Explainer  Marriage and Family  Sexual Ethics  Sexuality

Explainer: LGBTQ identification continues to rise among younger generations

A new survey reveals that 7.6% of U.S. adults now identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or some other sexual orientation besides heterosexual. This figure has more than doubled since 2012, when Gallup first measured sexual orientation and transgender identity, and it represents a significant increase from just four years ago, when the percentage of respondents was 5.6% The growth in LGBTQ identification is primarily driven by younger generations. 

The generational differences in LGBTQ identification are striking. While LGBTQ identification has remained relatively stable among older generations, it has consistently increased among younger ones. For instance, 1 in 10 millennials and 1 in 5 Gen Z adults identify as LGBTQ, compared to lower rates among Generation X, baby boomers, and those born before 1945. This trend suggests that LGBTQ identification has continued to rise as younger cohorts replace older ones in the overall adult population.

The survey highlights notable gender differences in LGBTQ identification. Women are nearly twice as likely as men to identify as LGBTQ, with 8.5% of women and 4.7% of men reporting an LGBTQ identity. Bisexuality is the most common form of LGBTQ identification among women, while men are equally likely to identify as bisexual or gay.

What accounts for the rapid increase? 

In part, the cultural normalization of homosexuality has led more people to identify as a nonheterosexual orientation. We should expect some increase in identification as society continues to normalize various sexual orientations. For example, compared to Gen X, the number of Gen Z who identify as gay ​​increased 100% (from 1.3% to 2.6%) while the number who identify as lesbian increased 328% (from 0.7% to 3%).

But reduced stigma is not a sufficient explanation for why the number who identify as bisexual increased as rapidly or as drastically, with an increase of 705% (from 1.9% to 15.3%). If reduced stigma were the sole cause of this increase, then we should expect to have also seen a proportional increase in the number of bisexual same-sex relationships, theoretically resulting in roughly half of that population being in a same-sex relationship.

Yet a Gallup poll taken two years ago found that 16% of bisexual adults are married to someone of a different sex, and 16% are living with a different-sex domestic partner. In contrast, 3% of bisexual adults are married to a same-sex spouse, and 2% are living with a same-sex partner. Someone identifying as bisexual is six times more likely to be in an opposite-sex relationship than in a committed same-sex relationship. Being LGBT is increasingly more defined by how one “identifies” than reflective of one’s sexual behavior.

A similar trend line is found among young people when it comes to gender identity. A 2021 study published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that, in one urban school district, nearly 10% of high school students surveyed reported a “gender-diverse identity.” Such findings suggest that for a substantial portion of Gen Z youth who identify as LGBTQ, it may be more about aligning oneself ​​with a trend and conforming with their social circle rather than reflecting their innate sexual orientation or gender identity. Social contagion—the spread of attitudes, beliefs and behaviors through imitation and conformity within a cohesive group—likely plays a significant role in this process.

Adolescence is a time of self-discovery and identity formation. In the past, “coming out” as LGBTQ often meant defying stigma and going against the grain of societal expectations. But now in many youth social circles, identifying as LGBTQ has become normalized and even celebrated. There may be subtle pressure to identify this way in order to fit in. For example, in the past few years, more than two dozen stars of children’s shows on the Disney Channel have embraced an LGBTQ identity.

An opportunity for churches

The rapid rise in LGBT identification, driven largely by dramatically higher rates of bisexuality and transgenderism among Gen Z compared to previous generations, likely reflects a shifting perspective in which many young people believe that it is preferable to identify as LGBTQ—especially as bisexual—rather than as heterosexual. This preference may derive from a desire to emulate those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, since culture increasingly deems them worthy of our admiration.

While the trend is likely to increase in the near future, the rate of increase is likely to plateau relatively soon. As happens with most popular phenomena, the reason for the rapid increase in LGBTQ identification—its trendiness and trappings of nonconformity—is likely to lead to its eventual decline. As Christians know, the Lord has clearly created mankind to be male and female, and any effort to distort or push against his good design will inevitably fall short. Our identity is not found in sexual self-identification, but in self-denial and being made a new creation in Christ.

The ongoing trend to increasingly identify as LGBTQ—whether because of peer pressure or a genuine struggle with same-sex attraction—also provides an opportunity for evangelical churches to reach young adults who are exhausted by the broader culture’s over-emphasis on sexual identity. Churches that hold to the biblical standard of sexuality will increasingly be the only area of culture where young people can hear the truth: their sexuality is not the most important aspect of their identity.

Such churches will be able to provide a safe haven for those who sincerely wrestle with gender identity issues and for those who will feel increasingly coerced to identify as LGBTQ. It is only in biblically faithful churches that millennials and Gen Z adults will learn that truth that the identity they’ve been searching for—the most important thing about themselves and what they are at the deepest level—can only be found in being a disciple of Jesus, the one by whom all things were created and whose authority over us leads to our ultimate flourishing (Col. 1:16). We should be prepared to meet the refugees of the sexual revolution with the truth of the gospel.

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