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Who makes up the LGBTQ+ community? A look at the growing population

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(NEW YORK) — The LGBTQ+ community is growing, with an increasing number of people openly identifying as something other than heterosexual or cisgender, according to data reviewed by ABC News.

Despite this, official data on the demographics under the LGBTQ+ umbrella is lacking. In 2020, for the first time, the Census gave respondents an option to identify a relationship as same-sex. However, the Census has since begun to include sexual orientation and gender identity in recent Household Pulse Surveys about social and economic trends.

The current data, however, shows this is a small but expanding mosaic of identities, cultures, and backgrounds.

Kylan Durant, a Black and queer Oklahoman, is focused on creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ residents to thrive in his Southern community.

Ayanna Johnson, a bisexual woman of color in New York City, said she’s constantly faced with stereotypes and misconceptions about what bisexuality is.

Ted Lewis, a nonbinary Virginian, hopes to dismantle preconceived notions about what it means to be gender nonconforming among the limitations placed on self-expression.

These are just some of the at least ​​13.9 million openly LGBTQ+ adults in the U.S. – making up 7.6% of the adult population – as recorded by a recent Gallup survey.

When Gallup first measured sexual orientation and transgender identity, that population was estimated to be 3.5% of the adult population in 2012. Gallup found that each new generation is twice as likely as the generation that preceded it to identify as LGBTQ+.

Researchers said this is because of the increased acceptance and visibility of the community. More people have the language to describe how they feel and feel more safe living more openly, HRC’s Director of Public Education & Research Program Shoshana Goldberg said.

Kerith Conron, a co-principal investigator at the Williams Institute research organization, adds that people are also challenging strict ideas of the gender and sexual binary – with a rise in people identifying as bisexual, pansexual, nonbinary, genderqueer and other identities.

“They understand that that’s who they are and are able to use that label to identify what they’ve been feeling inside all of this time,” said Goldberg.

She continued, “Whereas before, maybe people felt they had to stay in the closet, particularly when they were younger, because of fear of parental rejection or bullying at school … even though they knew from when they were 11, when they were five, when they were however old.”

As the LGBTQ+ population grows, Conron said it’s important to have clear data so government resources can be properly allocated. However, organizations have still not provided enough data.

“When you have a group of people who are sort of invisible at multiple levels, it means that you’re going to see people who have needs like everybody else, and sometimes more severe, more pronounced needs, not knowing about local resources, not being covered by outreach activities … and needing even more from the public safety net than other populations might,” Conron said.

The South: Where most LGBTQ+ people live
More LGBTQ+ adults live in the South than in any other region in the U.S., according to the Williams Institute, which Durant says creates an interesting dynamic.

The LGBTQ+ community has been the target of a growing wave of discriminatory legislation across the country, and particularly in some parts of the South.

More than 500 bills nationwide – including drag bans, gender-affirming health care bans, and Pride flag restrictions – have targetted the LGBTQ+ community this year, according to the ACLU. Legislators behind the legislation largely claim they are protecting children by implementing such restrictions.

“It’s devastating to the community to have the government and folks who are supposed to be leading our communities do and say things that are very harmful to the community,” said Durant, referring in part to a recent incident in which a local lawmaker called the LGBTQ+ community “filth.” State Republican leadership distanced themselves from those remarks.

Durant grew up in a conservative community that he said didn’t speak about LGBTQ+ identities, making it harder for him to understand or put into words what he was feeling. It wasn’t until he was older that he found safe spaces to learn more about himself.

“These delays in understanding who you are in the South is just – for me, it took a toll, especially having that conflict within yourself,” Durant said.

Despite the ongoing fight against discrimination and equality, some LGBTQ+ Southerners have learned how to flourish as an act of resistance, Durant said.

“It forces us to create spaces for ourselves, because those spaces are not guaranteed by anybody from any official capacity,” said Durant, who is the president of the Oklahoma Pride Alliance.

Bisexuality: the largest demographic
Bisexual adults make up the largest proportion of the LGBTQ+ population, according to Gallup; about 4.4% of U.S. adults and 57.3% of LGBTQ+ adults self-identify as bisexual.

And yet, despite this, some say that there’s little understanding of what bisexuality means.

Bisexuality, as defined by GLAAD, refers to a person who has the potential to be physically, romantically or emotionally attracted to people of more than one gender, “not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or to the same degree.”

“I think it has so much to do with people’s lack of nuance in their thinking of sexuality,” Johnson said. “You can either love the opposite sex, or you can love the same sex like that. They can’t wrap their heads around being attracted to both.”

She said there are false perceptions in the media and general population that bisexual people are inherently more likely to cheat, that if they date someone of the same sex then they’re actually just gay or lesbian, or that they’re not really queer if they are dating someone of the opposite sex.

Johnson argues that efforts to target and misrepresent the LGBTQ+ community won’t change the growing presence in the U.S.: “We’re here. We’ve always been here. We’re going to be here until the end of time.”

Youth: The next generation
LGBTQ+ adolescents and young adults are coming out earlier than those before them, according to data from the Williams Institute.

Xiel Michels, a 16-year-old who identifies as transgender and non-binary, said that growing up he always felt that he was his “own kind of ‘odd’ in a world of ‘evens,"” he said.

His family was a safe space for him, showing him that “being queer isn’t different or bad, but that it’s just another way to love yourself and the people you care for,” Michel told ABC News.

However, a growing wave of legislation is particularly targeting LGBTQ+ youth, experts said.

These bills aim to remove certain books and discussions about LGBTQ+ identities from schools, ban the use of students’ preferred pronouns or names, and in some cases potentially out students.

Students like Michels, who is part of the activist group Queer Youth Assemble, said they won’t stand down without a fight: “The legislation that our government has been using to target LGBTQ+ people has heavily affected the community in a way that will never be forgotten.”

He continued, “In a country where the well-being of the youth is supposed to be a priority, legislators seem to forget queer youth need to be protected the same as anyone else.”

Transgender and nonbinary: challenging strict gender ideas
According to the Williams Institute, 1.6 million people aged 13 or older identify as transgender in the U.S. and 1.2 million LGBTQ+ people identify as nonbinary – making up less than .5% and .4% of the U.S. population. The research group has found that the percentage and number of adults who identify as transgender in the U.S. in recent years has remained steady.

Lewis said they’ve been nonbinary throughout their life, they just didn’t have the term to describe themselves: “TikTok wasn’t around, Facebook wasn’t – we didn’t even have the internet. So the idea that I would somehow be influenced by social media is just not true.”

Growing up, their parents let them play around with gender — what they played with and how they dressed. For them, gender became “a beautiful wonderful place to explore” with their family’s support.

“I didn’t really want to be a girl. But I also didn’t feel like I was a boy. And I wasn’t sure what that meant when I was a kid,” said Lewis.

Lewis, now the Director of Youth Wellbeing at the Human Rights Campaign, loves when people are confused about whether to call them a ma’am and sir — its hard to put Lewis in a box.

“The concept of people blurring gender lines, or being out of the binary of man, woman or boy girl, is absolutely not new,” said Lewis. “What we require of men and women is based on stereotypes, is based on culture, is based on class, and race and all these other parts of our identity. And those expectations change and evolve.”

People of color: Growing intersectionality
People of color make up roughly 42% percent of the LGBTQ+ community, according to data from the Williams Institute. Out of that, 21% of the population is Latino, 12% is Black, and 2% is Asian.

David Johns, executive director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, said intersectionality is at the root of the fight for LGBTQ+ equality, calling it “impossible” to disentangle one part of his identity from another. This means that ones race, disability, class, gender, sexuality and more collectively impact how different people experience the world.

He points to recent legislation that not only targets the LGBTQ+ community, but also targets anti-racism efforts, reproductive rights, and more. He believes these efforts are all connected, their fates tied.

“There are so many important parts of who make me whole,” Johns told ABC News. “What’s most important is people having an appreciation for the fact that they are all at play, at the same time, that I don’t have the ability to choose one identity before another. I often don’t have the ability to manage the impressions that people have when they experience my multiple identities and the expression of them.”

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