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Posts for May, 2011

Majority support

Timothy Kincaid

May 22nd, 2011

Sunday afternoon musings – those who are not fond of my pontificating may want to pass this one by.

There is something magical about the name Gallup Poll. Gallup may not be the most accurate of all polling agencies, but their duration and history lend an air of credibility, especially when confirming what other polls are finding. So when on Friday the Gallup Poll announced that Americans now support marriage equality by 53% to 45%, it gave an emotional confirmation to what we have already seen from major polling all spring.

Yes, a majority of all Americans now believe that same-sex couples should have the legal rights to marriage.

But what does that mean?

Let’s start with what it does not mean. This does not mean that a majority of Americans personally approve of same-sex marriage. Legal acceptance and approval do not necessarily go hand in hand. Nor does it mean that we will from henceforth win all of our battles in either the legislature or in the ballot box. Anti-gay campaigns have proven successful at appealing to fear and – for at least a while – changing public attitude.

But it does mean that we will win. It means that the tipping point, that distinct moment at which change ceases to move at its previous trajectory and suddenly accelerates, has been reached.

And if we look at Nate Silver’s graphic of public opinion on marriage, I think that we can see something interesting.

If we look at the way in which public opinion has been going, we see – other than a bump leading into the 2004 elections – a fairly consistent rate of change. But around the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009, something happened. Something changed the scale such that the rate of increase in support and rate of decrease in opposition sped up dramatically.

Why did this happen?

I think I know why. I don’t have evidence for this conjecture, and history may prove me wrong, but I believe that a single international moment occurred which changed the way in which marriage equality was viewed both within and without the gay community: Proposition 8.

When Californians voted to ban marriage in our state, it caught the world by surprise. And, unlike marriage bans in Arkansas or Texas, this seemed personal. It seemed a deliberate insult.

Also unlike Arkansas or Texas bans, it pissed us off enough to protest. Publicly in the streets. In San Francisco and San Diego and Los Angeles. But also in Chicago and Detroit and New York and Omaha and Salt Lake City and Wichita and Marquette and Sault Ste Marie. Even in London and Paris and Amsterdam.

This was an unexpected response. Those who oppose marriage didn’t expect it, the voters didn’t expect it.

And we didn’t expect it. But something about the moment of this vote and this time in this state caught our collective discontent and channeled it around a singular event. Losing proposition 8 changed us as a community, for the first time we truly began to believe – all of us, not just the activists but club kids and conservative couples and militant queers and feminist lesbians – that marriage was a right to which we are entitled and which is worth fighting for.

And, just as importantly, it showed those around us that we truly care. It ceased being a matter over which we could politely disagree and became a position which defined friendship and family and faith.

And as a consequence, those around us changed. Reluctant and hesitant and fearful people decided that if they had to choose between tradition and those they love (and, yes, now they have to choose), they would give up tradition.

So where does it go from here?

I think that from now on – for a while, at least – we are going to see ever-increasing support until only the die-hards will still oppose civil marriage. Those who currently say “no” to pollsters will increasingly feel reluctant to be out of the mainstream and will respond the way that “everyone agrees”. The Aunt Thelma’s of the world will not only find that they do think that it’s time to let Sue’s kid (he’s such a fine young man) and his partner marry, but that they are rather proud of how modern and current they are.

And this will be followed – at a few years distance – by legislative change. Politicians are followers, not leaders, so they will not be ahead of the people on this issue.

But when the Minnesota Marriage Ban Amendment fails in 2012, as I predict that it will, this will be the end of calls by anti-gay activists to “let the people vote”. And if the Supreme Court has not invalidated such bans by then, we will see initiative efforts to reverse the anti-gay bans in states like Oregon, California, and Nevada.

None of which means that we can rest on our laurels or quit the fight. As they lose, anti-gays will mount ever shriller campaigns and they may get rather painful and the South will cross the line to full equality only after dragging its feet, kicking and screaming. But while there are still battles to go, we have won the war.

Gary Gates defends his LGBT estimates

Timothy Kincaid

April 9th, 2011

Gary Gates of UCLA’s Williams Institute has written an op-ed in the Washington Post defending his decision to estimate the LGBT population. Gates does not speak to the criticism about his methods, which is unfortunate.

He does, however, address a greater concern, one which I share:

These facts matter because legislatures, courts and voters across the country are debating how LGBT people should live their lives. All parties deserve to be informed by fresh research, not a six-decade-old study. We should be able to search the standard places where scholars and policy advocates go for information about the health and well-being of Americans — all Americans. Places such as the Census Bureau’s decennial count and American Community Survey, the premier sources of demographic data in this country. Or the National Health Interview Survey, a primary source of information about Americans’ health. Or the Current Population Survey, the preeminent source of information about the nation’s economic well-being. Or the National Crime Victimization Survey, where we get most of our data about experiences of crime.

But searching these sources for information about LGBT people would be largely futile. None ask questions about sexual orientation or gender identity.

How many LGBT folk are there?

Timothy Kincaid

April 8th, 2011

Some time ago I set out to discover to just what extent are gay and bisexual people infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). But to do that, I had to figure out just how many people are gay or bisexual. But, as I noted at the time, this is not an easy demographic to define:

To know how many gay people there are, one has to explain what one means by “gay person”. And there are several ways to approach this.

Just a few decades ago, self identification would be a useless parameter. Two men could have lived together for decades and been known to friends and family as a devoted couple without either being willing to be publicly identified as “gay” or “homosexual”. Even today, epidemiologists are careful to use terms such as “men who have sex with men (MSM)” so as to include for health purposes those who do not use LGBT identifications.

But sexual behavior is also not a good indicator. Some gay or bisexual persons may identify publicly as gay and yet for personal reasons choose not to be sexually active. A self-identified gay Christian, for example, may elect celibacy or may defer sexual activity until united in the bonds of a committed relationship but they are no less “gay” than the man with a life partner or the woman living for her next sexual conquest.

Perhaps the best definition would be those who are exclusively or primarily attracted to the same sex. But this definition might also include ex-gays and others who would object to being so identified. And for purposes of discussions of “gay community”, it’s hardly fair to include those who have no communion with other gay persons.

Others, thinking in terms of community, might include as “queer” all persons who do not identify at heterosexual. But to my way of thinking this is far too broad for our purposes, including asexual persons, anti-sexual persons, and those who choose to avoid labels, regardless of sexual attractions.

But, relying on what was, at that time, the best info available: an abstract of the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth put out by the Centers for Disease Control, I came up with an answer. And as the Survey allowed me to look at more than one possible definition – and as I got to the same result either way – I could state with a measure of confidence the following:

I think it fair to state that at least 2.3% of men are gay and at least 4.1% are “gay or bisexual”.

I think it fair to state that at least 1.4% of women are gay and at least 4.1% are “gay or bisexual”.


Although this is based on assumptions, by applying the above percentages it is reasonable to state that there are at least 5.3 million gay or bisexual men and at least 5.5 million gay or bisexual women above the age of 15 living in the United States, for a total GLB Community of at least 10.8 million people.

I have generally stuck with my limited analysis waiting for additional or better information. But now Gary Gate of UCLA’s Williams Institute has undertaken the task of assessing the available data and coming up with an answer to that elusive question.

Gates is perhaps the foremost demographer studying the LGBT community. The information that has now become recognized about where gay families are (virtually everywhere) and what census data could tell us about them came primarily from Gates and the Williams Institute. When his Gay and Lesbian Atlas came out in 2004, it tossed over the apple cart of presumptions about same-sex families existing only in the cities.

So Gates’ findings have been given a level of credibility that has not been questioned. He is a specialist talking about his specialty. And, to my initial smug pleasure, Gates arrived at estimations that are not far from my own.

  • An estimated 3.5% of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and an estimated 0.3% of adults are transgender.
  • This implies that there are approximately 9 million LGBT Americans, a figure roughly equivalent to the population of New Jersey.
  • Among adults who identify as LGB, bisexuals comprise a slight majority (1.8% compared to 1.7% who identify as lesbian or gay).

But while I am impressed by his scholarly contributions and defer to his understanding of demographics, I am shocked at some of his premises, methodologies and conclusions. I think that as he further continues his work that he should challenge some presumptions both in analysis and in presentation.

Averaging averages

Perhaps the weakest possible method for reconciling variances between study results would be to average them. Not all studies have equal likelihood of accuracy, equal methodology, equal statistical significance, or equal credibility. Outliers ought not have the same input, and a survey of ten people does not carry the same weight as a survey of ten thousand.

Additionally, the purpose of a survey weighs both on questions asked and the conclusions drawn. And let’s not pretend that a survey of Californians says much about Americans as a whole. Which leads me to question the inclusion of both the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions and the California Health Interview Survey.

So I am troubled by a methodology described as:

However, combining information from the population-based surveys considered in this brief offers a mechanism to produce credible estimates for the size of the LGBT community. Specifically, estimates for sexual orientation identity will be derived by averaging results from the five US surveys identified in Figure 1.

I cannot tell from Gate’s description of his methodology whether he gave weight based on sample size or took other steps to smooth the results. Nor is it clear what sort of margin of error can be relied upon in Gate’s calculations.

But considering that we are talking about small numbers to begin with, I am concerned that “averaging results” can lead to results that are statistically meaningless.

Adopting the lowest possible estimate

I recognize and appreciate the value of estimating conservatively. This is the hallmark of a good demographer and demonstrates professionalism over advocacy. However, when dealing with a population which you know for certain is underestimated, it is not accurate to set the lowest estimate as though it were the the truest estimate.

And even if one is estimating those gay and lesbian people who so identify (as opposed to other measures), it is a given that public surveys under-count your population. There are virtually no people who will identify on a survey as being gay when they are not. But there are a not-insignificant number who do identify as gay – to themselves, their friends, their family – but who will not disclose their orientation in a survey.

So language that says “are” rather than “at least” falsely implies that the lowest number is accurate.

Male and Female Sexuality

Gates does note that the gay/bi breakout is not mirrored between gay men and lesbians. But I don’t think that he adequately emphasizes, or perhaps even recognizes, the extent and complexity of this difference.

Based on my experiences writing here, reviewing the literature, and discussing the issue with others who approach sexuality from different perspectives, I’ve come to conclude that male and female sexuality is very different. Men and women, and especially gay men and women, experience attraction differently, respond to it differently, and have differing incidences of fluidity in sexual desire.

So it is not only a simplistic presentation to ‘average’ the results of male and female sexual identity, but it presents a false picture of both. So while “Women are substantially more likely than men to identify as bisexual” is informative, the following is a useless statistic:

Among adults who identify as LGB, bisexuals comprise a slight majority (1.8% compared to 1.7% who identify as lesbian or gay).

A better set of bullet points – less likely to be distorted by dishonest or lazy media – would be to report what the demographics tell us about each group (to the extent that they do). For example, Gates would have been both more informative and more accurate to say:

  • At least 3.5% of adults in the United States, around 9 million people, identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

  • Of men, at least 2.2% identify as gay and an additional 1.4% as bisexual. Of women, at least 1.1% identify as lesbian and an additional 2.2% as bisexual.

And even that is not fully informative. Those of us in the community are well aware that identifying as bisexual rather than gay is often as much a matter of caution as it is a reflection of internal perception.

International skewing

For some reason Gates found it necessary to discuss difference between the sexual identity, sexual behavior, and sexual attraction of Americans by looking to surveys in Canada, the UK, and Australia. I think it fairly obvious that distinctions between attraction and identity are driven to a large part by culture. And it is also fairly obvious that Australian attitudes do not well explain the identity of Americans.

Transgender estimates

While his estimates of gay men and gay women were sloppy, his estimates of transgender Americans are, at best, fanciful.

Gates achieves his estimate by averaging two surveys, one of which was at 0.1% and one of which was at 0.5%. This is nonsense. Frankly there isn’t enough data to make any credible estimate, and Gates should know better.

When you are averaging two numbers, one of which is five times the other, and both of which are pretty much in your margin of error, anything you come up with is little more than a guess.

Gates should simply have noted that there is an additional demographic, likely less than one half of one percent of the population, of persons who identify as being transgender and left it at that. Even “likely less than one half of one percent” is aggressive, considering the scarcity of raw data.

To put a numerical value (0.3%, or 700,000) is to distort reality and misapply his profession. This does a service to no one.


I was initially pleased by Gates’ efforts. Finally someone credible was attempting to answer that oft-guessed-at but seldom analyzed question as to just how big the LGBT community might be. And I also felt validated that his answers so closely mirrored the conclusions of my limited efforts. Points for me!

But upon closer inspection, this report is notable as much by its limitations and failings as it is by its effort to provide an answer.

I don’t disagree with Gates’ conclusions, necessarily. They are in the ballpark of reasonable, however shoddily he got there. And they serve a purpose in that they can – I hope finally – put an end to Kinsey’s 10% figures.

But this report should be treated as nothing more than a stepping stone. An interim effort on which future work can build. And it is on this that Gary Gates and I agree:

Understanding the size of the LGBT population is a critical first step to informing a host of public policy and research topics. The surveys highlighted in this report demonstrate the viability of sexual orientation and gender identity questions on large national population-based surveys. Adding these questions to more national, state, and local data sources is critical to developing research that enables a better understanding of the understudied LGBT community.

Dishonesty about the ‘how many LGBTs’ study

Timothy Kincaid

April 8th, 2011

Gary Gates of UCLA’s Williams Institute has made a tentative calculation of the LGBT population. I’ll have an analysis up soon about his calculation. But, in the meanwhile, please be careful in what you read. A number of unscrupulous reporters are nearly giddy in their misrepresentation of Gates’ work.

Take, for example, the way in which SanDiego6 distorts the story:

A California demographer has released a best guess of how many gay men and lesbians there are in the U.S.

Gary Gates puts the figure at 4 million adults, representing 1.7 percent of the 18-and-over population.

That’s much lower than the 3 to 5 percent that has been the conventional wisdom in the last two decades, based on other isolated studies.

This is so dishonest that it is difficult to attribute the inaccuracy to ignorance or carelessness. Gates did not “put the figure at 4 million adults.” Here is what Gates actually said (PDF):

  • An estimated 3.5% of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and an estimated 0.3% of adults are transgender.
  • This implies that there are approximately 9 million LGBT Americans, a figure roughly equivalent to the population of New Jersey.
  • Among adults who identify as LGB, bisexuals comprise a slight majority (1.8% compared to 1.7% who identify as lesbian or gay).

San Diego 6 doesn’t even mention bisexuals, choosing instead to go the lower number and pretending that it is reflective of the study.

Not surprisingly, this is the same spin that American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer put on the report. Perhaps they share the same motivation.

Marylanders support marriage

Timothy Kincaid

January 25th, 2011

First a little venting. If you are a research and polling company and you put out a press release about your latest poll, put the friggin thing on your website so people can read it!

Gonzales Research conducts a recurring poll about issues of importance in Maryland. And their results provide additional support for the quest to achieve marriage equality in that state (I’ll provide a link when I find it). (WaPo)

In the poll, 51 percent of voters say they would favor a law in Maryland allowing same-sex couples to marry, while 44 percent opposed such a law and 5 percent gave no response.

The poll has a 3.5% margin of error.

Another ill-contrived circumcision study

Timothy Kincaid

December 8th, 2010

Should there be any researchers reading, let me give you a bit of advice: gay sex and straight sex are not identical. While most heterosexual men do not have penises inserted into their anuses with regularity, this is not an uncommon part of the sexual practices of many gay men.

And further, the easiest way that a gay guy can become infected with HIV is through anally receptive unprotected sex. That isn’t new, surprising, or even contested.

Yep, HIV transmission among gay men in the US is primarily due to taking it bare up the butt. And any research which seeks to understand factors contributing to HIV transmission which does not consider that simple fact is a complete waste of money and time.

And today we get word of yet another Wasted Money Study on whether circumcision impacts HIV transmission between gay men. Reuters:

In a study of more than 1,800 men from the U.S. and Peru, researchers found that overall, the risk of contracting HIV over 18 months did not significantly differ between circumcised and uncircumcised men.

Over the study period, 5 percent of the 1,365 uncircumcised men became HIV-positive, as did 4 percent of the 457 circumcised men, according to findings published in the journal AIDS.

Well, gee, that information would be useful to know… if the study wasn’t conducted in a mind-numbingly stupid way.

Because, you see, that study doesn’t take into consideration whether the men were engaging in receptive or penetrative anal sex. I just assumes that gay men pass HIV to other gay men in some unknown and mysterious manner. Maybe by osmosis.

Well guess what? It really doesn’t matter one iota whether a bottom’s penis is circumcised, pierced, tattooed, or wearing a funny hat if he has semen up his butt. And any study that focuses only on whether a penis is circumcised – but not what you’re doing with it – is going to provide useless information.

I will give this study partial credit for even wondering, as a side note, whether circumcision impacts the transmission of guys who are using their penises in penetrative anal sex. And while they couldn’t bother to craft a study that looked at that issue, they did at least ask. Kinda.

And guess what?

The researchers did find some hints that circumcision could be protective among men who primarily had insertive sex with other men. Among men who said they’d had insertive sex with their last three male partners at least 60 percent of the time, circumcision was linked to a 69 percent lower HIV risk.

That difference, however, was not statistically significant, which means the finding could be due to chance.

But the truly stupid aspects of this Wasted Money Study isn’t limited to having no concept whatsoever about how HIV is transmitted. It also made these glaring errors:

Male circumcision is far more common in the U.S. than in most other countries, and 82 percent of the 462 American men in the study were circumcised, compared with just 6 percent of the 1,360 Peruvian men.

D’ya think that this may be a material difference in populations? That perhaps there are differences between the cultures, practices, or even extent of HIV exposure between the two countries?

All of the men in the study reported having sex with other men and were considered to be at increased risk of HIV infection because they were already infected with the genital herpes virus (herpes simplex type 2), which can make people more susceptible to HIV.

So we’re talking about men who potentially have open sores… which are known to be ways in which HIV enters the body… but all that can be ignored to discuss the results of circumcision.

None of which discouraged declarations based on the results of the “study”

Taken together, the results “indicate no overall protective benefit from male circumcision” when it comes to male-to-male HIV transmission, write the researchers, led by Dr. Jorge Sanchez of the research organization Impacta Peru, in Lima.

No, Dr. Sanchez, taken together the results indicate an incredibly stupid study which tells us absolutely nothing whatsoever about circumcision and HIV transmission and was a complete waste of time and money. I really hope that my tax dollars did not fund your folly.

We don’t really need studies that inform us that anally receptive men don’t reduce their HIV risk by becoming circumcised. They also aren’t benefited by having flocked wall-paper or a charming haircut.

But I, for one, would be interested in a study that looked at whether HIV transmission could be reduced by means of circumcision among anally penetrative men. That question has not been answered (this Wasted Money Study, notwithstanding) and it would be beneficial to know whether circumcision is a risk mitigator among this subset of gay men, and to what extent.

And, I guess they did add that recommendation to their nonsensical reporting of their results.

They add that studies should continue to look at whether circumcision affects HIV risk from insertive sex and do so in larger, more diverse study groups.

Yeah. Ya think?

An obvious but necessary report about depression

Timothy Kincaid

December 6th, 2010

One of the tools used by those who deeply desire to make your life more stressful and difficult are statistics about depression. Because, yes, gay people suffer higher levels of depression.

And while it’s pretty obvious that being treated with contempt by the government, many families, more than a few churches, about half the politicians, and a whole lot of society would certainly seem like a cause for depression and a threat to mental health, anti-gays would like society to believe that homosexuality is inherently a cause of mental illness, if not a mental illness itself. They argue that somehow homosexual behavior (because “no one is really gay”) is so obviously against “natural law” that the depression we feel is really guilt and shame over our deviance.

Now a new study provides evidence of the correlation between family support and mental health. (Time)

Now a study reveals for the first time the impact that a supportive family can have on the physical and mental health of gay, lesbian and bisexual children. Researchers led by Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project, a research, education and policy initiative designed to better understand the role that sexual orientation has on family dynamics, found that teens from families who supported their sexual orientation were less likely to abuse drugs, experience depression or attempt suicide than those in less accepting families. The teens in the more supportive environments also self-reported higher levels of self-esteem and self-worth.

Oh, and as for “helping” your kids by trying to make them heterosexual… well, Exodus isn’t going to like this study much.

Ryan points out, for example, that parents who tried to show support by attempting to change their children’s sexual preferences — in order to help their children become more accepted in school and society — were instead perceived as rejecting their child’s individuality and sexual expression. “What we showed was that by trying to prevent a child from learning about their sexual identity or from being part of support groups, or by telling them they are ashamed of them or not talking about their sexual identity, these kinds of reactions are rejecting behaviors that are all linked to negative health and mental health outcomes in children when they become adults,” says Ryan.

Now those who believe that Teh Gheys are a threat to all that is good and dear will just ignore this study. They aren’t that much invested in reality to begin with, and they are quite suspicious of things that challenge the “Truth” that the have chosen to believe.

But this study will be quite useful to decent folk who aren’t really sure what to do. It lists specific responses – dos and don’ts – for how to keep your kid feeling supported and healthy.

Pew: strong support for DADT repeal

Timothy Kincaid

November 29th, 2010

The Pew Forum released a poll today which continues to document the public’s support for repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

As the Pentagon prepares to release its highly anticipated survey of military personnel about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, most Americans (58%) say they favor allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the armed forces. Fewer than half that number (27%) oppose allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.

That is a fairly static statistic, with little change over the past five years. And, as has been the case for years, support for repeal is broad with strong Democrat support and nearly as many Republicans favoring repeal as opposing it.

It is sad to see politicians pandering to a subset of a demographic to continue discrimination that is not wanted by the American people.

DADT Survey leak: most troops don’t care

Timothy Kincaid

October 29th, 2010

The survey of troops and their families about their attitudes on repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been completed and the results have been compiled. And while the analysis of the results continues and the report will not be available until December 1, some information has been leaked to the media. (WaPo)

A majority of active-duty and reserve service members surveyed by the Defense Department would not object to serving and living alongside openly gay troops, according to multiple people familiar with the findings.

The survey’s results are expected to be included in a Pentagon report, due to President Obama on Dec. 1, regarding how the military would end enforcement of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law that bans openly gay men and lesbians from serving in uniform.

Some troops surveyed – but not a majority – objected strongly to the idea of serving with gays and said they would quit the military if the policy changed, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly share details of the survey.

Terms such as “a majority” and “some troops” are probably useless at this point for anything other than political positioning, but considering that it had been feared that only those most motivated by anti-gay animus would answer the survey, I am encouraged by this leak and am hopeful that the end result will not be a document that will allow Senator McCain much ammunition in his war against openly gay soldiers.

Pew Research: for first time, majority of Americans do not oppose same-sex marraige

Timothy Kincaid

October 6th, 2010

The Pew Research Center has released its annual report on public opinions on same-sex marriage. And while Pew does show support levels for marriage equality that have been observed in other polls, they are reporting the same sort of uptick in support that others have shown. According to Pew, marriage is now supported by 42% and opposed by 48%, the first time that they have observed less than half opposing equality.

Polls this year have found that more Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally than did so just last year. In two polls conducted over the past few months, based on interviews with more than 6,000 adults, 42% favor same-sex marriage while 48% are opposed. In polls conducted in 2009, 37% favored allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally and 54% were opposed. For the first time in 15 years of Pew Research Center polling, fewer than half oppose same-sex marriage.

Pew provides a great deal of breakdown on exactly who is supportive and who is opposed. And while the results are predictable (supporters are younger, educated, Democratic, liberal, and female), there are sizable portions of non-traditional supporters who now favor equality:

38% – men
35% – Southerners
34% – high-school or less
30% – African Americans
28% – age 65 or older
24% – Republicans
16% – “conservative” Republicans
14% – white Evangelicals who attend church weekly

While some of these numbers are small, they are the one which give me the most hope. If a quarter of all Republicans (and 1 in 7 conservative Republicans) support equality, then it can no longer be assumed that the party will hold together much longer in ideological opposition to decency.

These smaller percentages still influence the conversation at the senior center or the church potluck and challenge presumptions that might otherwise yield near unanimity of opposition to our rights among some demographics. And all of these categories show increases in support over the last year.

NSSHB on gay percentages

Timothy Kincaid

October 5th, 2010

Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion has released its National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, what is dubbed “the largest, most comprehensive national survey of Americans’ sexual behavior since 1994.” As part of its extensive review of American sex practices, the NSSHB also provides information on the prevalence of gay people in the population.

Determining the size of the LGBT community is difficult. Even defining it can be a challenge.

I define a homosexual as someone who exclusively or predominantly experiences romantic and/or sexual attraction towards persons of the same sex. A bisexual experiences significant romantic and/or sexual attraction towards person of both sexes.

But measuring such characteristics can be problematic. Because same-sex attraction occurs in small percentages of the population and because there are few ways of measuring attraction that can be applied across a large study sample, calculation of the size of the gay and bisexual subpopulation relies on self-reporting, a notoriously flawed method. Self-reporting is only as accurate as the participants’ honesty with themselves and with the survey and requires that there be some agreed upon definitions.

Further, sexuality can be complex. I once had a conversation about sexual definitions with someone who was dating a MTF transgender friend of mine. While he was attracted to her femininity and appearance (she’s a beautiful woman), there was also the fact that she still had a penis.

Most good studies try and observe both sexual identity and sexual behavior. Neither of these exactly line up with sexual attraction, (there are some who experience predominantly same-sex attractions but who neither identify as gay or engage in same-sex behavior, as well as some who fit in one category but not the other). However, when taken in conjunction, they can provide information as to homosexual or bisexual orientation. The NSSHB presents both.

Before we discuss the results, let’s look at the validity of the survey and the appropriateness of relying on its findings. The NSSHB is not intended to be a measurement of same-sex sexuality, but rather a measure of human sexuality in Americans at a particular moment. However, if it is of sufficient size and quality, it can be of use.

Sampling Method

The study used probability sampling to survey 2,936 men and 2,929 women age 14 to 94. They randomly selected addresses from a pool of about 98% of the population. They adjusted for demographic distribution and invited those selected to participate. About 64% responded, of which 82% agreed to participate. The questions were answered at the participant’s convenience over the internet.

This sampling method is fairly good for the purpose of identifying participants. However, it is skewed towards those who wish to participate in sex surveys, a consideration that could either over- or under-represent gay people. The sample results were verified against separately collected data on sexual orientation.

All in all, this is a credible survey of a fairly representative sample of significant size and should be given weight and consideration when discussing the extent of homosexual and bisexual orientation.

Sexual Identity

In general, sexual identity measures best add to the understanding of those who are “in the gay community.” It includes those who think of themself as being gay, but would not include those who are closeted, ex-gay, religiously opposed to self-inclusion in the community, or even some who happily live in a same-sex relationship but who see their lives as outside of the community.

Additionally, for purposes of self-reporting, it is well known and understood that gay is under-reported and bisexual is over-reported within the community (we all know someone whose “bisexuality” consists of one drunken opposite-sex hook-up in college). So it is probably reasonable to assume that surveys share this bias as well

As time goes on, identity will more closely parallel attraction, but for as long as there are anti-gay activists and social pressures which disadvantage those who are openly gay, this measure will not fully align with sexual orientation as experienced.

The NSSHB study revealed sexual identity as follows:

Male Adult:

92.2% – Heterosexual
4.2% – Gay
2.6% – Bisexual
1.0% – Other

Female Adult:

93.1% – Heterosexual
0.9% – Lesbian
3.6% – Bisexual
2.3% – Other

Unfortunately, with “other” registering so high, it is difficult to give any sense of certainty as to what this means. Certainly asexual or “not really sure” can be included, but there may be other cultural factors at play which shift definition from “gay” to “other”.

But we can say that this study reveals that about 7% of men and about 4.5% of women identify as gay or bisexual. This result is significantly higher – for men – than the result of the CDC’s 2005 report which found gay/bi men to be 2.3/1.8% and gay/bi women to be 1.3/2.8%.

Based on the two reports, and due to the small percentages and the margins of error, “4-7% of men and about 4% of women” may be the best quantification we can use for gay/bi identification.

Another interesting observation can be made from the identity results. Adolescents boys (14 to 17) report 1.8% gay and 1.5% bisexual while adolescent girls report 0.2% lesbian and 8.4% bisexual. These identities probably reflect social pressures to a great extent and may tell us about sharp differences between teenage acceptance of male homosexuality and female homosexuality, and especially the chic status that bisexuality may have among teen girls.

Sexual Behavior

In current American society, sexual behavior can be hard to translate into orientation.

Many people whose sexual orientation is virtually entirely heterosexual may have experimented with same-sex behavior at some point in their life and such responses may not well correlate with homosexuality. But there are those who may also be fully homosexual in orientation and identity who are currently partnerless or who choose not to engage in same-sex behavior. So it would be foolish to equate single sexual experiences with homosexuality or bisexuality or even same-sex attraction.

Some indicators, however may be better than others. For example, it might be reasonable to assume that men who perform oral sex on another man are more likely to be same-sex attracted than a man who lays back, closes his eyes, and says, “hey, a blowj*b is a blowj*b.” And there is probably not a significant percentage of the population who regularly are anal sex recipients yet who lack any same-sex attraction.

Figures at both ends of the age scale were lower than average (due to obvious reasons), but looking at those men between the ages of 20 and 60 who “gave oral to male” we find

4.4% – during the past month
6.3% – during the past year
10.3% – during lifetime

Men between the ages of 20 and 60 who “received penis in anus” were

1.9% – during the past month
4.2% – during the past year
7.9% – during lifetime

These calculations are composite from individual age groups (for example, 10.8% of 20-24 year olds have been anally receptive) and do not take into consideration the probability range. However, they do confirm that the 7% of men who identify as gay or bisexual is a minimum number.

Women between the ages of 20 and 60 who “gave oral to female” were

0.9% – during the past month
3.1% – during the past year
11.0% – during lifetime

These numbers correlate interestingly with the lesbian/bisexual identities as reported above, and confirm that the 4.5% of women who identify as gay or bisexual is likely a minimum number.

Heterosexual Behavior

In addition to providing information about the prevalence of homosexuality in society, this study blows the myth off the assumptions about “what gay sex is.” About 40% of heterosexuals (age 20 to 60) have engaged in anal sex, and about 15% have in the last year.

Oral sex is even more predominant. For example, of men aged 30 to 39, 49.4% received oral sex from a woman in the past month, and 38.1% reciprocated. Lifetime percentages of adults ranges averaged in the high 80s for both.

When anti-gay activists rant about the “dirty and diseased” aspect of gay sexuality, they are deceiving both themselves and their readers. Both anal sex and oral sex occurs far more frequently between heterosexuals than between gay or bisexual people.

Do a majority of Americans support marriage equality?

Timothy Kincaid

September 17th, 2010

Last month the New York Times reported that there were 17 states in which a majority of residents favored marriage equality. I dismissed it as wishful thinking. But today there is an AP poll out with numbers that are even more fantastical and which suggests that support for equality is increasing at an unexpected rate.

NCC10. Should couples of the same sex be entitled to the same government benefits as married couples of the opposite sex, or should the government distinguish between them?

58% – Yes, should be entitled to the same benefits
38% – No, should distinguish between them
3% – Don’t know
1% – Refused

NCC12. Should the Federal Government give legal recognition to marriages between couples of the same sex, or not?

52% – Yes
46% – No
2% – Don’t know

Additionally, there were a couple questions and responses which suggests that anti-gay complaints about “activist judges” may not be an effective strategy.

NCC4. And how about these, which do you agree with more?

35% – If a majority of people want something to happen, the rights of a few shouldn’t stand in the way
62% – The rights of everyone should be protected, even when that means saying no to something the majority of people want to happen.
2% – Don’t know
1% – Refused

NCC18. Which comes closest to your view?

41% – Judges should interpret the laws as narrowly as possible, taking into account only what is
clearly the intention of the lawmakers
56% – Judges should interpret laws broadly, taking into account the broader interests of the
3% – Don’t know

This was based on a telephone survey (land and cell) of 1,007 participants around the third week of August and has a sampling margin of +/-4.5%. This was a survey of the populace, not of voters.

I still have difficulty in claiming that more than half of Americans support marriage equality. However, even if this poll is an outlier or an anomaly, the days are gone when anti-gays can claim that “the vast majority of Americans” oppose recognition of gay couples.

Irish eyes are smiling at you

Timothy Kincaid

September 15th, 2010

From Ireland Today:

Just over two-thirds of people (67 per cent) believe gay couples should be allowed to marry, according to an Irish Times /Behaviour Attitudes social poll.

In addition showing strong support for gay marriage, a significant majority (60 per cent) also believe civil partnerships for gay couples will not undermine the institution of marriage. A large majority (91 per cent) also say they would not think less of a person if they revealed they were gay or lesbian.

If I translate that correctly, there is some percentage who support marriage for same sex couple because they fear the civil partnerships undermine the institution. Personally, I think there is merit in that argument.

Ireland’s civil partnerships law become effective in January and politicians are already planning ahead for full marriage equality. I wonder if the Pope is noticing the same correlation as the rest of us?

CBS Poll: support increases for couples

Timothy Kincaid

August 27th, 2010

CBS has a new poll out which asks a slew of questions on a broad range of subjects, and a few of them related to gay issues.

Relatedly, today NOM’s Maggie Gallagher whined about Ken Mehlman’s support for marriage equality:

Supporting gay marriage, however, is a very different and very public matter… The American people — including over 80% of Republicans and even 40% of Democrats — oppose same-sex marriage. NOM has already proven in races from New York to California that it is a particularly bad idea for Republicans to support gay marriage.

First up was marriage:

q57 Which comes closest to your view? Gay couples should be allowed to legally marry, OR
gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not legally marry, OR there should
be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship?

40% – Allowed to legally marry
30% – Civil unions
25% – No legal recognition
5% – don’t know / no answer

We are now seeing some consistency to support for full marriage equality. In April, CBS reported 39% in favor of equality, and this confirms that April’s response was not a fluke.

But more importantly, the opposition to any legal recognition appears to be weakening For quite some time, nationally the polls have revealed a fairly even 1/3 split between marriage, civil unions, and nothing. At 25% is the lowest I’ve seen reported in the “nothing” category.

As for Maggie’s assertions about Republicans, they just don’t seem to hold up to the facts (like so very much that she says). Actually, Maggie and other opponents of gay couples also appear to be losing their sole demographic.

According to this poll, only 37% of Republicans oppose all recognition, while one in four Republicans now support marriage equality with an additional 34% opting of civil unions. Considering that well over half of Republicans now support couple recognition, this may well help us understand the party’s silence on both of the recent Massachusetts and California judicial decisions and the “congratulations” response to Kel Mehlman’s recent decision to come out. And Maggie’s increasing appearance of anger and depression.

Next came DADT:

q58 Do you favor or oppose permitting gay men and lesbians to serve in the military? Do
you favor/oppose that strongly or not so strongly?

54% – Favor strongly
21% – Favor not so strongly
10% – Oppose not so strongly
9% – Oppose strongly
6% – Don’t know / didn’t answer

No real surprises. As we have long known, large majorities of Americans favor gay service personnel (including 70% of Republicans). This number is up about 5% from earlier this year, mostly from the undecideds.

What is interesting is that 61% of Americans who have served or are currently serving in the military agree (sorry, Elaine Donnelly).

But then CBS skewed their own survey by asking the question a second time, but this time emphasizing “openly announcing their sexual orientation”.

q59 What if they openly announce their sexual orientation? in that case would you favor
or oppose permitting gay men and lesbians to serve in the military?

This is odd phrasing; “openly announce” suggests some form of aggressive activism.

Further, by asking again, CBS implies that this should change your answer. Any time a pollster asks, “yeah, but what if…” it will almost always result in some who question their first response and instinctively change it.

The poll would have been much more accurate had it simply asked the first question with the word “openly” before gay. I very much doubt that q58 would have had different results, as that is what most people would think they were answering anyway. But by asking a second loaded question, the “favor” numbers dropped by 11%.

NY Times: 17 states support marriage equality

Timothy Kincaid

August 24th, 2010

The New York Times released a graph in which they claim that 17 states have support for marriage equality at 50% or higher. I think that’s a pipe dream; the polls I’ve seen simply don’t support it.

But, nonetheless, there is value to be found in looking at the progress made in the past decade and a half. And even if their numbers are off by 5 to 10 percent, there are still a sizable number of states that either support equality or soon will.

Rhode Islanders support marriage

Timothy Kincaid

August 19th, 2010

Greenburg Quinlan Rosler has conducted a poll of Maine Rhode Island residents for the Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders about marriage attitudes in Rhode Island. Although this is a gay-sponsored poll and I have a problem with one part, it does not appear to be conducted in a way that would provide significantly invalid results.

The first 15 questions were either demographic or related to general political issues. Then there were several questions on gay issues. The first three were:

Now, I’d like to rate your feelings toward some people and organizations, with one hundred meaning a VERY WARM, FAVORABLE feeling; zero meaning a VERY COLD, UNFAVORABLE feeling; and fifty meaning not particularly warm or cold. You can use any number from zero to one hundred, the higher the number the more favorable your feelings are toward that person or organization. If you have no opinion or never heard of that person or organization, please say so.

16. Gay and lesbian people

45% responded with warm feelings
18% responded with cool feelings
61% the average response number

17. Gay rights groups

35% responded with warm feelings
27% responded with cool feelings
52% the average response number

18. Currently there is a bill being considered in the State General Assembly that would allow equal access to marriage for same-sex couples. Churches, clergy and other religious institutions would NOT be required to perform same-sex marriages. Do you favor or oppose this bill?

34% – Strongly favor
23% – Somewhat favor
12% – Somewhat oppose
20% – Strongly oppose
10% – (Don’t know/refused)

I’m not sure to what extent that the warm/cold questions influenced the answers on marriage. As they were not particularly leading, I doubt by much. And “allow equal access to marriage” is somewhat more likely to yield positive results than “allow same-sex couples to legally marry”, but again this may not be consequential.

However, I do think that reminding participants that religious institutions are not required to perform same-sex marriages can play a roll in driving polling results. Though on an issue this divided, perhaps not by more than five or six points and then likely would mostly show movement between the “favors” and “don’t knows”.

So even with this poll’s flaws, I think it is probably fair to say that a majority of Rhode Islanders support marriage equality and that opposition to same-sex marriage in Rhode Island is weak.

And probably the most important contributor to the support in Rhode Island is found in question 30:

Do you personally know or work with someone who is gay or lesbian?

79% – Yes
19% – No

Three quarters of military could not care less about repealing DADT

Timothy Kincaid

August 18th, 2010

It is becoming increasingly evident that the most significant disturbance that the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell could have on the morale of the troops may well be the annoyance of having to fill out a survey. Because they certainly don’t seem to be in any rush to inform the Pentagon of their concerns, if they have any.

A few weeks ago, the military brass had to come out and make statements encouraging soldiers to fill out their surveys. It was very important so that they could “understand possible impacts associated by repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law.” And at that time, they only had a 10% response rate.

Well, the deadline has passed and not many responded to the DOD’s appeal. (Wendy City Times)

Department of Defense spokeswoman Cynthia Smith told CNN that just two days before the Aug. 15 deadline about 104,000 of the 400,000 100-question surveys had been returned.

This is about the expected response rate for a long survey. But this survey was special; it was the opportunity for military personnel to weigh in on a matter which was before Congress and which some Senators are convinced is of great importance to them.

And they really just couldn’t care less. Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said,

“From what we are hearing, troops have little interest in this survey and simply just don’t care about this policy change,” he said. “While the Department of Defense and Westat [ the research firm behind the survey ] are spinning the low response rate to the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ survey as expected and sufficient, neither are disclosing the fact that the military leaders have had to put significant pressure on troops on multiple occasions to even get this level of response.”

Nicholson added, “Some commanders and senior leaders have even told subordinates that participation is mandatory. These occurrences further degrade the credibility of this survey’s methodology and violate ethical standards that prevent researchers from compelling respondents to participate in survey research.”

Although Congress is fretting over the horrible possibility of troop morale being decimated, the men and women of the military have looked at this whole conflict and answered. With a collective yawn.

The Trib spins their own poll in an odd way

Timothy Kincaid

August 16th, 2010

Rex Huppke, writing in the Chicago Tribune, has an article today about a Chicago area poll they conducted on same sex marriage. I can’t find the poll results themselves, but the way they report it is downright peculiar.

They start and end with how immoral some find same-sex relationships, but their numbers – when they show them – don’t back that up. But even the numbers seem to be elusive.

Look at paragraph two:

Young, of Oak Lawn, says his opinions on homosexuality are grounded in his Christian faith, but his willingness to support gay marriage puts him in the minority among Chicago-area suburbanites. In a recent Tribune/WGN poll, 46 percent of suburban residents said they oppose legalizing same-sex marriage, while 40 percent approve and 14 percent have no opinion.

OK. Now look at paragraph six:

The overall opinion on legalizing same-sex marriage, when city respondents are factored in, is split: 42 percent oppose it, 42 percent support it and 15 percent have no opinion. The Market Shares Corp. telephone poll of 800 male and female heads of household from the six-county Chicago area has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

They tell us that suburbanites don’t like gay marriage so much, but that when city residents are included, the response is split. But look what’s missing.

Clearly – though the Trib doesn’t tell us so – the math requires that city residents split the other way; more city residents have to approve of marriage equality than disapprove. But since the Trib decided not to share that fact, we don’t know by what extent.

You would think that “Chicago residents support gay marriage” would be an interesting headline. Or at least worthy of making the story.

And the three examples that the Trib ran with to share the residents’ perspective: One supports civil unions but not marriage (but only as a live and let live idea), one opposes both marriage and civil unions, and the sole supporter of marriage thinks that same-sex relationships are immoral. Not a single example was given of those who think that same-sex relationships are a good thing.

If 42% of the area’s residents support marriage, you’d think that maybe the author could find one of them to interview. It’s odd, Huppke has written a number of articles that address gay issues and he doesn’t seem to have a history of animosity towards the gay community.

Fox poll on marriage equality

Timothy Kincaid

August 14th, 2010

Fox News has conducted a poll about same-sex couple recognition

Do you believe gays and lesbians should be:
1. Allowed to get legally married,
2. Allowed a legal partnership similar to but not called marriage, or
3. Should there be no legal recognition given to gay and lesbian relationships?
4. (Don’t know)

37% – married
29% – partnership
28% – no recognition
6% – don’t know

This poll shows improvement over past polls. For the first time in Fox’s polling, marriage was the favored option.

Less than half of Nevadans oppose marriage equality

Timothy Kincaid

August 14th, 2010

The Las Vegas Review-Journal commissioned a poll of Nevada’s voters:

QUESTION: Do you support or oppose legalizing gay marriage in Nevada?

35% – Support
46% – Oppose
19% – Undecided

Although only 35% support legalizing gay marriage, the large undecided block suggests political shift in the past few years.

Opposition to legalizing gay marriage in Nevada appears to have thawed somewhat in the years since voters approved a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

A 2002 poll showed 60 percent of Nevadans supported a ban on gay marriage and 36 percent opposed the ban. Also that year, two-thirds of Nevadans approved the Protection of Marriage constitutional amendment.

The large undecided block may also reflect the timing of the poll, which was taken after Judge Walker found Proposition 8 to be in violation of the US Constitution. Nevada has domestic partnerships which provide all of the state rights and obligations of marriage under a separate name, similar to California.

The poll also found that gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval, a pro-choice Hispanic Republican who supported the Domestic Partnership bill, has a significant lead over Rory Reid, the Democratic candidate for Governor. As best I can tell, neither support full marriage equality.

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