Estimates of the Number of LGBT Individuals

The true number of people who identify themselves as LGBT individuals is not known. Because of a lack of research focusing on the LGBT population and the mistrust that makes many LGBT people afraid to be open about their identity, reliable data are difficult to obtain. The popular estimate that 10 percent of the male population and 5 to 6 percent of the female population are exclusively or predominately homosexual is based on the Kinsey Institute data (Kinsey, Pomeron & Martin, 1948; Kinsey et al., 1953) addressing sexual behavior. Kinsey proposed the Kinsey Scale, a continuum that rated sexual behavior on a scale from zero to six. Zero represented exclusive heterosexual behavior and six represented exclusive homosexual behavior. The survey reported that 37 percent of American men had at least one homosexual experience after adolescence; 5 to 7 percent had bisexual experiences but preferred homosexual ones; and 4 to 5 percent had homosexual experiences exclusively.

These data illustrate how widespread male homosexual behavior is, not necessarily the number of gay men. The same research indicated that the majority of those surveyed reported behavior in a range Kinsey termed bisexual. Again, the classification is based only on reported behavior. For many minority populations, bisexuality—but not homosexuality—is acceptable (or at least admittable on surveys). For example, in the 1989 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 8-year review of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) cases among gay or bisexual men, 54.2 percent of African Americans were reported to be bisexual, 44.2 percent of Hispanics were reported to be bisexual, and 11.3 percent of Caucasians were reported to be bisexual.

Michaels (1996) thoroughly analyzed the limited available data and concluded that determining prevalence rates of sexual orientations is extremely difficult because the data are widely disparate. He estimates 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 a homosexual or bisexual identity.

The data on the number of transgender people are even more limited. Some psychiatric literature estimates that 1 percent of the population may have had a transgender experience, but this estimate is based only on transgender people who might have sought mental health services (Seil, 1996).