1 in 6 Gen Z adults are LGBT

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1 in 6 Gen Z adults are LGBT

Gallup’s latest survey data, based on more than 15,000 interviews conducted throughout 2020 with Americans age 18 and older, found that 5.6 percent of U.S. adults identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

By Samantha Schmidt

Jasper Swartz recently realized that nearly all of their friends are “queer in some way.”

They were 8 years old when same-sex marriage became legal in Maryland, about 12 when they realized they were attracted to girls and 14 when they came out as nonbinary, using they/them pronouns. Jasper grew up scrolling through gay memes on Instagram and following transgender influencers on YouTube. They attended a diverse public middle school in Montgomery County, Md., that taught lessons about sexual orientation and gender identity in health class.

“But at that point,” Jasper said, “I was already familiar with the stuff they were teaching.”

Jasper is a member of Generation Z, a group of young Americans that is breaking from binary notions of gender and sexuality — and is far more likely than older generations to identify as something other than heterosexual.

One in six adults in Generation Z identifies as LGBT, according to survey data released early Wednesday from Gallup, providing some of the most detailed and up-to-date estimates yet on the size and makeup of the nation’s LGBT population.

Gallup’s latest survey data, based on more than 15,000 interviews conducted throughout 2020 with Americans age 18 and older, found that 5.6 percent of U.S. adults identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, up from 4.5 percent in Gallup’s findings based on 2017 data.

At a time when the majority of Americans support gay rights, more than half a decade after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, it’s clear that a growing percentage of the U.S. population identifies as LGBT, Gallup’s researchers said. What’s less clear is why. Is it because of a real shift in sexual orientation and gender identity? Or is it because of a greater willingness among young people to identify as LGBT?

If the latter is true, it’s possible the latest findings are undercounting the actual size of the population, Gallup said. Moreover, the 2020 survey data captures only the oldest segment of Generation Z, those ages 18 to 23.

“As we see more Gen Z become adults, we may see that number go up,” said Gallup senior editor Jeff Jones.

Phillip Hammack, a psychology professor and director of the Sexual and Gender Diversity Laboratory at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said the Gallup findings are “extremely exciting” and are consistent with his own research about young people identifying as LGBT in California.

A key reason for this growth is the Internet, he said. When Hammack was coming out in the 1990s, there was no YouTube, no Instagram, no easy way to research sexuality or gender outside a library or a Gay-Straight Alliance group. Today’s teenagers have all this information at their fingertips.

“The rigid lines around gender and sexuality are just opening up for everybody,” Hammack said. “Young people are just doing it. … They’re leading this revolution, and they’re forcing scientists to take a closer look.”

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The ‘silent majority’ of the LGBT community

Unlike Gallup’s surveys in previous years, which simply asked respondents to answer “yes” or “no” to whether they identify as LGBT, the 2020 survey allowed respondents to give a greater level of detail about their identity.

The findings provide a window into the largest subset of LGBT Americans, a group that Hammack calls “the silent majority of the LGBT community”: bisexual people.

More than half of LGBT adults identify as bisexual, the Gallup survey data found, while a quarter say they are gay, 12 percent identify as lesbian, 11 percent as transgender and 3 percent as another term, such as queer. (Respondents could select multiple responses.) That means 3.1 percent of Americans identify as bisexual.

And in Generation Z, bisexual people make up an even greater share of the LGBT community — 72 percent said they identify as bisexual. This means that nearly 12 percent of all Gen Z adults identify as bisexual, and about 2 percent each identify as gay, lesbian or transgender.

In comparison, about half of millennials who identify as LGBT say they are bisexual, while in older age groups, identifying as bisexual is about as common as identifying as gay or lesbian.

Despite making up such a large proportion of the LGBT population, bisexual people still face pervasive stigma from both within and outside the community, Hammack said. Some of this stigma is rooted in notions that people are either gay or straight, and in messaging during the 20th century that focused on biological “born this way” arguments for gay rights.

“Post-marriage equality, we’re liberated now,” Hammack said. “Legitimacy of sexual diversity has kind of arrived, and people recognize that.”

But bisexual adults are much less likely than gays and lesbians to be “out” to the important people in their lives, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of survey data from Stanford University. And among bisexual people with partners, almost nine in 10 are married or in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, Pew found.

New survey data also released Wednesday from Gallup found that 17 percent of bisexual adults are married to a spouse of the opposite sex, while 1 percent are married to a spouse of the same sex. Meanwhile, 13 percent live with an opposite-sex domestic partner, while 3 percent live with a domestic partner of the same sex.

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Jenny Granados-Villatoro, 18, remembers when she first realized she had a crush on her friend, a girl in one of her classes in middle school. She started noticing little things her friend did — how she would twirl her pencil around in a full circle, how she would sit in her chair with her legs crossed a certain way.

She started reading about bisexuality and asking herself: “Why am I feeling this way? Is it normal to feel attraction to two genders?” Even in her diverse and LGBTQ-friendly high school in Montgomery County, it was difficult for her to come out to her friends and family as bisexual. She said she has heard people in the LGBTQ community say they are hesitant to date someone who is bisexual because “they’re afraid that in the end, someone will realize, “I’m not actually interested in you,” she said. “A lot of people will think it’s just a phase.”

Her parents, who are devout Catholics from El Salvador, still have a hard time wrapping their heads around the concept, she said.

“They always ask me, ‘Do you think you’re going to end up marrying a woman or a man?’ ” Jenny said. “If I were to have come out as lesbian, it would have definitely been an easier concept for them to grasp.”

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Women are more likely than men to identify as bisexual

A closer look at this population reveals another striking phenomenon — women are more likely than men to identify as LGBT, and especially as bisexual.

More than 4 percent of women identify as bisexual, while less than 2 percent of men identify as bisexual. Meanwhile, 1 percent of women identify as lesbian and less than 3 percent of men identify as gay.

Research from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law has similarly found that a key driver of the growth in the LGBT community has been a surge in bisexual women and girls. Bisexual women make up the largest group of LGBT adults — about 35 percent, according to a Williams Institute analysis of data from three population-based surveys. More than one in 10 U.S. high school youth identifies as lesbian, gay or bisexual. And among them, 75 percent are female and 77 percent identify as bisexual.

Why are women and girls more likely to identify as bisexual than men and boys?

Kerith Conron, research director at the Williams Institute, said more research is needed to understand this pattern. But, she said, “my theory would be it’s more acceptable for girls to identify as bisexual.”

“The policing of young people is particularly pronounced for boys, to be masculine,” Conron said. “And for girls, to be bisexual isn’t necessarily perceived as a significant deviation from femininity.”

In a similar way, among those who Hammack surveyed for his research, young people who were assigned female at birth were more likely to identify as nonbinary, meaning they are neither male nor female — or they identify as a combination of both.

Perhaps this is rooted in the idea that it’s more socially acceptable for girls to be masculine, but not for boys to be feminine, said Jasper Swartz, the nonbinary 16-year-old in Maryland.

“A woman wearing a suit is something that is not shocking or taboo or anything. But when Harry Styles wore a dress on the cover of Vogue, everyone was getting so angry,” Jasper said. “It’s not that women are inherently more bisexual than men. I think it’s that women, they’re not quite as scared of being queer; they’re more open to exploring it.

“If the culture was more open for men,” Jasper added, “I think that many of them would be bisexual and nonbinary and every different flavor of queer.”

But Jasper thinks this culture is quickly shifting. The closure of schools during the pandemic and the surge in popularity of TikTok have given many young people the freedom to express their gender in new ways on social media, and to examine the gender binary more critically.

“A lot of people are realizing, why do we have to live our lives this way?” Jasper said.

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