California’s LGBT population – Public Policy Institute of California

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In July 2021, for the first time ever, the Census Bureau launched a series of nationwide surveys that included questions on sexual orientation and gender identity. The results are notable, especially for California. Our state has the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population – 2.7 million – in the country; Texas is second with 1.8 million. (The Census Bureau asked about these four identities only, so LGBT is the acronym used in this article.) As Pride Month draws to a close, let’s take a look at some key facts about the large and diverse LGBT population in California.

The share of Californian adults who identify as LGBT (9.1%) is considerably higher than the share for the rest of the country (7.9%). It is also higher than that of any other highly populated state. Among the ten most populous states, Texas is second (8.4%) and New York is third (8.2%); North Carolina has the lowest share (6.3%). Of all the states, Oregon has the highest LGBT share (12.3%), while Mississippi and South Dakota have the lowest (5.0% each).

California’s LGBT community includes a wide range of identities, not all of which are captured in census data. According to this data, about half (49%) of LGBT adults in California describe themselves as bisexual, similar to the rest of the United States. Just over a third (36%) describe themselves as gay or lesbian, and 15% as transgender. Far more men identify as gay (722,000) than women as lesbian (257,000). In contrast, nearly three times as many women (928,000) as men (363,000) describe themselves as bisexual.

The majority of transgender adults were assigned female at birth (60%). Of all transgender adults, more than half (54%) describe themselves as transgender, 23% as male and 23% as female.

Young adults are much more likely than older adults to identify as LGBT. One in five young adults in California identify as LGBT, compared to only one in twenty older adults. Among LGBT young adults, the vast majority (68%) describe themselves as bisexual, 27% as gay or lesbian, and 14% as transgender; 5% identify as transgender but not as lesbian, gay or bisexual. In contrast, older LGBT adults in California are more likely to identify as gay or lesbian (49%) than as bisexual (31%) or transgender.

figure - Young adults are much more likely to identify as LGBT

California’s LGBT population largely reflects the overall racial and ethnic diversity of the state’s adult population. In the general population, no racial/ethnic group constitutes a majority, with Latino and white adults making up the largest groups. Within the LGBT population, gay, lesbian and bisexual adults follow this pattern. Transgender adults are more likely than others to identify as Latino, multiracial, or of a race other than Asian, black, or white.

figure - California's LGBT adult population reflects the state's racial and ethnic diversity

One of the main missions of the Census Bureau is to develop a factual demographic, social, and economic understanding of the United States. Over the years, census questions have changed to reflect the ongoing realities of personal and group identity. The addition of questions related to LGBT identities marks an important step towards a more complete profile of the American population. Whether the bureau will adopt these questions for its much more detailed survey of the American community and the next decennial census in 2030 remains to be seen. In the meantime, PPIC will continue to monitor and report results on California’s diverse population.


A technical note on the data:

The accuracy of survey data on sexual orientation and gender identity has long been questioned, with the main concern being undercounting, as some people may be reluctant to disclose personal information about gender and sexual orientation. The estimates presented here are higher than estimates from some other sources. For example, the estimated adult LGBT population in California is 2.7 million (9.1% of all adults) according to the six most recent Pulse surveys, far larger than estimates derived from the Gallup Daily Tracking Survey. reported by UCLA (1.6 million, 5.3% of the population). The survey mode could explain some of the difference, with the bureau relying on an online format and Gallup using phone calls.

To improve the precision of the estimates, the figures presented in this article are averaged over six of the most recent household surveys (surveys 40 to 45 from December 2021 to May 2022). The total sample included over 421,000 respondents nationwide (nearly 29,000 respondents in California), including over 30,000 who identify as LGBT (over 2,700 in California). Survey response rates are relatively low, so nonresponse bias is a concern. The office weights are intended to compensate for some aspects of nonresponse bias.

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