Why Gen Z Is The Most Sexually Diverse Generation Ever
On Saturday night, when thousands upon thousands march in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, the LGBTQI community will look as colourful, diverse and powerful as it ever has.
As those numbers have swollen, now feels like a good time to question the "10 percent" figure.
Ten percent was the magic number used to approximate how many lesbian and gay people there were living in any one population.
Media, LGBTQI organisations, academics and the general public have traditionally used the figure, based on available evidence, (other stats vary slightly either side of this, depending on the country / institution / politics). When I managed the Media Office for Stonewall, Britain’s leading gay equality campaigning charity, 10 percent was the figure we used to draft policy recommendations and when lobbying government.
One of the biggest indicators this is now out of date is research by Ipsos Mori last year, which found that that only two-thirds of of Gen Z consider themselves exclusively heterosexual. The British study found that 66 percent of young people, aged between 16 and 22, are "exclusively heterosexual" -- the lowest figure of any generation. The same research found that that three in five of British 15 to 16 year olds think sexuality is a scale and that it is possible to be somewhere in the middle (known as the ‘Kinsey scale’).
The Kinsey scale is important because it shows that it’s possible that a much wider number of people could identify as LGBTQI at some point in their lives when asked, and this could change throughout their lives. It’s thought that the 10 percent figure itself comes from Alfred Kinsey’s surveys in 1940s America (his methods are widely disputed because he mainly observed men in prisons and the gay underworld.)
If the Ipsos figures are compatible with Australia, it could broaden out what once was considered a “minority interest group.” Gay people like me, once isolated and lonely, can more easily than ever discover just how many people are around. Just open Grindr and the gay men alone are rarely more than a millimetre away in Sydney. First, they bashed us. Then, they arrested us. Now, they want to join us.
Conservatives, of course, consistently tried to tell us that the 10 percent figure was inflated. Even if there was any evidential basis for that, it’s a weak (and nasty) argument to suggest that people, no matter how small in number, should be treated as inferior.
There are other pointers which indicate the 10 percent figure may’ve been an underestimate.
Since the approximate figure was calculated, the unprecedented rapid pace of social change vis a vis gay equality has meant far fewer people are now closeted. The widely accepted figure never included closeted gay people as we had no way of knowing them. They were locked in ‘lavender marriages’ or in prison cells, and weren’t asked on the census.
It’s also worth noting the the 'alphabet soup' which began as lesbian/gay has widened. Now, some places report it as LGBTQQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual) -- broadening the people represented in the rainbow community. That alone has got to shift up the figure a few percentiles.
Of course, where you take the poll of gay people matters too. Provincetown or anywhere in Sydney this Mardi Gras weekend would return an upwardly skewed result.
There’s no definitive genetic code for a “gay gene” -- although science points to a genetic explanation -- so it’s also not something we can just discount as a population control mechanism confined to a small minority.
With the broadening out of the Kinsey Scale, and the upcoming generation far less hung up on bisexuality, the golden 10 percent figure could've been, at best, inaccurate and at worst, grossly underestimated.
So why does this matter, if there are more LGBTQI people than we first assumed? In truth, it could have implications across the board.
If you’re a provider of goods or services, your LGBTQI audience could be far greater than you initially thought, and growing year on year, as fewer people remain closeted. This’d change how your market to them and speak to them. If you’re a provider of a taxpayer funded service, you’d need to up your LGBTQI specific offering (if you currently have one at all).
In terms of the media, it could make the case for more pink media outlets, and a more dedicated following of LGBTQI news, such as the dedicated sections on BuzzFeed and Vice, already catering to their Gen Z audience, one-third of whom have told them they’re not exclusively straight. It could strengthen the case for legacy mastheads to hire LGBT correspondents -- as the BBC did for the first time, announcing Ben Hunte has the role in December 2018.
But all up, it shouldn’t matter. Whether 10 percent, 20 percent or two percent of your workforce, client base, audience or customers are in the rainbow family, it shouldn’t affect one iota how you treat them: equally. With respect. Without judgement.
Happy Mardi Gras everybody.