Number of people who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual has doubled

Number of lesbian, gay or bisexual people has doubled: Couple hugging (Getty Images)
The number of people who say they are lesbian, gay or bisexual continues to increase. (Getty Images)

The number of people who openly identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) in the UK is at a high, official figures show.

Some 3.1% of the population identified as LGB in 2020, an increase from 2.7% the year before, and almost double the percentage of 1.6% in 2014, when the research series began.

Sexual orientation estimates are based on data from the Annual Population Survey (APS), which collects information on sexual identity from people aged 16 and over, the release published by the Office For National Statistics (ONS) states.

While the proportion of those identifying as heterosexual or straight in 2020 remains high at 93.6%, there has been a decreasing trend in this group since 2014.

"It’s wonderful to see that an increasing number of LGBTQ+ people can be their authentic selves," says Robbie de Santos, Director of Communications and External Affairs at Stonewall, (he/him).

"It’s important to remember that the number of LGBTQ+ people has not risen but these statics are a heartening sign that people are freer to be their true selves."

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Gay couple
Representations on our screens and in our culture – from Drag Race to It’s a Sin – helps people better understand who they are, says Stonewall's Robbie de Santos.

Men identifying as as LGB increased from 1.9% to 3.4% between 2014 and 2020, while the proportion of women identifying as one of these sexual orientations rose from 1.4% to 2.8% over the same period.

Young people (16-24) continue to be the most likely to identify as LGB in 2020 (8.0%), which reflects an increasing trend for this age group since the start of the series, with 2.7% identifying as gay or lesbian, and 5.3% identifying as bisexual.

In the same year, women (1.6%) were more likely than men (0.9%) to identify as bisexual but were less likely to identify as gay or lesbian (1.1% compared with 2.5%). These differences are more pronounced in the younger age groups.

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Young couple. (Getty Images)
There's still more work to do to ensure the whole LGBTQ+ community feels free to be themselves. (Getty Images)

Of those identifying as LGB in 2020, almost three-quarters (72.5%) had never been married or in a civil partnership, while just under one-quarter were (23.7%), which the ONS says "may reflect the younger age structure of the LGB population and that the legislation for same-sex civl partnership [2005 in the UK] and same-sex marriage [2014 in England, Wales and Scotland and 2020 in Northern Ireland] is relatively recent".

"Over the past decade, we’ve also seen an incredible increase in LGBTQ+ representation on our screens and in our culture – from Drag Race to It’s a Sin," adds Robbie de Santos. "Representation that normalises being LGBTQ+ matters, and often helps people better understand who they are.

"While there’s still more work to do, these encouraging statistics indicate that increased acceptance and visibility of our communities over the past two decades is leading to more people feeling free to be themselves."

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Ibtisam Ahmed, Head of Policy and Research at LGBT Foundation, echoes this with, "This is a very encouraging development as it is a reflection of how social attitudes towards sexual orientation, and understanding of diverse identities, are becoming more accepting.

"At a time when we are also seeing increases in targeted hate crimes and a legislative reluctance to protect LGBTQ+ and especially trans communities, we hope that the findings of the ONS underline how important it is for people to be able to share their full selves without judgement and with dignity."

The ONS notes that while 'sexual orientation' is an umbrella term that encompasses 'sexual identify', attraction and behaviour, the APS question used to gather the statistics is designed to capture sexual identity. It was not designed for specific or detailed studies of sexual attraction or behaviour, "where more detailed questions and answer categories might be more appropriate".

'Sexual identity', it adds, has been identified as the component of sexual orientation most closely related to experiences of disadvantage and discrimination.

In 2019, (the publication of the 2017 data) the terminology in the release changed from 'sexual identity' to 'sexual orientation' to align with legislation (Equality Act 2010), but the data source and methodology used to produce the estimates has not and are consistent with previous years.

Separately, orientation can also be romantic attraction, as well as sexual.

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