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COMMENTARY: What? Only 9 million LGBT Americans? Who are you kidding?

A new study by the Williams Institute suggests that 9 million Americans are LGBT. That’s larger than the number of residents in the populous state of New Jersey.

The study draws information from four recent national and two state-level population surveys to estimate the size of the LGBT community in the U.S.

The figures, however, are raising eyebrows in the LGBT community as being very low.

Sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, one of the first experts to study sexual orientation, famously noted that 10% of the men he surveyed reported being “predominantly homosexual.” For years, that figure stood, although newer research estimates that LGBT people make up 5% to 10% of the population. With the U.S. population currently around 308 million, anywhere from 15 million to 30 million Americans would likely be LGBT.

The Williams Institute study suggests that 3% of the population is LGBT.

Yet, a 2007 survey by Harris Interactive and Witeck Combs Communications suggested there were 15 million LGBT Americans.

It’s hard to believe that 6 million LGBT people have disappeared from the U.S. in the past four years.

The problem with demographics involving the LGBT community is that many people are reluctant to identify their sexual orientation. Furthermore, many people who are LGBT remain in the closet for personal or professional reasons.

The Williams Institute is a respected think tank at the UCLA School of Law, whose goal is “advancing critical thought in the field of sexual orientation law and public policy.” The study’s author is Gary J. Gates, a Williams Distinguished Scholar who has become an expert on the demography of the gay and lesbian population.

In its news release announcing the results of the new study, the Williams Institute also wrote this:

Estimates of those who report any lifetime same-sex sexual behavior and any same-sex sexual attraction are substantially higher than estimates of those who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. An estimated 19 million Americans (8.2%) report that they have engaged in same-sex sexual behavior and nearly 25.6 million Americans (11%) acknowledge at least some same-sex sexual attraction.

This shows that the new study should come with a huge asterisk to explain that the information is hardly factual or scientific.
Indeed, Gates told The Associated Press this week that his 9 million figure is a “scholarly” estimate:

"One of the major questions, when you think about how many (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people are there, is what do you mean by LGBT? This shows there are pretty big differences between people who use the terms to label themselves versus sexual behavior or attraction."

Who knows why Gates settled on the estimate of 9 million? Perhaps as a talking point?

In the same interview, he quoted an even larger figure.

He also estimated that 19 million people, or 8.2 percent of the population, have engaged in sex with a partner of the same sex. That includes all groups, such as gays, bisexuals and heterosexuals who have experimented with same-sex behavior.

If it quacks like a duck, is it a duck?

The Gates figures may also represent the cultural divide with the LGBT population. Older generations are more closeted, and today’s youth are much more open and experimental in their sexual activities. Older LGBT Americans may not be as honest as their younger counterparts when answering such surveys.

Then there is the anecdotal evidence that many young people who have same-sex relationships also don’t identify as LGBT.

Gates’ study will certainly fire up the Right Wing, which will gloat that the 10% figure is an urban myth and that the clout of the LGBT community is greatly exaggerated.

Indeed, the Family Research Council (FRC), which is listed as a hate group by the widely respected Southern Poverty Law Center, is already crowing about the study results.

Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies with the FRC, said Gates' findings was further repudiation of the Kinsey 10% estimate. He told the AP that Gates’ estimate that 4 million Americans were bisexual creates another sticky issue.

"I see this as somewhat of a problem for the gay political movement. It undermines the idea that being born homosexual is an immutable characteristic that can't be changed."

Sprigg is spouting the propaganda line of the Religious Right, which is in the business of demonizing the LGBT community to raise money and deny equal rights.

It’s disheartening that Gates’ scholarly work, as earnest as it attempts to be, is being used against the very community that it intends to support.