Photos: USA Today

USA Today: McLEAN, Virginia – A record number of US adults – 5.6 percent – identify as LGBTQ, an increase propelled by a younger generation staking out its presence in the world, a poll released Wednesday shows.

The survey by Gallup marks more than a 1 percentage point jump from the last poll in 2017 in which 4.5 percent of adults identified as LGBTQ.

The estimated 18 million adults who identify as LGBTQ represent a continued upward trajectory since Gallup started tracking identification in 2012, Gallup senior editor Jeff Jones said.

“It reflects what we are seeing in society and the way society is changing,” he said.

One of the biggest headlines in the 2020 poll is the emergence of Generation Z adults, those 18 to 23: 1 in 6, or 15.9 percent, identify as LGBTQ. In each older generation, LGBTQ identification is lower, including 2% or less of respondents born before 1965.

Among LGBTQ adults, a majority or 54.6 percent identify as bisexual, the poll shows. About a quarter, or 24.5 percent, identify as gay; 11.7 percent as lesbian; 11.3 percent as transgender.

Generation Z again leads the way: 72 percent who identify as LGBTQ say they are bisexual.

A fight for rights:Progress toward LGBTQ equality ‘is a jagged line.’ Here’s what has changed over the past decade.

There are gender differences as well:

• Women are more likely than men to identify as LGBTQ (6.4% vs 4.9%.)

• Women are more likely to identify as bisexual than men (4.3% vs 1.8%.)

LGBTQ youths growing up amid a more accepting reality

Advocates are not surprised to see more young people identifying as LGBTQ. Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project, cites “generational shifts in awareness and acceptance” that have reshaped how LGBTQ youths are embraced by families and peers.

“I have had conversations with many older LGBTQ people who break down in tears when they share their coming-out stories of decades ago – heart-wrenching stories of family rejection, losing parents, losing siblings, losing jobs,” she said. “Older generations grew up during those times when being LGBTQ could land you in jail, or alone or jobless.

“The younger generations haven’t experienced this level of fear where often being in the closet felt less like a choice and more like a survival mechanism.”

Parents have created environments where young people not only feel safe in coming out – but those on the cusp of adulthood can map futures packed with possibilities, something not seen even a generation ago, she said.

LGBTQ representation in communities, media, politics and beyond in recent years is significant, said Cathy Renna, communications director for the National LGBTQ Task Force: “Children are taught prejudice, and when LGBTQ people are part of their lives from the beginning they understand that they can be themselves and are not alone.”

Renna cites a better and “more nuanced” grasp of sexual orientation and gender identity that has enabled LGBTQ youths to celebrate their full selves.

“Young people do not want to check off a box; they want to be able to express themselves authentically and acknowledge all their identities,” she said.

A more hopeful time, but hardships and bias still exist

The survey comes amid a cautiously optimistic time for the LGBTQ community. President Joe Biden made equality a plank in his campaign, promising an ambitious agenda to advance LGBTQ rights after four years of setbacks and attacks by the previous administration.

Biden has signed executive orders that prohibit workplace discrimination in the federal government based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and he lifted the transgender military ban. And he has pledged to sign the federal Equality Act, recently introduced in the House – which provides sweeping protections in housing, education, credit and services – in his first 100 days if Congress acts.

The poll numbers give the battle for equality perspective, Mushovic said.

“Less than 20 years ago, just being in a same-sex relationship could be a crime. Now, LGBTQ people can marry the person they love,” she said. “And the Supreme Court found, just last year, that it’s not legal to fire someone just for being LGBTQ. So LGBTQ people finally have a little more freedom to be themselves.”

But much work remains, she said. Violence and bias still lurk in society, Mushovic said, hitting communities such as transgender people of color particularly hard.

“The fact that it’s 2021 and we’re still pushing for the Equality Act, decades after federal non-discrimination protections were originally introduced, shows that our laws need to catch up to the public on these issues,” she said.