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Millions of These LGBTQ+ Americans Could Be Missing in Population Estimates

Millions of These LGBTQ+ Americans Could Be Missing in Population Estimates

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Photo by Cameron Casey via Pexels

The professional counting of queer people misses a huge segment of our community.

As we head to the busy upfront advertising buying season, it's worth noting that millions of Americans and possibly hundreds of billions in LGBTQ+ spending are possibly missing from the current industry-recognized estimates of at least 20 million LGBTQ+ people in the United States with 1.4 trillion in household spending. How could millions of people and billions in dollars have been missed by the U.S. Census and Gallup, where much of these numbers are culled?

To cut to the chase, I believe that these well-intentioned tallies are only counting the people who live their sexual or gender identity openly. It does not count the more than 16 million or more individuals not yet living openly in their LGBTQ+ identity — meaning there could possibly be nearly 40 million LGBTQ+ Americans. Those 16 million people are estimates pulled from Gallup’s own figures and statistics, of which I’ll explain more below. As a result, this adjustment in population would conservatively make the household estimated spend by queer people to be about $2.3 trillion, significantly higher than most estimates.

How do I draw such conclusions that would make the population and household spend worthy of notice by advertisers, politicians, and the general public?

Let’s start with population. Everyone, including the Gen X principal owners of equalpride, were surprised when a recently released Gallup study concluded nearly 20 percent of the Gen Z population (born between 1997 and 2004) of 82 million identify as LGBTQ+. In comparison, the queer count for Millennial, Gen X, and Boomer generations were 11.2 percent, 3.3 percent, and 2.7 percent, respectively.

The generational divide speaks to an evolution in tolerance; there has always been LGBTQ+ people, but now more people are comfortable describing themselves as such. Still, there remains those still reticent to identify as LGBTQ+. Counting LGBTQ+ people in a poll means counting openly LGBTQ+ people; but do those not yet comfortable identifying as queer not absorb LGBTQ+ content and/or not respond to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians at the polls?

The math is quite simple. If you harmonize the number of those openly identifying as LGBTQ+ and those who do not, but are closeted, you get about 12 percent across the generations, on average, identifying as LGBTQ+ — open and closeted — or about 40 million Americans. I'm giving up a lot of points in the Gen Z population and adding a fair number to the older generation to make this point, but it still a rather conservative estimate.

The household income is relatively easy to calculate if you believe my population thesis. We simply estimated the share missing from the current GDP contribution of $1.4 trillion by LGBTQ+ spenders — still a tidy sum. The number when you include the estimated 16 million missing Americans in the counts is more like $2.3 trillion or roughly 10 percent of the GDP. In either case, LGBTQ+ households have the income and assets to weather any downturn in the economy and over-index virtually on every category of spend.

Even if the current statistics of 20 million LGBTQ+ Americans and $1.4 trillion in annual spend are left unchallenged, and certainly if you agree with these revised projections, advertisers, politicians and employers, among other Americans, need to recognize that being queer in America is now mainstream and deserving of equal treatment.

The LGBTQ+ community deserves to be part of every media buy. Our community needs to stop being targeted by politicians and rise to elect those committing to treating us equal. Employers need to consider LGBTQ+ candidates as a significant and permanent inclusion in their hiring processes and benefit. Americans need to stop the banning of printed books, studies, and materials because out and closeted alike still seek LGBTQ+ magazines like ours and topical books in libraries, bookstores, and other public places far from the reach of browser histories on shared computers.

Nearly a quarter of our newest adults learned lessons from their parents by choosing to live differently — openly and happily. We sincerely hope the rest of closeted Americans join us, but in the meantime, we need to include them in estimates. As a closeted man for most of my life, I can assure you I still cared and supported LGBTQ+ issues, migrated to reading LGBTQ+ materials, and even had LGBTQ+ relationships when I told others I was not. The point is we need to count everyone, and that could be 40 million+ LGBTQ+ Americans and $2.3 trillion+ in spending power.

Michael Dru Kelley is chairman of equalpride, publisher of The Advocate.

Views expressed in The Advocate's opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

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Michael Dru Kelley