This is important.
A recent Gallup study of the 50 largest metropolitan cities in the United States found that Pittsburgh was ranked 49 thin terms of the size of our LGBT population.
These results are based on responses to the question, “Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?” — included in more than 374,000 Gallup Daily tracking interviews conducted between June 2012 and December 2014. This is the largest ongoing study of the distribution of the LGBT population in the U.S. on record, and the first time a study has had large enough sample sizes to provide estimates of the LGBT population by MSA.
The number of interviews conducted in each MSA between June 2012 and December 2014 is large enough to allow for estimates of each of the 50 largest metro areas’ LGBT population. Each MSA except two had at least 3,000 interviews, with the lowest sample size of 2,674 for New Orleans and the largest of 36,947 for New York. The LGBT percentage, along with the number of completed interviews conducted in each MSA is presented in the above table.
Why does this matter?
First, there’s the explanation that Gallup offers – among the ranked MSAs, Pittsburgh has the highest proportion of seniors in the population. Gallup research has shown that LGBT identity tends to be lower among seniors. People are going back into the closet as they age might be a reasonable assumption. How do we deliver safety net and support services to closeted LGBT elders? WESA did a great story on this very issue several months ago.
Second, there’s a perception that Pittsburgh is very liberal buffered by the somewhat liberal Allegheny County and then surrounded by the clearly conservative MSA including Westmoreland, Washington, Butler, Beaver and Fayette counties. This poll reflects the MSA influence. We have to win the heartland, so to speak to create meaningful change. And we are not doing that. We are losing Dem seats to Tea Partiers. We are losing women in office. We have scores of socially conservative Democrats in office from the larger region. From faith-based bathroom harassment to open attacks on the character of LGBT entertainers, there is no lack of evidence about the intent of those who are engaged in a frenzy of backlash against our community by focusing on the most vulnerable.
Third, this may not be so much a reflection of how people decide where to live (based on social & legal acceptance) as an indicator of how people decide to live authentically or openly. LGBT people who live in MSAs where they experience greater levels of social acceptance and often the legal protections that come with that may be more likely to identify themselves as such compared with LGBT adults living in areas in which there is less acceptance of people of differing sexual orientations. So it isn’t that they aren’t living in Pittsburgh or Birmingham, it is that they are less likely to be visibly and publicly out, even in a phone survey.
To me, the conclusions are clear. Our allies at the helm of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County need to demonstrate significant new investment in the welfare of LGBTQ residents, from funding for senior programs to increased visibility in senior level hires and appointments. The accomplishments of the past decade are not sufficient. And by those at the helm, I don’t just mean elected officials – I also mean those at the helm of the foundations, the corporate community, the healthcare industry and more.
I’ve said a million times that a strategic, visible investment in municipal equality is the way to go. We can clearly learn some valuable lessons from Philly, Columbus and Cleveland. What we lack is the resolve to make this happen. Most of our community groups are focused on survival. Who will lead the way?
Sometimes I wish I could be a fly on the wall of LGBT organizers in this region during the 1980s and 1990s. Sigh.
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