Last Updated June 2020 | Download as a PDF
The LGBTQ+ community at a glance
Approximately 4.5% of adults in the U.S. identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ+). That means that there are more than 11.3 million LGBTQ+ adults in the U.S. (Conron, 2019).
Recent reports from the Williams Institute estimate that 1.4 million adults (.6% of adults) in the U.S. identify as transgender (Conron 2019; Flores et al 2016).
Roughly half of the LGBTQ+ population identify as bisexual. (Gates, Marriage and Family 2015).
What do LGBTQ+ families look like?
Like other parents, LGBTQ+ parents are married, unmarried and cohabiting, separated or divorced, and single. There are intact families and blended families, and children who live between households.
While the prevalence of marriage in the general population continues to decline, the number of same-sex married couples has increased significantly in the last decade as LGBTQ+ people gained the freedom to marry nationwide. Based on data from 2017-2019, it is estimated that there are at least 543,000 married same-sex couples in the U.S. (Press Release 2019; Romero 2017; Gallup Poll 2017).
According to a 2019 Census Bureau estimate, there are over 469,000 same-sex couples who are unmarried and living together. (Press Release 2019).
How many LGBTQ+ families are there?
Between 2 million and 3.7 million children under age 18 have an LGBTQ+ parent. Many of these children are being raised by a single LGBTQ+ parent, or by a different-sex couple where one parent is bisexual. Approximately 191,000 children are being raised by two same-sex parents. Overall, it is estimated that 29% of LGBTQ+ adults are raising a child who is under 18 (LGBT Demographic Data, 2019; Press Release 2019; Gates, Marriage and Family 2015).
How are LGBTQ+ families formed?
The legal and social climate for LGBTQ+ people has a direct impact on how LGBTQ+ people form families and become parents. Historically, in the face of an anti-LGBTQ+ legal and social climate, LGBTQ+ people have tended to come out later in life, oftentimes after having a different-sex relationship. As such, most children today who are being raised by a same-sex couple were conceived in a different-sex relationship.
However, this trend is changing as the legal and social climate has become more accepting of LGBTQ+ people and same-sex relationships. Today, LGBTQ+ people are coming out earlier in life, and an increasing number of same-sex couples are planning and creating their families through assisted reproductive technology (ART) and surrogacy, as well as adoption and foster care. 63% of LGBTQ+ people planning families expect to use ART, foster care, or adoption to become parents (Family Equality Council 2019; Gates, Marriage and Family 2015).
LGBTQ+ people and same-sex couples are more likely to adopt and foster children, compared to their non-LGBTQ counterparts; specifically, same-sex couples are seven times more likely to foster or adopt than different-sex couples (Goldberg 2018).
LGBTQ+ families at a glance
The proportion of same-sex couples raising kids tends to be higher in more socially conservative areas of the country where LGBTQ+ people have come out later in life, and were more likely to have a child with a different-sex partner earlier in life. Overall, the highest proportions of same-sex couples raising children under age 18 reside in Southern, Mountain West, and Midwestern states – largely rural areas, with the fewest protections for LGBTQ+ families. (Movement Advancement Project 2019; Gates, Marriage and Family 2015; Gates 2013).
Among LGBTQ+ adults under 50 living alone or with a spouse or partner, 48% of women and 20% of men are raising a child who is under 18 years old. (Gates 2013). When looking specifically at those who live together, the US Census Bureau estimates that 16% of all same-sex couples are raising children under 18 in their household: 9.3 % of male couples and 23% of female couples (Characteristics, 2018).
Racial and ethnic minorities who are LGBTQ+ are more likely to be raising or having kids. More than a third of same-sex couples raising children are racial or ethnic minorities – approximately 12% are African American and 15% Latinx. Out of all LGBTQ+ people aged 25 or older, 34% of African American adults and 39% of Latinx adults are raising children, in comparison to 21% of white adults. (LGBT Demographic Data, 2019; Gates, Marriage and Family 2015; Gates, Demographics 2015).
LGBTQ+ individuals and same-sex couples raising children have lower incomes than different-sex counterparts and higher levels of poverty. Nearly one in five children being raised by same-sex couples (24%) live in poverty compared to 14% of children being raised by different-sex couples. In 2015, 33% of LGBTQ+ parents raising children experienced food insecurity, compared with 20% of their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. (Taylor et. Al, 2016;Gates, Marriage and Family 2015; Gates, Demographics 2015).
Nearly all research shows that individuals in same-sex couples have higher levels of education; however, this is not true for those raising children. Only one third of same-sex couples raising children have a college degree. (Characteristics, 2018; Gates, Marriage and Family 2015).
Discrimination against LGBTQ+ families
The LGBTQ+ community has seen considerable legal and social progress in recent years. However, anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and social stigma remain.
There is no comprehensive federal nondiscrimination law expressly protecting LGBTQ+ people and less than half of states have state nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people.
Parenting and foster and adoption laws, practices, and procedures vary throughout the U.S., and many states do not have express protections for LGBTQ+ parents. Thus, depending on the law of a given state, LGBTQ+ parents may feel vulnerable to discrimination or retribution. This is especially true for transgender parents who have historically faced discrimination in the courts, custody disputes, foster care, and adoption, and a non-biological parent who does not have legally-established rights to her or his child.
In the last few years, there has been a notable increase in hate crimes and hostility toward LGBTQ+ people.