Cathy Renna

How Many LGBT Angels Can Dance on the Head of a Pin?

Filed By Cathy Renna | April 07, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: lgbt awareness, media, US Census, Williams Institute

Full disclosure: The Williams Institute is a client of Renna Communications but the opinions expressed by me are mine and mine alone. Any agreement on the part of anyone is purely coincidental. Even my wife's. Trust me.

gay-rainbow.jpgNew analysis coming out of the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School today about the LGBT population, based on the data we actually have, is that there are about nine million of us - roughly the population of the state of New Jersey (let the jokes begin). Nowhere near 10% - a number taken from a passage in a 1948 Kinsey book that reads, "Ten percent of males are more or less exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55." This information was not based on population-based data, so it doesn't really address the issue of how many people identify as gay (never mind the B and T).

The headline in the Washington Post piece about the new report this morning is "9 million Americans estimated to be gay or bisexual, but solid figures elusive." Elusive. That's a mouthful, but an accurate one. For so many reasons.

But the serious underlying question for me is this: how many of us do there need to be for everyone to be treated with respect and equally under the law? The Williams Institute is not an advocacy group, so don't expect them to do more than present the facts based on credible, evidence-based research. But they do provide context. And that context is what I hope will be the focus of community discussion, and media attention on this question.

When I worked at GLAAD - and even now - I am constantly asked, "So, how many gay people are there?" Two groups of people call: journalists and marketers. Back in the day, simply to point out how facile and also challenging that question was, I would answer something like this: "Well, I am in the office today, there's my girlfriend of course, Joan is down the all, so is Jose... lemme check my rolodex. Or, we could add up who comes to Pride? That's a few million right there." By then they usually got it. In my usual style, I was happy to turn the table and be the one asking the questions. So, how many of us would be need for you to write about us, care about us or want to sell whatever it is you are selling to us?

It is true we live in a very different world than a decade ago, when no one was asking the questions, never mind the actual census, but we have a long way to go before we are treated equally, respected as individuals and as a very diverse population of people and someday, get to the point where we no longer have to do head counts for equality.

One final note: as I watch the coverage unfold, I am not sitting back in my chair and sipping a latte. OK, yes on the latte - but not sitting pretty. Some of the media coverage in conveniently omitting the B and the T and the comments sections of these pieces offer a sobering reality of how far we have to go. Back to working on getting the truth out.

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Paige Listerud | April 7, 2011 6:13 PM

Finally! Thanks for the sanity, Cathy.

Jay Kallio | April 8, 2011 8:26 AM

Well said, Cathy! Our truth, spoken directly and without flinching, will carry the day, because ultimately truth has a power and resonance that fear and hatred pale in comparison to.

Enjoy your latte, I know you will need it. :)


But the serious underlying question for me is this: how many of us do there need to be for everyone to be treated with respect and equally under the law?

Agreed. Wholeheartedly.

I am glad you make the point that the number is irrelevant to our right to civil/equal rights. I also can't understand why/how Williams suddenly is more acceptible as an "expert' than all the previous attempts at giving a number. The fact is that it is clear we are 10%, but as Kinsey said, only 4% of us remain "pure." I'm one of the 4% as were most of the early movement people-BUT then there were such as Joe and Jane Hansen, leaders, but married, with a child. They never self-identified as bisexual, but obviously they wer, Ironically their daughter is now a son.

But while it amy seem "progess" that the general media now is willing to use gay-friendly media as reliable, it is not good, as they in the past refused to use us, and so the question then and now is what criteria they use. None, apparently. And I'm sure they will seek the "other view' from bigots. Just as they never will use info from an atheist, no matter what proof is offered,without rushing to get the "view' of some "religious" "expert." Where is the competence and ethical standard in this profession? Why do we believe them if they give info we like, when we knew they were wrong when they gave info on us that was not true?