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Monday 13 September 2010

Misleading statistics and misconceptions about the gay community

Much of the gay world is driven by misleading statistics and misconceptions and rather ‘woolly’ thinking. This suits some people down to the ground.

Facts and figures are exaggerated and misrepresented for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes due to ignorance and silliness or with the best of intentions. Other times deliberately for profit, to get funding or to grab or hold onto control of an event or organisation.

Some do it to present a picture that better suits their upbringing and view of life and because of a desperate urge to ‘fit in’ and be no different.

A few years ago I realised how the organisers of Manchester’s August Bank Holiday event (currently known as Manchester Pride) had consistently misled the public about attendance figures over the years. Particularly the crowd numbers at the Saturday parade. They published vastly-inflated figures that were physically impossible and so did the media.

I began to wonder what else are we being misled about?

HOW MANY LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL AND TRANSGENDER (LGBT) PEOPLE ARE THERE?

No one is sure. The UK government reckons that about 6% of the population may be LGBT. Other people think up to 10%.

There has never been a question about this on the census and it would be pretty pointless if there was one. The head of the household is responsible for filling in the details and hundreds of thousands of people would not want to admit to being anything other than 100% heterosexual (straight) when asked.

Personally I reckon 6% of the population may be Lesbian, Gay or Transgender. But I think many more are bisexual.

The older I get, the more I think trying to put people into sexual categories is ridiculous and artificial. I suspect a very large percentage of the population have had some kind of sexual same-sex contact at some point in their life.

Pornography may give a more honest insight into the percentage of men who are gay or bi. AEBN, The leading company in adult online video on demand, offers 57,500 straight DVD titles, but 12,500 gay ones. If only 6% (or 10%) of men are gay or bi, then why are 18% of AEBN’s video titles gay? No doubt the marketeers would point to the higher disposable income that gay men have, supposedly. But I’m not convinced.

However, for the moment, let’s imagine those suggested population percentages are correct and talk figures…

Population of the UK 2010: 62,000,000

If 6% is LGBT: 3,720,000

If 10% is LGBT: 6,200,000

Population of Greater Manchester 2010: 2,600,000

If 6% is LGBT: 156,000

If 10% is LGBT: 260,000

Bear in mind that these figures include everyone of all ages. In 2009, 19% of the UK population was reckoned to be aged under 16.

THE MYTH THAT ‘EVERYONE’ WHO IS LGBT IS ON THE SCENE OR GOES TO MANCHESTER PRIDE

When I first moved to Manchester in 1982, and ‘came out’ the following year, I was struck by how small the gay scene seemed. Everyone seemed to know each other.

Marketing people like to pretend that everyone in the UK who is LGBT leads a gay ‘pink pound’ lifestyle. In fact, the vast majority don’t.

There are about 33 ‘gay’ venues in Manchester city centre. Some are large clubs, others are small bars. What do you suppose is the average number of people in each of them on a Saturday night?

Suppose the average is 250 people. That is 33 venues multiplied by 250. Giving a total of just 8,250 people out on a Saturday night in all venues.

But, almost everywhere is mixed now. What percentage of those people are straight? Shall we say 20%? So take off 1,650 heterosexuals, leaving a grand total of 6,600 LGBT people out on a Saturday night.

Manchester is the third largest city in the UK and is the focus if you happen to be LGBT, live in Greater Manchester, and want to go out on the gay scene. Yet maybe only 6,600 LGBT people are out on the scene on a Saturday night, out of a Greater Manchester LGBT population of 156,000 (if 6% of the population is LGBT).

And we haven’t thought about those who travel from outside of Greater Manchester. They come from Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, Merseyside and further afield — such as from the north-east.

In a survey on the Manchester Pride website carried out in 2008, 93.1% of the 931 respondents had been to the annual event, and 42.5% of respondents were from outside of the north-west.

And we all know lots of people who never miss going out on the scene on a Saturday night. So a good proportion on a Saturday will be exactly the same people week in, week out. Most will tend to be aged under 30, because that’s the lucrative group that the gay village targets.

So now figure out how many LGBT people are out on the scene in gay venues in the whole of the UK. From smaller towns that have one or two gay bars, to Brighton, Birmingham and London which of course has lots. Maybe 35,000 LGBT people out nationwide on a Saturday night?

35,000 out of a UK LGBT population of maybe 3.72m (or 6.2m if 10% are LGBT)…

Many of those will be die-hard scene-goers. But it’s just one night. What figure would you put on the core of LGBT people in the UK who go out to gay venues regularly? 100,000 maybe? If true, that would be about 2.7% of all LGBT people if 6% of the overall UK population is LGBT. Or about 1.62% if 10% of the overall UK population is LGBT.

These figures are back-of-the-envelope ‘guestimates’. But even if they are out by 100%, 200% or even 500%, you get the picture… The bottom line is: the scene-goers do not represent all LGBT people in any shape or form. Yet constantly they are presented as if they do.

What we have is a little elite that runs things for itself. Increasingly it’s becoming a problem as this group steers things in a commercial, one-size-fits-all and sometimes quite authoritarian direction.

GAY AND LESBIAN MAGAZINES

The scene goers tend to be the ones who pick up copies of the free gay magazines.

According to the publisher of Bent magazine (which is free) it ‘targets gay men and is distributed to 400 gay bars, clubs and saunas right across the United Kingdom’. Its circulation ‘reaches 60,000 copies (equal to that of Gay Times) and perhaps as high as 100,000 copies across the UK’.

Gay Times is not free. Nor is Diva, which is aimed at lesbians and is said to have a circulation of 55,000. Attitude is reputed to be the highest selling gay magazine in Britain.

However, none of the magazines mentioned above have an official ABC circulation figure. Which is interesting and suggests their circulation may be lower than stated.

MANCHESTER PRIDE

Manchester Pride time comes along and it sells somewhere between 35,000 and 42,000 tickets each year. To exactly the same core of scene-going people from Greater Manchester and elsewhere in the UK and some from abroad.

So a picture begins to emerge of a core group of maybe 100,000 people who go on the scene, read the magazines, travel around and are presented as ‘the’ LGBT people.

THE MYTH THAT ALL LGBT PEOPLE ARE AGED UNDER 30 AND LEAD A PINK POUND LIFESTYLE

When talking with a certain type of young gay man I like to drop into the conversation that most LGBT adults are aged over 40. Try it sometime, often you’ll get a ferocious response and be told in no uncertain terms not to be so stupid.

It shows how some gay men are brain-washed by the relentless stream of ‘beautiful’ gym-toned twentysomethings that appear in the media.

But of course we get old like everyone else. The period from 18 to 40 is just 22 years. Whereas the period from 41 to 75 is 34 years (and some people live to be much older than 75). It’s obvious there are way more LGBT adults who are aged over 40. And bear in mind that some young gay men think you’re past it at 30!

At the LGBT Labour discussion in Manchester, in 2009, Sue Sanders of LGBT History Month talked about how older lesbians in particular are effectively invisible.

MISLEADING SURVEYS

When it’s time for some marketeer to do a survey, he or she pops down to the local gay venues, or the survey appears in one of the magazines mentioned above. How else are they to ‘reach’ LGBT people, they ask. In other words a tiny percentage of all the LGBT people in the country (the mainly-young scene-going ones) are visible, surveyed and have a voice while millions are ignored.

What a surprise when the survey reveals that almost all LGBT people enjoy buying clothes and pop music and have a high disposable income. Of course they do if they are out on the gay scene regularly.

Take a look at this ludicrous ‘Out Now 2008 Millivres Gay Market Study’ which claims to present the buying habits of ‘almost 3 million’ gay men and lesbians in the UK. Supposedly we spend £701m a year on ‘hairstyling products’, £607m on ‘grooming, facials, waxing’, £1.1bn on CDs and so on. You can check the full inane list on the page.

Get to the bottom of the page and you’ll see this:

‘Sample size is 1231 respondents, comprised of lesbians and gay men, drawn from across the UK between September 2007 and January 2008 with respondents from amongst six samples: the three leading gay print UK media products: DIVA, GT [formerly Gay Times], Pink Paper; and their three leading online sites.’

Yes, a sample size of just 1,231 people has been extrapolated to cover almost three million!

And they ‘assume sample results to be representative of UK gay population totals’. What rubbish… Tell it to a 65 year old lesbian or a bisexual who is deep in the closet.

Or consider this promotional blurb from Gaydar Radio in 2007:

‘Reach: 225,000 weekly. The station… has an audience that is 88% male, predominantly young, ABC1 and aged 18 to 34. Some 93% of listeners are openly gay. Gaydar has an 18% reach of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) audience.

‘Some 58.4% earn more than £20,000 per year and 27.9% earn more than £30,000.’

This all seems extremely unlikely. The percentage figures suggest an ‘openly gay’ male audience of about 184,000. But if 6% of the UK population is LGBT there can only be around 396,000 gay or bi males (many of them not openly gay) aged between 18-34 in the entire UK and in 1999 only 48.5% of the population was classed as being ABC1.

GAY MARRIAGE

Armed with laughable surveys like the one mentioned above, the marketeers persuade foolish companies to spend money trying to tap into this fictional giant market.

In 2005 Barclays Bank funded ‘300,000 copies of a guide to civil partnerships for same-sex couples’. But, oh dear, in 2008 there were only 7,169 civil partnerships and even fewer in 2009: just 6,281. With 351 civil partnership dissolutions granted in the UK that same year.

In 2008 one out of every 250 straight people in the UK got married. While only one out of every 518 LGBT people had a civil partnership (based on the population percentages at the top of the page). Also bear in mind that the first civil partnership didn’t happen until 5 December 2005, so figures could well settle down to a lower level in the future.

We’re told LGBT people are crying out for gay marriage. If it happens, I predict it will be even less popular. Nor is gay marriage without a downside because some same sex couples will no doubt feel under pressure to have a religious marriage whether they want one or not.

When I came out in 1983 there was a tremendous sense of freedom at not having to conform to the rather stifling world of getting married and having kids. It worries me that people are so willing to give up that freedom now.

HOW THE GAY SCENE HAS BEEN DESTROYED AS A SAFE SPACE DUE TO POLITICAL CORRECTNESS

The gay scene and LGBT community are things that developed due to social and political necessity. Some of us needed places to meet and we wanted to get together and fight for change. Gay bars and clubs used to be extremely welcoming and safe spaces, but many no longer are.

‘Gay village’ areas have been promoted to the wider population and many of the people who show up now are far from gay friendly and have never given any thought to why those areas existed in the first place. It’s even been suggested that some see gay venues as ‘perverse’ places where any kind of bad behaviour goes (in other words it must be the case if even gays are welcome).

Part of the drive to pull in the ‘straights’ has come from grasping businesses which realised that the pool of LGBT people was limited. New Labour made it an offence to refuse entry based on gender. And some people in our own community have encouraged it all on dubious ‘equality’ grounds and regardless of how destructive it is.

Typical was a comment on Facebook recently, in which a young person suggested that hen parties should be welcomed in Manchester’s gay village on the grounds that ‘queer women’ also have hen nights before they get married.

This silly politically-correct posturing is selling our one time safe spaces down the river.

If you look at the stats, for 58,280,000 straight people there were 232,990 marriages in England and Wales in 2008 with 28,903 in Scotland. While in 2009 there were only 3,054 civil partnerships between women in the whole of the UK. So it’s pretty obvious who is having hen parties on Canal Street.

If you total up the number of women having a ceremony of some sort and potentially having a hen party (and bearing in mind that in the case of a lesbian civil partnership there are two women) then slightly less than 2.3% of hen parties will involve a lesbian.

As we’ve seen above, probably only a tiny fraction of the people in the UK who may be LGBT go on the gay scene and lead a ‘pink’ lifestyle. If safe spaces aren’t ‘ringfenced’ and protected, and are just left to market forces instead, in the end they may cease to serve their purpose. Manchester’s gay village stands at that crossroads right now.

If we don’t start off with the true figures and deal in reality, how can any of us have an informed debate about the issues that affect us? Honesty is important.

In part two I’ll look at the way people use statistics selectively to drive their ideology or agenda. Ostensibly for the benefit of one group but often with negative consequences for someone somewhere else.

UPDATES

* ‘The Office for National Statistics (ONS) says 480,000 (1%) consider themselves gay or lesbian, and 245,000 (0.5%) bisexual. The ONS received 450,000 responses in its new Integrated Household Survey.’ BBC, 23 Sep 2010.

* Pink News coverage of the same story, 23 Sep 2010.

* ‘The [ONS] results show nearly 20% of those who say they are gay, lesbian or bisexual are married and currently living with someone of the opposite sex.’ In the Closet Or Not? BBC, 4 Oct 2010

* ‘US research says 8% of men and 7% of women are gay or bisexual.

‘While only seven per cent of women and eight per cent of men called themselves gay or bisexual, many more said they had experienced a same-sex sexual encounter.

‘Fifteen per cent of men between the age of 50 and 59 said they had received oral sex from another man at least once in their lives.’ Pink News, 4 Oct 2010

* More Or Less, the Radio 4 programme about stats, analyses the ONS figures. Listen in BBC iPlayer.

* Stonewall’s ‘coming out’ data falls into statistical trap. Gay rights group’s survey suffers from a blind spot on age.


Filed under: Gay,LGBT,Manchester,Politics — GS @ 4:26 am

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