For the first time in its history, the Centers for Disease Control included a question about sexual orientation in its National Health Interview Survey, providing the federal government with its first clear, hard numbers regarding the gay, lesbian, and bisexual population in the U.S., as USA Today and the Washington Post report.

The latest survey, conducted for the CDC by the Census Bureau, surveyed 33,557 adults between the ages of 18 and 64 with a combination of face-to-face interviews and follow-up phone calls covering a range of health topics. It found that 1.6 percent of those surveyed identified as gay or lesbian, and an additional 0.7 percent identified as bisexual. An additional 1.1 percent declined to answer the question or said something along the lines of "other." This means that an estimated 7.3 million Americans are gay or bisexual, and another 3.5 million just aren't ready to say so.

It may seem weird in 2014 that this has never been done before, but it hasn't — the Census Bureau still did not ask the sexual orientation question in the 2010 Census, and all existing data for the nation as a whole has been based on Census surveys of co-habitating same-sex couples. There's never been a survey with this large a sample size, representing the whole country, to establish incontrovertible figures around sexual orientation.

The resulting percentages are slightly smaller, though not far off what LGBT advocates have long been using as the estimated percentage — 3 to 4 percent. In total, 3.4 percent of respondents identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, other, or "I don't know," and it's not difficult to imagine that with Census-style, face-to-face interviews, not everyone feels comfortable being honest about their sexuality. The new data would more accurately be described as quantifying the number of openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals, since there were likely some percentage of respondents who lied about being straight as well. 96.6 percent of those surveyed said they were straight.

Additionally, the survey fails to take into account anyone who lies elsewhere on the gender and sexuality spectrum, because, they say, the ways in which transgender and genderqueer individuals self-identify is so varied — for instance, a M2F trans woman might simply identify as a woman after surgery and hormone treatment, and may even take offense to having to identify as trans.

Despite the estimate seeming low to some, it is a major step forward in counting and acknowledging the LGBT population in the U.S., and it's one of the most respected surveys of its kind because it dates back to 1957 and due to its huge sample size. If nothing else, it establishes a more reliable figure with regard to single gay people, since they've never actually been counted for census purposes.

The survey found out a few fun facts about the differences between gay and straight people in terms of health concerns. Gays are 4% more likely to be smokers, and over 10% more likely to have consumed more than 5 alcoholic beverages in a single day. Also, and this shouldn't be too surprising: Gay men are 7% more likely than straight men to meet federal guidelines for aerobic physical activity.

[Washington Post]
[USA Today]