So, about this new federal study that claims that gays are around 3% of the population.
Yeah, not so much.
In fact, this study shows what every previous study shows — not how many gay and bisexual people there are in America, but how many people were willing to tell a complete stranger that they’re gay or bisexual. And that’s a huge difference.
Here’s the thing. I get creeped out when I get those occasionally Nielsen-esque phone calls asking me to answer some survey question. I don’t want to tell a telemarketer (which I who I always assume these calls are really from) what my true political feelings are, or who I actually voted for (even though it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who I supported for president last time around). There’s just something unseemly in divulging what I consider personal information to somebody I don’t even know.
Add questions about my sexual orientation to the mix, and you can fuggedaboutit.
So while I find such studies interesting, they’re not terribly dispositive. You simply can’t get people to give an honest answer about their sexual orientation, and certainly not to some stranger who comes knocking on the door.
My problem, though, is less with the attempt to quantifying the gay-gap, than the fact that few articles about such studies ever note the obvious — that these figures are likely gross underestimates. And the Post, true to form, doesn’t mention this at all.
Another problem with such studies — where they were conducted. One might expect to find more gays in a big city than little town. Or at least, more gays who are willing to acknowledge their sexual orientation in a big city, than a little town. So surveys like this run the risk of both over- and under- sampling, depending on where they were conducted.
And let’s not even get started on who claims to be “bisexual” in these surveys. You run, again, the risk of over- and under- counting as bisexuals might fear the same stigma as gays, and thus under-self-report to a stranger. But to the degree that someone is willing to divulge their non-standard sexual orientation to a stranger, you still run the risk of a somewhat trepidatious gay self-reporting as bi, since some people who are just coming out feel more comfortable calling themselves bi than gay.
None of this means that these surveys can’t come up with interesting, illuminating results. But I wish the press would get into the details, and help us understand whether these surveys truly are accounting for all gay people, and all bisexuals, in the population.
Why? Because the religious right LOVES to tell everyone how “few” the gays are (as if it’s okay to oppress someone simply because they’re less than 3% of the population).