Community Leaders: LGB&T population statistics

There is no robust answer to the question, ‘how many people are lesbian, gay or bisexual?’  Gay, lesbian, heterosexual/straight and bisexual describe sexual and emotional orientation to one’s own, the opposite or both sexes.

Sexual orientation can be derived from three things:

  1. Sexual and relationship behaviour (the gender of the people one has relationships and/or sex with)
  2. Sexual identity (one’s own sense of identity e.g. a gay person)
  3. Sexual attraction (the gender of the people one is attracted to emotionally and/or physically)

Sexual orientation is not asked on the National Census and is not monitored for consistently in employment or services. However, research has been done which allows us to make a reasonably reliable estimate.

5-7% LGB

In 2004 the Government carried out an impact assessment of the upcoming Civil Partnership Act, which included an estimate of the LGB population of the UK.

This was based on the 2000 National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL), which asked respondents about sexual attitudes and behaviours, but not orientation, and on comparable research from Europe and America. It concluded that between

5-7% of the UK population were likely to be lesbian, gay and bisexual.

The total UK population was estimated at 62,262,000 in mid-2010 (Office for National Statistics), so using the 5-7% figure suggests that there are between 3,113,000 and 4,358,000 LGB people in the UK.

Other estimates

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) included a question about sexual identity in the 2010 Integrated Household Survey. The experimental data found that 1.4% of people identified as LGB1. However, the survey considered only sexual identity not sexual attraction, behaviour or orientation.

In order to get a true picture of the LGB population, a survey such as this would need to ask several questions about sexual attraction and behaviour as well as asking how an individual identifies his or herself.

People who stated that they did not know their sexual identity were grouped together with those who refused to answer the question so we do not have a clear indication of the number of people who are questioning their sexual identity/orientation.

Significantly, this was the first time such a question had been included in a large-scale ONS survey; research by Stonewall found that it takes repeated monitoring exercises to build up people’s confidence with monitoring and to generate more accurate responses2.

The ONS figure indicates that at the moment 1.4% of people in the UK are willing to disclose their sexual identity (871,668 people based on mid 2010 estimates). It can be used as a starting point to build on with further surveys asking about sexual orientation.

“There is a long way to go encourage everyone who is LGB to feel safe and comfortable to be open about  their sexual identity, and sexual orientation. Without LGB people standing up, being counted and stating their requirements, and being provided with the opportunity to do so, service providers from the public, private and third sector will be unable to respond to the needs of their LGB communities” (National LGB&T Partnership, 2010).

Local LGB population

In some cases you may be asked about how many LGB people there are in Manchester, or in the North West. Again, as sexual orientation is not routinely monitored nor included in the National Census, there is a lack of evidence about local areas specifically.

There will be variation in the population of LGB people across different areas, including across urban and rural areas.

Research shows that sexual minorities are likely to migrate to larger cities, especially cities that have well established gay communities such as Manchester3.

We can reasonably assume, then, that Manchester’s LGB population is at least at the higher end of the Government estimate, 7%.

Based on population estimates from mid-2010, this would suggest that there are 184,058 LGB people living in Greater Manchester, and 34,916 living in Manchester city.

Further Information

If you would like more information about this, including details of the ONS survey, please email research@lgf.org.uk.

1 Experimental statistics are new official statistics undergoing evaluation before being signed off by the UK Statistics Authority.

2 Hunt, R. and Cowan, K., Monitoring sexual orientation in the health sector. Stonewall, 2006.

3 Stonewall Scotland, City Lights?, Stonewall Scotland/EHRC, 2009.