Researching the demographic characteristics of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender population is no easy task, but it's a business Blachford-Cooper Distinguished Scholar & Williams Institute Research Director Gary J. Gates has perfected over time.
"I see much of my work as attempting to make visible LGBT populations that have historically not been visible in data sources often used to inform public policy [like the U.S. Census]," Gates said. "This can promote further academic research, but also can help advocates for LGBT rights by providing data to support policy arguments. For example, Justice Kennedy cited my research in his majority opinion in Obergefell as showing that same-sex couples were providing loving and nurturing homes to hundreds of thousands of children."
Gates earned his B.S. at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, his M.Div. at St. Vincent College and his Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University.
"My doctoral dissertation involved the first large demographic analyses of same-sex couples and their families using 1990 U.S. Census data, which was the first time that cohabiting same-sex couples [who were not roommates or siblings] could be identified," he said. "Over the years, much of my work focused on understanding the characteristics of same-sex couples and their families using subsequent Census Bureau data resources. I have also promoted inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity measures in other large data sources to allow for the study of LGBT populations beyond those in same-sex couples."
One noticeable trend seems to involve the social acceptance of LGBT people.
"As social acceptance for LGBT people continues to grow, the visible LGBT population has become much more diverse with greater age, socio-economic, geographic, and racial/ethnic diversity," Gates said. "This means that the visible LGBT population is becoming less demographically distinct from the general population. In the 1990s, the limited data available suggested that adults who identified as LGB [here really wasn't any data then on the transgender population[ were more white, male, urban, and educated than the general population. Today, data suggests that those who identify as LGBT are roughly 50/50 male/female, are about as likely as the general population to be racial or ethnic minorities, are becoming less urban, and have education levels that are more similar to the general population. "
As such, ongoing research is likely to reflect social inequality and discrimination directed toward the LGBT population.
"Studies documenting various types of discrimination and disparities in health and socioeconomic outcomes that occur as a result of social stigma and discrimination will be important," Gates said.
While it was once estimated that the LGBT population added up to 10 percent, new reports indicate the number is much less.
"The 10 percent figure was a political, not scientific, estimate," Gates said. "Kinsey was a brilliant scientist, but his work did not attempt to estimate the size of the LGBT population nor could it be appropriately used to do so. In the absence of data and research to accurately estimate the size of the LGBT population, LGBT activists in the post-Stonewall era needed an estimate that was large enough to matter but not large enough to threaten a general population that was not yet very comfortable with LGBT people. The 10 percent figure, borrowed from a single sentence in a Kinsey study about sexual behavior in middle-aged men, fit the bill."
The actual estimate is closer to 4 percent.
"Today we know that, in the U.S. at least, about 4 percent of adults identify as LGBT," Gates said. "Interestingly, some studies suggest that about one in 10 acknowledge some same-sex sexual attractions, though a large portion of that are people who say they are 'mostly' attracted to different-sex partners."
Gates is the author of the Lesbian and Gay Atlas, the first detailed geographic analysis of same-sex couples in the U.S., using data from the 2000 Census.
"I like to say that it really put same-sex couples 'on the map.' It raised the visibility of Census data as a source for studying a population that had become of great policy interest with the rise of marriage equality as a key LGBT-rights issue," Gates said. "It also provided advocates with data showing that LGBT people were 'everywhere' in the U.S., making it harder for policy-makers to argue that LGBT people 'weren't in my constituency.'"
Gates recalled that one of his most surprising study results involved parenting among same-sex couples.
"Parenting among same-sex couples has been declining over the last decade," Gates said. "This is because a large portion of children being raised by same-sex couples are from prior different-sex relationships that occurred while a parent now in a same-sex relationship was relatively young ( and probably not out as LGBT ). With greater social acceptance, LGBT people, especially lesbians and gay men, are coming out earlier in life, probably having fewer different-sex relationships that produce children. So overall parenting rates have declined. However, adoption and fostering among same-sex couples, which likely reflects more 'intentional' parenting of LGBT people, has increased substantially. Just not enough to account for decreases in parenting with different-sex partners."
One of the least surprising study results involved parenting as well.
"Same-sex couples are three times more likely than their different-sex counterparts to have adopted or foster children," Gates said.
Some might argue that since the fight for marriage equality has been won, we're done. Gates didn't seem to agree.
"I don't think we're done, but I think the struggle will get a little easier," he said. "Broad-based social and political resistance to LGBT equality will continue to decline. My hope is that greater levels of acceptance and support will mean the movement toward both social and formal legal equality will move a bit faster and barriers will become weaker."
Gates added that the next big obstacle for the LGBT community had more to do with faith.
"The religious exemption issues will be difficult and have the potential to ensconce the acceptability of LGBT discrimination into the law," he said.
Read more about Gary Gates and The Williams Institute via www.williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu .