A Hard-to-Measure Population Starts Coming into Focus

by: Rodger Goyle

Tabulating the U. S. Gay & lesbian populations has never been easy or very accurate. Not only are many people reluctant to discuss intimate matters, but also their sense of identity evolves: todays’ gay man may have been straight yesterday. Like past efforts, the 2000 U .S. Decennial Census undoubtedly undercounted them, hut it does provide substantial new information— specifically, on those gays and lesbians who live together as couples. The census form asked respondents to classify any unrelated people in their house-hold as a housemate, hoarder, foster child, unmarried partner or other nonrelative. If the unmarried partner is reported to be of the same sex, that partner and the respondent are very likely gay or lesbian. The census showed that 0.6 percent of men and 0.5 percent of women 18 years of age and older live together as same-sex unmarried partners. The data provide a good indication of geographic distribution. The map shows the proportion of households that are gay or lesbian, and because of the likelihood of under counting, it categorizes the dispersion of this population by quintiles rather than by absolute percentages. The map combines the three middle quintiles for simplicity.

Lesbian Census Map

Gay and lesbian dataAs might he expected, San Francisco has the highest concentration of gays and lesbians; Washington, D.C., and New York City’s borough of Manhattan are not far behind. Perhaps surprisingly, gays and lesbians appear in high concen-trations in all regions except for the Midwest, particularly the west-central region. And gays and lesbians do not merely abound in the big metropolitan areas; they live in smaller ones as well, especially college towns such as Bloomington, Ind., Iowa City, Iowa, Corvallis, Ore., and Lawrence, Kans. Moreover, some non-metropolitan counties such as Presidio, Texas, Lyon, Kentucky, and Shannon, South Dakota, are among the top 50 counties in terms of their proportion of gay and lesbian population.

The 2000 census found that at least a quarter of a million children live in house-holds headed by same-sex couples and that nearly one in five people in same-sex couples is 55 and older. The number of unpartnered gay and lesbian individuals can he estimated from survey data showing that 24 percent of gay men and 43 per cent of lesbians are coupled. By extrapolation, the proportion of gay men in the population is 2.5 percent and of lesbians 1.2 percent, consistent with earlier research.

The two-to-one disparity is curious in light of studies showing that the percentages of those claiming sexual desire for the same sex is virtually identical for both men and women (7.7 and 7.5 percent, respectively). No conclusive explanation exists for this anomaly. Gary Gates of the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., who co-authored the recently published Gay and Lesbian Atlas, notes the evidence that women’s conception of sexual orientation may he more fluid than that of men. He suggests that women, although they may he as prone to same-sex attraction, may be less willing to label that attraction with a specific sexual orientation such as gay or lesbian.

                                                               Rodger Doyle can be reached at




MARCH 2005 (pg. 28)

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