Last week saw two significant developments regarding people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

A new Gallup poll of 15,000 persons found that 5.6% of adult Americans identify with one or more LGBT categories. The poll did not ask whether respondents identified as queer, intersex or asexual, categories increasingly included in an LGBTQIA acronym.

“Queer” is generally used as an umbrella term for anyone who is not heterosexual, cisgender, or comfortable with the gender assigned at birth, so most people who identify as LGBT would also identify as queer.

“Intersex” refers to a condition in which someone’s genital anatomy, reproductive organs, chromosomes or hormonal balance do not fit typical categories of male or female, something that may or may not be physically apparent. Depending on what categories are included, the number of intersex births is estimated to be from a small fraction of a percent to 1.7%.

“Asexual” people may engage in sex, but do not experience sexual attraction to others.

The latest poll showed a significant increase in persons identifying as LGBT when compared to earlier surveys, rising from 3.5% in 2012 to 4.5% in 2017 to 5.6% in 2020.

The current survey found 86.7% of adults identifying as heterosexual or “straight,” while 7.6% – a significant number – declined to answer the question about sexual identity.

While earlier surveys asked only if one identified as LGBT, the most recent survey was more specific, allowing respondents to choose one or more categories.

The largest category of LGBT respondents, 54.6%, said they are bisexual. Almost a fourth (24.5%) said they are gay, 11.7% identified as lesbian, and 11.5% as transgender. Another 3.3% responded as “other,” supplying words such as “queer” or “same-gender-loving.”

Compared to the total population, that works out to 3.1% who identify as bisexual, 1.4% as gay, 0.7% as lesbian, 0.6% as transgender, and 0.2% as “other.”

Not surprisingly, the percentages were highest among the youngest adults, who have grown up in a culture that is much more open to gender diversity and the expression of differing sexual orientations.

Among respondents from Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2005), 15.9% identified as LGBT, with 72% of those (or 11.5% of Generation Z adults) saying they are bisexual.

The total number identifying as LGBT trends downward with age: 9.5% for millennials (born 1981-1996), 4% for Generation X (born 1965-1980), 2.1% for baby boomers (born 1946-1964), and 1.2% for those born prior to 1946.

Overall, the study found that women are more likely to identify as LGBT than men (6.4% vs. 4.9%), largely because more women identify as bisexual (4.3%) than men (1.8%).

What does this mean? For one thing, it affirms the obvious. Americans have become increasingly understanding and supportive of gender identities or sexual orientations that don’t match the traditional norms. As a result, more persons who fit those categories feel free to emerge from the closet.

Discrimination against LGBT folk is still alive and well, but no longer as widespread as in years past. A Supreme Court ruling in June of last year (Bostock vs. Clayton County) found that protections afforded by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the basis of sex could also be understood to prohibit discrimination against gay, lesbian, and transgender persons.

Progressive lawmakers are rightly seeking to codify the Court findings into law through the Equality Act, a bill designed to ban discrimination against people on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

The House of Representatives voted on Feb. 25 to approve the bill, which faces a less certain fate in the Senate.

Many conservatives oppose the bill on the grounds of “religious freedom,” redefined by the religious right as the freedom to discriminate against people on the basis of the discriminating party’s religious beliefs.

As a leading-edge boomer, I grew up in a culture that considered only two categories, with heterosexuals being the accepted norm and “homosexuals” (the word was nearly always used pejoratively) being treated harshly.

Thankfully, many of us have been open-minded enough to change our ways of thinking and to embrace – or at least accept – a broader understanding of the richness of human sexual diversity.

Here’s hoping the trend will continue, and that the Senate will affirm the right of LGBT folk to live without discrimination.

Even within the church, dare we pray that all of God’s children may find a safe and welcome home?

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