A record 7.1 percent of U.S. adults self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or something other than heterosexual, and members of Generation Z are driving the growth, according to results from a Gallup survey published Thursday.
This year’s record high includes 21 percent of Gen Zers who have reached adulthood — which Gallup defines as those born between 1997 and 2003 — making them the generational group with the largest proportion of LGBTQ people. Among millennials, 10.5 percent self-identify as LGBTQ, while 4.2 percent of Generation X, 2.6 percent of baby boomers and 0.8 percent of traditionalists do, according to the Gallup data. Meanwhile, 86.3 percent of respondents self-identified as straight or heterosexual.
The poll was conducted by telephone last year, and incorporated a random sample of more than 12,000 adults across the country, Gallup said.
The high rate of LGBTQ self-identification reflects a combination of increasing cultural acceptance for LGBTQ people and the fact that Gen Zers are increasing in the national population of adults while members of older generations are dying, according to Gallup senior editor Jeffrey Jones.
“They’ve really grown up in a culture where being LGBT was normal and not something that people had to be embarrassed about or try and hide,” Jones said of members of Gen Z. “Certainly there’s still some discrimination, but it’s nothing like it’s been when the older generations were growing up … it’s both things happening — the behaviors and the attitudes are changing, and it’s also the population changing.”
On social media, advocates cheered the growing number of Americans identifying as LGBTQ.
“Thanks to increases in visibility, representation, and equality, more and more LGBTQ Americans are able to come out and live as our authentic selves,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president and chief executive of GLAAD, wrote on Twitter.
Human Rights Campaign interim president Joni Madison said in a statement: “With more LGBTQ+ people than ever before living openly and embracing their identity, the fight for LGBTQ+ equality in America must continue to represent this ever-growing and beautiful community.”
LGBTQ members of Gen Z are most likely to identify as bisexual, at 15 percent, compared to 6 percent of millennials, the poll found. More than half of LGBTQ Americans overall — 57 percent — identify as bisexual, according to the results. (Respondents could select multiple responses.)
Gen Zers are also more likely to identify as lesbian, gay, transgender or “other” than members of other generations, according to the results. Gallup began measuring each category within “LGBT” individually in 2020, and this year marked the first year that they offered respondents the option to type in a response in the “other” category, Jones said, adding that Gallup plans to release more data next year based on those self-identifications.
Some of the disparities between generations, Jones said, may partially be due to older people being less inclined to self-identify due to growing up in a time of less acceptance for LGBTQ people. (The Gallup data shows that LGBTQ identification tends to remain stable among older generations, hovering around 4 percent for Generation X, 3 percent for baby boomers and 1 percent for traditionalists since Gallup’s first survey on LGBTQ self-identification in 2012.)
Gen Zers also increasingly make up a larger share of American adults as more of them turn 18 (the Pew Research Center defines Gen Zers as being born between 1997 to 2012). And younger Gen Zers are more likely than older members of their generation to identify as LGBTQ, given that the percentage of them who have identified as LGBTQ has nearly doubled since 2017, when it was 10.5 percent.
The distinctions between Gen Zers and millennials reflects the progress LGBTQ people have made over the past few decades, according to Sharita Gruberg, vice president of the LGBTQI+ Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, an independent nonpartisan policy institute.
When older millennials were in high school, in 2003, the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Lawrence v. Texas case that the criminalization of sodomy was unconstitutional, Gruberg pointed out, adding that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality more than a decade later — in 2015 — when older Gen Zers were in high school.
Of the legal progress LGBTQ people saw during the time period, Gruberg added: “I can’t stress enough what a difference that makes in your comfort with your identity, in public opinion … and around stigma.”
But LGBTQ people — and Gen Zers in particular — still face myriad challenges: Gruberg’s team published research last fall showing that more than half of LGBTQ Gen Zers report experiencing discrimination, and face higher rates of mental health issues and housing instability than older generations of LGBTQ people. And 10 states so far this year have enacted bans barring transgender students from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an independent nonprofit think tank.
Data on LGBTQ people can be hard to come by: Last year marked the first time the U.S. Census Bureau started asking Americans about their gender identity and sexual orientation on their Household Pulse Survey, used to measure the pandemic’s impacts on households.
“We have very little information through quality government data, so in the absence of that, the Gallup poll has really served as how we estimate how many LGBTQ people are in the country,” she said.
The Gallup poll is just a start, Gruberg noted, pointing to the fact that it doesn’t include data on race or disability, and that 6.6 percent of people surveyed did not respond.
But given that Gallup researchers expect the proportion of LGBTQ Americans to continue to increase in the near future, the survey and its findings mark a key step forward, she said: “We’re moving to a place where more than one in 10 Americans is LGBTQ — that is information that policymakers need to have.”