Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Studying LesBians: how many of us are really out there?

Studying LesBians is a monthly column about recent and not so recent research into lesBians and the LGBT community as a whole. This time I want to talk about a British study saying much fewer people identify as gay than originally thought.

Last week a British study was published which showed that only 1,5 % of the UK population identifies as gay. Immediately all the online (LGBT) news outlets were all over it, reporting it as if it were fact. It made me raise my eyebrows, for several reasons.

First of all, as a researcher I am very aware that study results cannot just be generalised to the general public, unless the number of people asked were significant enough and they are representive of the general UK public. A quick look at the study showed that there was not much to worry about on those grounds.

The Office for National Statistics surveyed no less than 238,206 people. Plus it's the Office for National Statistics, their entire purpose of existing is to provide data that are representive for an entire country.

The second, and more important factor, that made me question these results is how exactly questions about sexual orientation were asked. It really helped that the nice people at the Guardian provided a spreadsheet giving us the number of people selecting each of the options:

94,8 % percent identified as straight, 1% as gay/lesbian, 0,5% as bisexual, 0,5% identified as other, 2,8% ticked the box saying they either didn't know or refused to respond, and a final 0,5% skipped the question all together.

You don't have to be good at math to see that all the headlines with their 1,5% weren't exactly accurate. For starters, I bet bisexuals were annoyed they were just lumped together with the gays & lesbians. But even if we wanted to know which percentage of the population identified as queer (or as not straight), it would make more sense to also count the 0,5% identifying as other. That already makes 2%.

I might be reaching a little here, but I think it's fair to assume that most of the people who refused to answer this question are not straight. After all, if you were straight why not just admit to belonging to the majority? A long time ago, when I was still in the closet, I always refused to answer those questions too. It didn't make me any less gay, just not out.

The same reasoning can be applied to those people who said they did not know their sexual orientation. Confusion about sexuality in the majority of cases leads to later identifications as not straight.

If we add all those answers together we end up just a little under 5%. This also happens to be the average estimation most organisations dealing with or helping the LGBT community use.

When we look once again at the spreadsheet, and look at the divisions by age groups, it looks like the figures aren't quite right. It is very interesting to see that in the younger age groups, very few people identify as straight. But the spreadsheet also shows over 20% in each age group refused to answer the question.

So how can they then come to the conclusion that 95% is straight, if so many people didn't know what they were or refused to answer? (Do let me know if I'm reading this spreadsheet all wrong).

I was not the only one to come to this conclusion. This week many of the gay news outlets were writing about the 1,5 % number not being accurate.

You might be reading this and thinking why does it matter? Well, it matters because there are still a lot of people out there who think organisations trying to improve things for the LGBT community are just naggers, always worrying about problems that don't exist.

With papers nationwide quoting only 1,5% instead of 5% of the population is gay, it justifies people into thinking being gay is rare and therefore, we are not important enough to support.

What do you make of this study and they way it's been portrayed in the media? Do you think the numbers are accurate? Do you always fill in the sexual orientation questions when taking part in a survey?

This post was first published on eurout.

1 comment:

unfolder said...

Great post!

I think you nicely outlined how the media interpreted this study all wrong.
I always fill in the sexual orientation question in a survey, btw, even when I was still in the closet.