I sat on the floor of a stranger’s apartment and looked around at the people with me. It was the first night of my freshman orientation and, as expected, I was up at 2 A.M. in a temporary dorm with people I had met over the past seven hours. Over hours of discussion, I found out a lot about them. They came from diverse backgrounds, studied in just about every college within the university, and contained a healthy mix of dog and cat people. The most interesting of these group traits was that about half the room identified under the LGBT+ umbrella, and that it wasn’t an intense or secretive topic – it was just a fact of their lives. My midwestern, suburbia-raised brain chalked it up to being in college and in Orlando: the city that houses the bulk of the world’s Disney princes was probably an outlier in terms of that demographic.
Contrary to my assumption, my new location had very little to do with it. More and more studies suggest that millennials are the “gayest generation,” consistently reporting that we have the highest proportion of LGBT-identifying individuals of any generation alive or across history. The actual numbers vary across reports. The Public Religion Research Institute reported that “seven percent of millennials identify either as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender” (for reference, 3.5% of all adults identify as LGBT, thus making us twice as gay as the national average across living generations). However, the J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group’s survey that opted for a Kinsey-esque spectrum from “completely straight” to “completely homosexual” in lieu of hard-and-fast gay, straight, bisexual, etc. labels found that 52% of young millennials identify as something other than heterosexual.
Most surprised by these new statistics are the generations that came before us. Comments on articles broadcasting these new studies (which, fair warning: Facebook comment sections are dangerous, dark holes. I entered them so you don’t have to) blame the diversification of millennials’ sexual identification on just about anything you could type into a text box. Media propaganda, the “Gay Mafia”, GMOs, and of course, childhood obesity, are all possible clues to the big mystery: why are their kids…so gay?
Granted, there’s a large and growing population of non-millennial adults who embrace this and are accepting of the LGBT community. Not everyone born before 1990 believes that a sedentary lifestyle and growth hormones yield homosexuality. (Thank God.) But there’s a common misconception among the generation of our parents and those before it that this statistic exists because rejecting heteronormativity is the Hip Youth Thing to do: that we all watched Glee in our awkward phases and Ryan Murphy taught us that we, too, could be glamorous musical gays. This infers a few things that are far from the truth. If Glee really did indoctrinate us all, that means years of scientific research proving that sexuality is unalterable goes out the window. It also gives the idea that prior generations were truly overwhelmingly straight and this large population of LGBT people has come out of nowhere.
Let’s take it back to Kinsey. In brief, he was one of the pioneers of human sexuality research did some hugely significant work on it back in the 1940’s and 50’s at Indiana University. Way back then, his hypothesized that roughly 1 in 10 men were “more or less exclusively homosexual”. This, and the fact that he was spending his time researching SEX – of all things! – made him a rather unpopular guy for a lot of people, particularly one religious leader who deemed him the creator of “the most anti-religious book of our times”. A lot of these people assumed his prediction was largely over-inflated. However, decades later, it looks like we may be approaching that 10% statistic with coming generations.
LGBT millennials benefit from years upon years of activism to increase visibility and comfort in identity. In Kinsey’s day, most women uninterested in men joined convents or stayed in the closet. The gay community is about as old as civilization itself (Ancient Greece? Rome? So gay. So very gay.), but increased acceptance of sexuality in comparatively very recent history has made it so much easier and safer to come out than ever before. Even so, it’s not perfectly safe for everyone to come out. Future generations will likely continue this trend and dethrone us as the “gayest” generations.
Articles that tout millennials as “the gayest generation” are, while not statistically wrong, pretty misleading. There probably hasn’t been a sizeable difference in the actual proportion of LGBT people out there in the general populous. Tumblr and viral speeches from HRC galas did not cause a spark in all of us to deviate from the “completely heterosexual” side of that Kinsey spectrum. Don’t call us the “gayest generation”: call us the “most out”. The “most accepting”. The safest generation to celebrate ourselves and our peers. We’re just as gay as every other generation has been, we’re just more comfortable telling you about it.