The number of U.S. adults who identify as LGBTQ has rocketed to a record 7.1%,and young people are again steering the increase, a poll released Thursday shows.
The 7.1% is double the percentage from 2012, when Gallup first measured identity, and is up over last year’s poll that showed 5.6% of adults identify as LGBTQ. In a 2017 poll, that number was 4.5%.
The upswing is significant, Gallup senior editor Jeff Jones told USA TODAY.
“I think it speaks to society changing in terms of acceptance of people with different sexual orientations and gender identities and people’s willingness to identify that way,” he said.
And the trend is likely to continue, Jones said: “It’s not going to be too much longer before (LGBTQ identification) is in double digits in the U.S. population.”
One of the most striking takeaways of polls in recent years is the wave of younger generations embracing their identity, Jones said. Now those youths are moving into adulthood, meaning more people are entering the 18+ world as LGBTQ.
“That population change is what is driving this,” he said.
About 21% of Generation Z Americans – those born from 1997 to 2003 – identified as LGBTQ in this year’s Gallup poll, which was based on aggregated 2021 data.
Among Millennials – those born from 1981 to 1996 – 10.5% identified as LGBTQ. The numbers dwindled in each older generation.
Nearly 1 in 6 Gen Z adults also identifies as bisexual, the poll shows. That number is not surprising and again reflects the dynamic of youths transitioning into adulthood comfortable with their identity and orientation, Jones said.
“They probably never experienced a time where there was discrimination like in the past,” he said.
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The poll results give young people a direct and uplifting message, said Jen Grosshandler, executive director and founder of The GenderCool Project, a youth-led group that works to replace misinformed opinions with real experiences of young people who are transgender and nonbinary.
“America is changing,” she said. “It’s opening up to reflect you. You are seen. Keep living your life, and everything else will follow.”
As more youths come to grips with their identity at an earlier age, “this is driving societal change, much of which is positive,” she said. “This change, in turn, sends a message to young people that society sees them and welcomes them. One fuels the other.”
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But the poll results land amid a legislative onslaught against the LGBTQ community, particularly transgender youths. In 2021, at least 100 bills were introduced to block trans youths’ participation in sports and at least 40 targeted youths’ gender-affirming medical care, according to the Equality Federation and the Movement Advancement Project, which track state laws.
This year may be off to a similar troubling start.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill into law this month that bans trans youths from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. Logan Casey, MAP senior policy researcher, said he is already tracking 220 different bills in 2022 that would negatively impact the LGBTQ community – most focused on schools and curriculums.
With increased visibility “comes backlash,” said Cathy Renna, communications director for the National LGBTQ Task Force. “But we are not going back and will fight using the best tool we have: our lives and our stories.”
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It is not surprising to see poll results showing young people leading the way in staking out their identity despite the blitz of anti-LGBTQ bills, Renna said.
“If anything, this generation is getting more engaged, increasingly with family support,” she said.
The LGBTQ community and its young people grasp an important concept, Renna said: That harmful legislation can “intersect across so many communities, from ‘don’t say gay bills’ to attacks on reproductive rights and sexual education to book bans,” she said. “Activists and Gen Z are working hard to help the larger culture connect the dots.”
Another Gallup Poll released last week also reflects the presence of younger generations. The percentage of LGBTQ adults identifying as single or never married jumped to 53%, up from 50% a year ago.
The high rate of single adults within the LGBTQ community is a direct result of the number of young people coming out, Gallup says: Slightly more than half of U.S. adults who identify as LGBTQ are under age 30.
Polls that mirror the reality of LGBTQ people in today’s world – particularly youths – are rays of hope, Grosshandler said: “My 15-year old transgender daughter, Chazzie, would sum it up in one word. ‘Finally.’ Finally the data is beginning to reflect what she sees every day she walks the halls of her high school.”
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