Researchers have recently begun to discuss the challenge of counting the amount of lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) people, citing social stigma as a limiting factor.
In surveys conducted by economists Katherine B. Coffman and Lucas C. Coffman of Ohio State and Keith M. Marzilli Ericson of Boston University, respondents were more likely to disclose aspects of a same-sex orientation when the questions were asked in a way to help hide the answers, and they were also more likely to reveal anti-gay sentiments.
Those who responded were able to answer the “Direct Report” questions (where participants had to directly answer questions) and “Veiled Reports” questions (where participants answered questions as a group, therefore “veiling” responses), which were then compared to an average.
The study doesn’t provide census-like conclusions about how many LGB people there are, but the comparison between direct and veiled responses shows how difficult answering questions about LGB identities truly is for our society.
“I’d feel much more confident sharing that type of information in a group survey, rather than directly,” said Joshua Going, a 21-year old gay student in San Francisco, who cited fear of judgment and discrimination (especially in a professional workplace) as reasons why one might be skeptical or more hesitant to participate in “Direct Report” surveys.
The study included a variety of examples and found that with the extra privacy and anonymity of the veiled response, participants were more likely to disclose more information regarding LGB affiliation.
The study found that the percentage of respondents who identified as not heterosexual increased by 65 percent when they were able to disclose this information through a veiled survey rather than a direct one. In terms of whether respondents had a same-sex sexual experience, responses increased from 17 percent to 27 percent, a 59 percent increase.
However, same-sex attraction did not show a significant difference, with responses only increasing from 14 percent to 15 percent, an eight percent increase. This suggests that disclosing attractions is not as sensitive as disclosing behavior or identity.
A 2011 study by the Williams Institute estimated that about 3.5 percent of the population openly identify as LGB, but it pointed out that as many as 8.2 percent have engaged in same-sex sexual behavior, and as many as 11 percent acknowledge at least some same-sex sexual attraction. H
owever, keeping in mind the previously mentioned social stigma regarding admitting affiliation with the LGB community, it’s possible that these numbers are much higher than they appear to be.