Millennials more likely to identify as LGBTQ 

I’ve seen it in everything from clickbait articles on The Daily Beast to research from the very reputable Williams Institute out of UCLA: The numbers are in, and millennials (identified by Gallup as those born between 1980 and 1998) are the “gayest generation.”

The honor comes from a whole host of self-identifying polls and surveys that have shown high percentages of millennials who identify somewhere on the queer spectrum. One of these, a Gallup poll released in January, noted that millennials are more than twice as likely as any other generation to identify as LGBTQ. Though they comprise only 32 percent of the adult population, millennials account for 58 percent of LGBTQ adults. Those are some high numbers, but they don’t speak for themselves.

Being more likely to identify as LGBTQ does not mean they are more likely to be LGBTQ. Older people have suffered discrimination and trauma that may make them less willing to come out to a stranger, even anonymously. Plus, that same Gallup poll suggests Generation X (born 1965-1979), Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and Traditionalists (1913-1945) are less likely to trust survey results will be kept confidential. Given that many were raised in an era when coming out could cost them their livelihood (or their lives), the hesitance is understandable.

Moreover, what often feels like an entire generation of gay men was lost during the HIV/AIDS crisis, an epidemic that continues to disproportionately affect homosexual men. According to amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, 22 million people died of AIDS-related causes between the start of the epidemic in the early ’80s and the year 2000, many of them gay men. While none of the polls or surveys mentioned that tragic loss of life, it may account for some of the generational disparity.

Mary Malia, executive director of Springs-based Inside/Out Youth Services, works with a lot of young people, both millennials and some of their successors from Generation Z. She believes that the biggest reason more millennials identify along the LGBTQ spectrum is because there are more options available to them now. We as a society have created language to describe those “in between” identities that never had a label before — pansexual, nonbinary, genderqueer, etc. — and therefore widened the scope beyond heterosexual or homosexual; man or woman.

“Language opens up doors. Language opens up minds and hearts, and language evolves,” Malia says. She cites the Merriam-Webster dictionary advocating for they/them/their as acceptable for use in the singular, a move that made a lot of English teachers cringe, but ultimately allowed for those who don’t fit within the gender binary to identify themselves appropriately.
Malia says, too, that young people have access to new vocabulary — and the information to define that vocabulary — in a way that she never did. She grew up with paper encyclopedias, as did her 35-year-old son. But her 23-year-old daughter had the internet. “It’s a totally different experience. ... And when you have more information, you have more choices.”

Choice is important in discovering identity, which is what young people do. Malia says the task of people ages 13 to 25 is to answer “who am I?” which begins by answering “how am I different from my parents?”

“Every generation has to differentiate itself from its parents,” she says. “Young people are looking around and what’s coming up is that [they] don’t need to buy into being heterosexual. [They] don’t even need to buy into being homosexual — lesbian or gay.”

According to GLAAD’s 2017 Accelerating Acceptance report, people between 18 and 34 resonated with identities such as bisexual and pansexual at higher rates than their older counterparts. Questions regarding gender identity revealed similar numbers. GLAAD polled terms such as “gender fluid,” “bigender,” “agender” and “genderqueer,” finding that in each case the numbers for millennials were higher than any other generation.

All that aside, the fact is that the world is changing, and acceptance of LGBTQ people (in spite of recent regressive legislative attempts) is at an unprecedented high, though there is still much work to be done to extend that umbrella of acceptance over transgender women of color, and others whose identities intersect with marginalized communities beyond LGBTQ.

So it is almost irrelevant whether more people feel same-sex attraction or buck their birth gender. More than suggesting millennials are the “gayest generation,” these numbers suggest we are trying to continue the work of our LGBTQ foreparents — nurturing an inclusive society, one that contains or creates the kind of language people need to identify themselves.


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