Friday, April 08, 2011

Lies, damnable lies and percentages

Much of the political blogosphere lit up today due to a report from a think tank called the Williams Institute that claimed 3.5% of the US population is gay, lesbian or bisexual. This refers to those who identify themselves as such, not to the total percentage of the US population that has same-sex feelings or experience, and it doesn’t correct for homosexuals calling themselves heterosexuals to interviewers.

Nevertheless, the anti-gay industry picked up on this immediately to again hit their favourite theme: GLBT people are a tiny, but powerful minority. For example, the SPLC-certified anti-gay hate group, the American “Family” Association, ran an online poll asking “What's the major factor that allows homosexuals—a tiny fraction of the whole population—to dictate major changes in cultural morality?” The possible answers were: “Money, Half truths, Intimidation, Satan is on their side.” (I'm not making that up!)

Not surprisingly, the A”F”A also selectively reported the results, pulling out only the percentage who specifically identified as gay or lesbian (1.7%) in order to use the lowest possible number. Typically, the anti-gay industry’s propaganda says that gay people make up at most 1 to 2% of the population.

However, my message to these hate groups and the anti-gay industry is simple: The percentage of GLBT people is totally, completely and absolutely irrelevant when talking about human rights.

We are entitled to be treated as full and equal citizens BECAUSE WE ARE, not because of how many of us there are. We are entitled to human rights because we are human beings, not because of what we do or don’t do sexually with whom. This is about equal rights and equal protection under law, not about duelling statisticians.

And what of the study? The surveys on which the study is was based are deeply flawed, as all such studies are, because in a country in which identifying as gay can, in most places, put one’s job, home, safety and even life at risk, many people won’t speak honestly with a stranger asking them about their sexuality.

But even the flaws in the study aren’t relevant to this debate. We can speak intellectually about the subject, discuss and dissect all such studies, but none of their merits or flaws have anything to do with treating all humans as humans, all citizens as citizens, any more than any particular study’s results do.

The anti-gay industry goes on and on and on about what a “tiny” minority we are as a way to argue that we're not entitled to the same human rights as the majority is. Far too many GLBT people, and our heterosexual allies, get suckered into letting the radical right frame this debate as one in which numbers matter. Our side argues with the haters about polls and studies and percentages, leaving unchallenged the underlying assertion that we don’t deserve to be treated as humans because there aren’t enough of us.

The next time you hear some rightwinger start talking about how “few” GLBT people there are, interrupt them and tell them the percentage is irrelevant. By their logic, it should be legal to refuse to rent to an African American, it should be legal to fire or refuse to hire Southern Baptists and it should be okay to deny hospital visitation rights or recognition of relationships to Republicans because ALL of those people are minorities in the US (yes, I’m aware that Randians and libertarians believe discrimination should be legal; mainstream Americans don’t).

Human rights isn’t about having the most numbers. Civil rights isn’t about religious belief. People must be treated as human beings because we’re human beings, and everything democracy is built upon demands equal treatment under law for all citizens.

You don’t need any percentages to know that.


Roger Owen Green said...

what you said

Anonymous said...

I'm really glad you picked-up on the idea of what people tell survey staff.

Here in the UK, we seem to have a figure of 10%... personally I can't help thinking surely it's about 50%, i.e. approximately the same as the male/female split. (Although that thought ignores trans people, which I didn't mean to do!)

I agree though, even if there were just 1 gay/lesbian person in the whole universe, human rights are human rights.

All power to your elbow Arthur.

Arthur Schenck said...

Thanks, Roger.

Mhairi: : Yeah, the 10% figure has been in use for years, based, somewhat erroneously, on the Kinsey Report. Personally, I don't think that number is reliable, BUT, I never say whether I think it's too high or low because that, too, is irrelevent. At least I'm consistent! ;-)