Andy Larsen: Just how big is the LGBTQ community in Utah? Here’s the data.

Significantly more teens in the state identified as LGBTQ over the past three years, and other findings.

Just how big is the LGBTQ community in Utah?

It’s not a super easy question to answer, it turns out. The U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t ask about sexual orientation or gender identity in its all-encompassing survey of the population once every decade. Most of the big polls that try to answer the question about the size of the community nationwide don’t have a big enough sample size to give us Utah-specific data. And even when we do have estimates, they tend to be relatively old — from the mid-2010s.

That old data is a problem, because the number of people who respond that they count themselves as LGBTQ is rapidly increasing. Take Gallup’s daily tracker poll — a big dataset of daily polls over the last decade-plus. In 2012, only 3.5% of the population counted itself as either lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. In 2017, that percentage had increased, but only some, to 4.5%. Now, though? In 2021 and 2022, 7.1% to 7.2% of the population identified as LGBTQ, according to Gallup. It’s a big, recent increase.

But luckily, there are some crafty workarounds for us data hounds. While there aren’t many surveys that have tried to explicitly find out how many people are LGBTQ in Utah in recent years, there are surveys that have tried to determine something else — and then included questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. We can use those to try to get an estimate.

While we’re at it, let’s look at some other LGBTQ data points in Utah: the number of LGBTQ teens, and support for pro-LGBTQ measures in the state.

Ready to get nerdy? Let’s dig in.

How many LGBTQ adults in Utah?

Two ongoing, massive-scale surveys sponsored by the federal government include questions about sexual orientation and gender identity.

The first is the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. It was created in 2020 to get an idea of how the COVID-19 pandemic was impacting Americans across a wide variety of metrics, including employment, education, health and housing. At first, the Census polled about 50,000 to 80,000 Americans per week. Now, it’s been cut back to that number every month. About 1,800 Utahns are interviewed per survey. Midway through 2021, the Census added questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to the survey, to see how the pandemic was impacting those people differently.

My job, then, was relatively simple: I opened up those data files, looked at what percentage of respondents said they were lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and then averaged the monthly reports separately for 2022 and 2023. Easy peasy.

The other big survey is the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey — which completes more than 400,000 interviews with U.S. adults every year. In 2021, the year for which data has been most recently released, the CDC interviewed about 11,000 Utahns.

The agency’s goal is to see how healthy each state is. For example: 62% of Utahns consumed at least one fruit per day in 2021, and only 9.5% of 65+ adults here have had all of their teeth removed. Hurray!

To get the sexual orientation data, I had to get a bit creative: essentially reversing the weighted average calculation used by the data query tool to estimate the proportion of LGBTQ respondents. Because of wide differences in estimates, I averaged them over two five-year periods to try to get as large of a sample as possible.

Two other estimates are in the graph below: the Public Religion Research Institute interviewed 53,000 people for its annual study on American values in 2019, the most recent year in which researchers asked about LGBTQ identity. Finally, I’m including the number you’ll see online most often if you Google this question: the UCLA Williams Institute analysis of Gallup Daily Tracking numbers from Utah between 2015-17. Sometimes, you’ll see that number as a 2019 result, but that’s when the Williams Institute released its study — years after the data used was collected.

When selecting respondents, all of these surveys try to mirror Utah’s demographic composition in other ways: age, race, gender, income, and so on. So the hope is that these large-scale surveys are pretty representative of Utah’s population as a whole. Four different outlets doing the respondent selecting should help, too.

What did we find? Here’s the synopsis.

Over the last 10 years, you can get estimates as wide as 3.7% of Utah adults to 11.8% of Utah adults consider themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Why such a large range? About half of the explanation can be simply attributed to time: LGBTQ estimates have nearly doubled as these different estimates have taken place. The other half is probably methodology. For example, the behavioral risk survey data includes people who indicated they “don’t know” their sexual orientation in the LGBTQ group, while the other groups don’t include those respondents.

While three of the sources didn’t break their estimates into separate categories for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, one source did: the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. From 2022-23, an estimated 2.8% of Utah adults said they were gay or lesbian, 6.1% said they were bisexual, and 1.0% said they were transgender.

Still, given these data points across massive data sets, I’d feel comfortable giving a conservative estimate that roughly 6 to 8% of Utah adults consider themselves to be LGBTQ. That’d be about 147,000 to 196,000 Utah adults. It well could be more.

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens

We do have a much more straightforward estimate for the number of LGBTQ teens in Utah. The Student Health and Risk Prevention Prevention Needs Assessment (SHARP PNA — and yes, the P stands for prevention twice in a row like that) sponsored by Utah’s Department of Health and Human Services interviews just a huge percentage of Utah’s 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th graders every two years. In 2019, they got 65% of the whole state, in 2021, the pandemic reduced that to 48%. Still, that’s pretty darn impressive.

They ask questions about the teens’ substance use, their mental health, the climate of their school and environment, and so on. If you want to know how many Utah teens are vaping, for example, this is the study to look at.

Since 2019, researchers also ask the 8th, 10th, and 12th graders for their sexual orientation — though not their gender identity. And just like with the adults, we saw a big leap in the percentage of teens reporting they were gay, lesbian, bisexual, or just didn’t know.

In 2019, 88.1% of teens said they were heterosexual, in 2021, that had already fallen to 82.9%.

Acceptance of same-sex marriage and other pro-LGBTQ laws

We’re also seeing massive growth in the number of people who support legislation promoting equality for those with sexual orientations other than heterosexual — though the Legislature passed, and the Governor signed anti-transgender bills in this year’s session.

In Sept. 2022, a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates found that 72% of respondents agreed same-sex marriages should be recognized, and have the same rights as traditional marriages. 23% said they disagreed, while 5% didn’t know.

There was agreement on the issue from a wide variety of ideological perspectives. Here’s how those noted by the Deseret News break down:

This has been a pretty consistent polling finding. Since mid-2016, no Utah poll that I could find reflects overall opposition to same-sex marriages.

The Public Religion Research Institute’s polling also indicates Utahns favor laws that would prevent discrimination against LGBTQ people in jobs, public accommodations, and housing by a 81%-17% margin as of 2022. Utah’s laws currently prevent discrimination in employment and housing, but not in public accommodations, per the Movement Advancement Project.

They also indicate that a majority of Utahns (by a 56%-42% margin) oppose allowing small business owners to refuse products or services to gay or lesbian people for religious reasons. Since 2015, a majority of Utahns have opposed the concept of those religiously based refusals, according to PRRI polling.

Overall, the picture’s pretty consistent: the LGBTQ community is moving in a positive direction across a lot of different metrics. The community — or at least the number of people claiming LGBTQ status — seems to be growing significantly in recent years. That includes significant growth in the teenage population. But even people outside of the community seem to have an increasing understanding and support when it comes to sexual orientation issues, though gender identity laws remain hot-button topics.

Andy Larsen is a data columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune. You can reach him at alarsen@sltrib.com.

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