By Antonia Caretto, Ph.D
A Gallup poll published Oct. 18 reported that 3.4 percent of Americans identify as LGBT. This is in sharp contrast with a Gallup poll conducted in May 2011 which found that over half of Americans estimated that at least 20 percent of the population is gay or lesbian and that 35 percent estimated that that more than 25 percent of the population is gay or lesbian.
It is interesting to note that the question asked this time was even more inclusive than the question asked in 2011, and still produced a significantly smaller result. The wording of this recent survey of 121,290 individuals Gallup states: ‘Gallup chose the broad measure of personal identification as LGBT because this grouping of four statuses is commonly used in current American discourse, and as a result has important cultural and political significance.”
I applaud Gallup for including transgender but must say that American discourse, even within the LGBT community, fails to honor the important cultural and political significance. The LGBT community nominally includes transgender while effectively not including transgender individuals. The fact that transgender individuals are not included in the LGBT community is hypocrisy.
Why do Americans estimate the gay or gesbian population to be almost ten times larger than it is? Because Americans confuse gender expression with affectional preference. Lesbians, gays and bisexuals are not immune to this ignorance and distance themselves from transgender individuals for this very reason. Research has shown that even among lesbians and gays, ‘gaydar’ is nothing more than gender stereotyping. Gallup would have gotten the same results in May 2011 if they had asked individuals to estimate what percent of the population is gender non-conforming.
Homophobia is, at its core, intolerance of gender non-conformity and transgender individuals make it very uncomfortable for the rest of the LGBT community because of this internalized transphobia. The rest of the LGBT community distances themselves from the transgender individuals as a way to deny that their own non-heteronormative affectional preference, which is seen as gender non-conformity.
Those in the LGBT community that think they have conquered their internalized homophobia need to check themselves regarding transphobia. Research has confirmed the long suspected correlation between latent homosexuality and gay hate crimes. It is not surprising then that there are those in the LGBT community who are in such denial about their own gender non-conformity that they, through acts of exclusion, perpetrate hate toward transgender individuals.
Though it is natural for social animals to create a pecking order, especially when there is a perception of limited resources, it is not acceptable within a social group that professes equality. The fact that there are those in the LGBT community that are among the most transphobic members of the society may not be surprising, but it is sad and disappointing. The marginalization and exclusion of transgender individuals in the LGBT community is inexcusable.
If the LGBT community is in fact only 3.4 percent of the American population, is it wise to disenfranchise the transgender community? The Lesbian, gay and bisexual community fails to remember that the gay rights movement emerged from protests led by transgender individuals. The protests that followed the arrest of four gender variant teens at Dewey’s Lunch Counter in Philadelphia in April 1965 and the riot at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco in August 1966 were triggered by the mistreatment of drag queens, and they both pre-date Stonewall.
The transphobia within the LGBT community may be unconscious but it is not unchangeable. However, this time it is not up to the transgender individuals to lead the charge. It’s up to the lesbians, gays and bisexuals do what is needed to make LGBT more than just discourse.