Gallup and the Williams Institute at the law school of the University of California, Los Angeles, on Thursday published the results of “the largest single study of the distribution of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) population in the U.S. on record.”
From June through September, Gallup asked 121,290 Americans if they personally identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The results, at least when viewed through a racial and ethnic lens, did not conform to some social stereotypes. The numbers were small, but the implications large.
The poll found that nonwhites are more likely than whites to answer “yes.”
And, although, in general, younger people were more likely to answer affirmatively than older ones, young black men (those between 18 and 29 years old) were 56 percent more likely than young white men to answer yes. Young Hispanic men were 49 percent more likely than young white men to answer with a yes and young Asian men were 23 percent more likely than young white men to answer yes.
This wide discrepancy did not exist among young women. Young black women were only 12 percent more likely than young white women to say yes, and young Asian and Hispanic women were less likely to say yes than young white women.
(The only group in which older people were more likely to answer yes than younger people was among Asian men.)
It’s a head-scratcher.
Was there a fluke in the methodology? It seems solid to me, and because the sample size is huge, the margin of error is tiny.
So I did what columnists do when they’re stumped: I reached out to social scientists, cultural critics and activists in the subject area hoping that they could clarify. They had theories, but they were also scratching their heads.
They did, however, offer some intriguing ideas and posed some interesting questions.
Could it be that outreach programs on H.I.V. and AIDS are better at reaching young people of color? Could it be a new level of openness among celebrities and acceptance by politicians? Could it be that some men of color have less at stake financially that could be jeopardized by identifying as gay than their white counterparts?
The theories kept spinning, but there were few clear answers. Dan Savage, a syndicated sex columnist and the originator of the “It Gets Better” antibullying campaign, summed up the consensus concisely: “Boy, this is fascinating stuff.”
On the one hand, it’s a positive statistic. It shows that the gay and lesbian community is more diverse than many believe, and it shows that many young men of color feel empowered to identify as they feel most comfortable.
On the other, the causes behind it remain a mystery.