By Katy Steinmetz. For centuries, being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in America meant hiding at least part of who you were. The years since have brought a rapid social transformation, with LGBT Americans increasingly accepted throughout society and accorded many—though far from all—of its legal protections. As the LGBT population moves into its full and equal place in public life, many people are asking an old question with new urgency: just how many LGBT Americans are there? Now, for the first time, a group of experts from 21 federal agencies are working on a project to figure out how to do just that. For many LGBT people, there is also a keen sense of dignity and power at stake in such research.
It illuminates the profound personal and community issues raised by the AIDS epidemic, as well as the broad political and social upheavals it unleashed. In , the United States marked 30 years since AIDS descended as a mysterious "gay cancer" that mystified the medical community. Like an unrelenting hurricane, the epidemic roiled San Francisco for two decades, and only began to ease its grip with medical advancements in the late s. The death years of AIDS left the city ravaged and exhausted, yet, as in most of the developed world, the worst seems past. Though thousands are still living with HIV, and new infections continue at an alarming rate, the relentless suffering of the '80s and '90s has given way to a kind of calm and a degree of willful amnesia. What lessons do the early years still offer us?
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The Census Bureau asks Americans about subjects as varied as race, age, annual income and even their source of home heating. But there is one glaring demographic omission: The census does not ask people about their sexual orientation. As a result, there has long been a shroud of uncertainty around the geography of gay and lesbian Americans.
The demographics of sexual orientation and gender identity in the United States have been studied in the social sciences in recent decades. A Gallup poll concluded that 4. Studies from several nations, including the U. Online surveys tend to yield higher figures than other methods,  a likely result of the higher degree of anonymity of Internet surveys, and demographic of those utilizing online platforms which elicit reduced levels of socially desirable responding. Census Bureau does not ask about sexual orientation in the United States Census.