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A new study tracking the percentage of gay and lesbian adults in America has established a first-ever demographic atlas of the group, finding that state populations range from a low of 1.7 percent in North Dakota to a high of 10 percent in the District of Columbia.
The study, conducted by Gallup Poll editor in chief Frank Newport and UCLA scholar Gary J. Gates, is a population-based survey that includes a state-by-state measurement of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identification.
"This is simply new ground - these are not just new statistics, they are the only estimates we have of these people at the state level," said Gates, a demographer at the Williams Institute at UCLA, which studies sexual orientation. "There is no other data out there to verify these numbers, which constitute a significant advancement in our understanding of the LGBT population."
In all, more than 206,000 adult Americans were surveyed. Participants responded to the question, "Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?" in surveys conducted between June 1 and Dec. 30.
The lowest sample size was 613, in Alaska. Researchers found that while LGBT communities are present nationwide, their visibility is generally higher in states with greater levels of social acceptance and supportive legal climates.
Researchers said their results defied stereotypes that portray the LGBT community as heavily grouped in urban centers. With the exception of the District of Columbia, LGBT populations range 3.4 percentage points nationwide, from a low of 1.7 percent in North Dakota to 5.1 percent in Hawaii.
With the exception of South Dakota, every state with LGBT populations of 4 percent and over has laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. These states also have taken steps toward more LGBT equality by recognizing same-sex marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships. Six of the 10 states with the lowest LGBT populations are among the most conservative states in the country, researchers found.
California ranked 10th, with 4 percent of the population identifying as belonging to the LGBT community. On the high end of the scale, Vermont and Oregon tallied 4.9 percent.
Nonwhites are more likely than white segments of the U.S. population to identify as LGBT. The survey results show that 4.6 percent of African Americans identify as LGBT, along with 4 percent of Latinos and 4.3 percent of Asians, according to the study.
Researchers acknowledged that measuring the LGBT community has previously been the subject of debate.
"As a group still subject to social stigma, many of those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender may not be forthcoming about this identity when asked about it in a survey," researchers said. Jim Key, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, agreed that the study probably underrepresented the number of LGBT people nationwide.