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Religious Tolerance logo

Homosexuality and bisexuality

Part 2: Attempts to estimate the percentage of
North American gay, lesbian, & bisexual adults.
Implications of the percentage.

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This topic is a continuation from a previous essay

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Estimates of the percentage of adults who are gay or lesbian (Cont'd):

  • 2011-MAY: Gallup repeated their 2002 poll to sample the public's belief about the percentage of sexual minorities. They selected 1,018 adults randomly across the U.S. 1 The margin of error was ±4 percentage points. Results were:
    • On average, the respondents believed that 24.6% of American adults are either gay or lesbian!

      • 4% of the respondents believed that adult gays and lesbians constitute less than 5% of the total population.
      • 9% believed that the percentage was 5% or over but under 10%
      • 26% estimated gays and lesbians as 10% or over but under 20%
      • 26% suggested 20% or over but under 25%.
      • 35% believe that 25% or more of the population is lesbian or gay!
      • Only 8% had no opinion or didn't answer.

    • The mean estimates among:
      • Women was 30%.
      • Men: 19%.

      • Ages 18 to 29: 30%
      • 30 to 49: 24%
      • 50 to 64: 22%
      • Above 64: 22%

      • Democrats: 28%.
      • Independents: 25%.
      • Republicans: 20%.

      • Social liberals: 27%
      • Social moderates: 26%
      • Social conservatives: 21%

      • High school or less education: 31%
      • Some college: 24%
      • College graduates: 16%
      • Postgraduates: 16%

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2012 Canadian data:

A 2012-JUL poll by Forum Research on behalf of the National Post newspaper found that 5% of Canadian adults identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Since transgender/transsexual individuals are quite rare, one can reasonably assume that the percentage of those lesbians, gays, and bisexuals (LGB) who are willing to reveal their sexual orientation to the pollsters is close to 5%. The poll was taken twice to confirm accuracy. The problem, as with all polls on sensitive topics, is how to figure out how many persons polled are telling the truth, and how many are reluctant to reveal their minority sexual orientation to a polling agency.

These numbers were higher than those observed in the U.S. That might be because sexual minorities face lower rates of discrimination than those in the U.S. One indication of that is the attainment of marriage equality in the two countries. Canada legalized gay marriage in 2005; the U.S. in 2015.

The Forum Research results compare to a Statistics Canada poll in 2009 which found that only 2% of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 59 said that they were lesbian, gay or bisexual. The large difference is probably due to three reasons:

  • About 0.6% of adults are transgender and woud not be counted in the Stats Canada poll.

  • The LGB community in Canada are probably more open about their sexual orientation in 2012 compared with 2009.

  • The 2012 survey was done by a private company; the 2009 survey was done by the federal Government. The group conducting the earlier poll might have scared off many sexual minorities.

2,694 people were phoned by Forum Research between 2012-JUN-14 and 27, using an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system that allows a computer to interact with a person who responds on the keypad. The margin of error is ±1.9 percentage points.

The National Post commented:

"Younger Canadians are far more likely to say they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender than older Canadians, with 10% of those aged 18 to 34 answering the question with a “yes,” compared to 2% or 3% in the four older age categories. Mr. Kyle Rae, 58, [the first openly gay city councilor in Toronto, ON said:]

'My generation didn’t come out until at least university. 'Today, people are coming out in high school, if not grade school'." 2

Assuming that transgender persons are in a small minority, and that persons 18 to 34 are mostly telling the truth, and that the number of bisexuals are roughly equal to the number of gays and lesbians, then the number of gays and lesbians is approximately 5%.

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The percentage of lesbians and gays in the population is not known with any precision. Estimates depend greatly on the definitions used and the willingness of sexual minorities to disclose their sexual orientation to pollsters.

  • If a single same-gender sexual encounter generates a gay or lesbian, than a very substantial minority of American adults could be considered gay or lesbian.

  • If you include all persons with a same-sex attraction -- whether they be gay, lesbian, or bisexual -- then the 10% figure appears to be valid. However, many -- perhaps most -- of these persons have never acted on their feelings of attraction.

  • If you include only the persons who identify themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB), then perhaps 5% is a reasonable estimate. Gary Gate's finding of 3.5% (1.8% bisexual and 1.7% lesbian or gay) may well be an underestimate because not all persons who view themselves as LGB are willing to admit this to a stranger at a polling agency. However, many pass as heterosexual, because any time a LGB individual comes out of the closet, they run the risk of harassment, a physical attack, a verbal attack, and/or a threat to their continuing employment or accommodation.

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Implications of the very high estimated number of LGBs by the general population:

We have an office motto: "Any time that someone deviates from reality, people get hurt." It seems obvious that the general population has a greatly exaggerated belief of the percentage of LGB's in the general population. This probably has many effects on people's attitude toward sexual minorities:

  • Those who support same-sex marriage as a human right and who greatly overestimate the number of LGBs will probably be view the lack of universally accessible same-sex marriage to be a more serious and widespread restriction on fundamental civil rights. They may be more highly motivated to fight for marriage equality than if they had an accurate understanding of LGB numbers.

  • Those who view same-sex marriage as a danger to the institution of "traditional marriage" who have an inflated view of the size of the LGB community may well be more highly motivated to fight against marriage equality and discriminate aganst that community.

  • Those who believe that perhaps 30% of the adult population is lesbian or gay, and who hear that only 1 or 2% of marriages are by same-sex couples may conclude that same-sex marriages (SSM) are not valued by the LGB community. They might give greater credibility to the claims that are occasionally heard from religious and social conservatives that the LGB community is only interested in promoting SSM as a technique for destroying the institution of "traditional marriage." In contrast, one in three of the Canadians who identified as LGB said that they are in a same-sex marriage. 2

We hope that the larger agencies producing population information will seriously engage in measuring the LGB population and educating the country about the actual size of the LGB community. We also hope that better techniques are developed that will coax more sexual minorities to accurately reveal their true sexual orientation to pollsters.

The same concerns exists for the transgender and transsexual community. Estimates of their size also vary over at least a 10 to 1 ratio.

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References used:

These information sources were used to prepare & update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Lymari Morales, "U.S. Adults Estimate That 25% of Americans Are Gay or Lesbian," Gallup, 2011-MAY-27, at:
  2. Kathryn Blaze Carlson, "The true north LGBT: New poll reveals landscape of gay Canada," The National Post, 2012-JUL-06, at:

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Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality> Basic info >here

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Copyright © 2012 & 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Originally written: 2012-JUN-08
Latest update: 2017-NOV-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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