PRINCETON, NJ -- The percentage of U.S. adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) ranges from 1.7% in North Dakota to 5.1% in Hawaii and 10% in the District of Columbia, according to Gallup surveys conducted from June-December 2012. Residents in the District of Columbia were most likely to identify as LGBT (10%). Among states, the highest percentage was in Hawaii (5.1%) and the lowest in North Dakota (1.7%), but all states are within two percentage points of the nationwide average of 3.5%.
These results are based on responses to the question, "Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender?" included in 206,186 Gallup Daily tracking interviews conducted between June 1 and Dec. 30, 2012. This is the largest single study of the distribution of the LGBT population in the U.S. on record, and the first time a study has had large enough sample sizes to provide estimates of the LGBT population by state.
As was outlined in the first report of these data in October, measuring sexual orientation and gender identity can be challenging because these concepts involve complex social and cultural patterns. There are a number of ways to measure lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientation, and transgender status. Gallup chose a broad measure of personal identification as LGBT because this grouping of four statuses is commonly used in current American discourse, and as a result has important cultural and political significance. One limitation of this approach is that it is not possible to separately consider differences among lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, or transgender individuals. A second limitation is that this approach measures broad self-identity, and does not measure sexual or other behavior, either past or present.
The number of interviews conducted in each state between June and December is large enough to allow for reasonable estimates of each state's LGBT population. Only eight states had less than 1,000 completed interviews, including the lowest sample size of 613 in Alaska. Gallup also asked the LGBT question of 493 District of Columbia residents. The number of completed interviews conducted in each state is presented in the accompanying table.
The margin of error for each state's estimate varies, depending on the state's sample size. Except for the District of Columbia, all are below ±2 percentage points. A caution comes in interpreting rankings of states with relatively small populations. Although, as noted, the margins of error in general are quite small with all of these estimates, differences in the rankings of the states with the smallest numbers of interviews are more prone to being byproducts of sampling error.
Overall, the results from this analysis of LGBT identity by state may run counter to some stereotypes that portray the LGBT community as heavily grouped in certain states of the union. With the exception of the District of Columbia, the range in percentage LGBT is 3.4 percentage points, from 1.7% in North Dakota to 5.1% in Hawaii.
While the variation in LGBT identification across states is relatively small, findings do suggest some evidence that the variation is not entirely random. Social climates that promote acceptance of or stigma toward LGBT individuals could affect how many adults disclose an LGBT identity. LGBT people who live in places where they feel accepted may be more likely than those who live in places where they feel stigmatized to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity to a survey interviewer.
In general, states where residents express more liberal views are more accepting of LGBT individuals, while socially conservative areas are less accepting. Of the 10 states and D.C. where at least 4% of respondents identified as LGBT, seven are among the most liberal states in the country. Conversely, six of 10 states with the lowest percentage of LGBT-identified adults are among the top 10 conservative states in the country.
The states with proportionally larger LGBT populations generally have supportive LGBT legal climates. With the exception of South Dakota, all of the states that have LGBT populations of at least 4% have laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and allow same-sex couples to marry, enter into a civil union, or register as domestic partners. Of the 10 states with the lowest percentage of LGBT adults, only Iowa has such laws.
Higher proportions of LGBT individuals in a state could also suggest that LGBT individuals move there in higher proportions than the general population does. While highly concentrated (and mostly male) LGBT neighborhoods exist in many cities and are certainly in part a result of this type of migration, little is known about the broader migration patterns of the LGBT community. Given prior Gallup findings showing that the LGBT population is disproportionately young, female, and nonwhite -- all of which are groups with economic disadvantages that could limit their abilities to move -- it seems unlikely that migration is the primary reason for variation in LGBT identification across states.
From a broad perspective, the variation in the percentage of adults across U.S. states who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is relatively small. At the same time, the variation does provide interesting information about LGBT identification and its possible relationship to the ideological and legal climate in different states. All states are within a couple of percentage points of the overall LGBT national average of 3.5%. The LGBT adult population estimate is above 5% only in the District of Columbia and Hawaii, and below 2% only in North Dakota.
States with high LGBT percentages tend to be more liberal and have more supportive LGBT legal climates, while those at the lower end of the LGBT spectrum are generally the most conservative. This suggests that one explanation for the variation across states is the relationship between the willingness to disclose LGBT identity and the environment of one's state of residence. It is also possible that LGBT adults make conscious choices to reside in certain states rather than others, but this possibility is difficult to assess and seems less likely.
Gary J. Gates is the Williams Distinguished Scholar at the Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law. A national expert in LGBT demographics, he holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the Heinz College of Public Policy and Management, Carnegie Mellon University.
Gallup's "State of the States" series reveals state-by-state differences on political, economic, and wellbeing measures Gallup tracks each day. New stories based on full-year 2012 data will be released throughout the month of February.
Results are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2012, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 206,186 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point. The margin of sampling error for each state varies depending on the number of interviews conducted in that state.
Margins of error for individual states are no greater than ±6 percentage points, and are ±3 percentage points in most states. The margin of error for the District of Columbia is ±6 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each national sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phones numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
State samples are weighted to be representative of the state's adult population by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, and education based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.