgery, and the doctors who perform such surgeries report long waiting lists. Transgender people exhibit the full range of sexual orientations, from homosexual to bisexual and heterosexual.
LGBT people face many of the same issues all people face as they progress through life. As people, our commonality is linked by our experiences with the “problems of living” those events, occurring during life, either expected or unexpected, which, in the absence of sufficient ability to cope, may lead to deleterious behaviors. However, LGBT youth may have the most difficult life cycle issues. Most youth feel awkward and embarrassed by sexual conflicts. But, LGBT youth have an even more difficult time as such youth are not recognized as even existing within U.S. society, for sexual orientation is assumed heterosexual unless adults choose differently. Although “coming out” or sexual identity formation can occur in adulthood, the awareness of being different (i.e., not heterosexual) usually occurs during childhood. However, children who disclose to their family that they are LGBT risk rejection, ostracism, and possibly harm from the one societal unit always expected to give unconditional care, love, and support. The other traditional adolescent support systems - such as schools, faith organizations, and peer groups - may have similar negative reactions.