Number of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People in the UK Reaches 1 Million for First Time Since Records Began

‘It is great to see that more people now feel able to be open about their sexuality. When society forces people into the closet, it can have an awful impact on mental health’

Thousands of young people are at risk of undergoing the practice
Thousands of young people are at risk of undergoing the practice ( Getty )

A record number of people came out as gay, lesbian or bisexual last year, with the figure hitting one million for the first time on record, new statistics reveal.

Data released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that the number of people who identify as being either “gay or lesbian” or “bisexual” stood at approximately 1,026,000 in 2016 – up 11.4 per cent on the previous year; the largest increase since ONS records began.

People aged 16 to 24 were most likely to identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual than any other age group, with 4.1 per cent of young people fitting into these categories – amounting to nearly one in 20 young people in the UK.

Campaigners said that while the figures suggested people were becoming more comfortable with reporting their sexuality in a survey, it was important to note that they may struggle to open up about their identity with friends, family or colleagues.

In the year to 2015, the figure rose by 11.2 per cent. The year before that there was no significant change, but it increased by 7.4 per cent in 2013, suggesting there has been a steady and gradually accelerating rise in people identifying as gay and bisexual since the survey began in 2012-13.

The figures, based on social survey data from the Annual Population Survey (APS), which collects information on self-perceived sexual identity from people aged 16 and over in the UK, shows that considerably more males than females identified themselves as gay or lesbian last year, the figure standing at 1.7 per cent of males and 0.7 per cent of females.

Conversely, women were more likely to identify themselves as bisexual, at 0.9 per cent, compared with just 0.6 per cent of males. Overall, a larger proportion of males (2.3 per cent) identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual than females (1.6 per cent).

One young woman came out in the past year said telling people in her own age group – 16 to 24 – was easier than telling older people, particularly family members. 

Molly, who only wanted to provide her first name, said it took her three years to come out as gay. She told The Independent: “It was a lot easier to come out among my friends. Most people my age didn’t mind at all and were really accepting.

“My parents and my family were definitely a lot less easy, and if anything were upset and disappointed by it. A lot of older family friends were okay with it, but I think when it’s your family, they have certain expectations for you.

“There is a generational difference. I think for anyone coming out, they’d be much more comfortable telling someone their own age or who’s younger, and much more hesitant telling someone who’s older.”

Molly added that although things have progressed, it is still a challenge to come out, but said the growing representation of LGBT figures in the media and in public life would mean younger generations were finding it increasingly easier.

“It took me three years to come out. I would’ve answered in that survey two or three years ago that I was gay, and none of my friends or family would’ve known,” she said.

“I do have faith that the younger generations are becoming even more comfortable with those labels. Representation is really important – and as more and more celebrities and public figures come out as bisexual and gay, there is less pressure to fit into a certain stereotype.”

The ONS data shows that older age groups were less likely to identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, with only 0.7 per cent of those aged 65-and-over doing so and 2.9 per cent among 25- to 34-year-olds.

Around 2.7 per cent of people in London identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual – the highest proportion of any English region.

The North West had the second highest proportion of the population identifying as lesbian, gay and bisexual, at 2.3 per cent, in contrast with the East of England, which had the lowest proportion, at just 1.2 per cent.

The data also shows that those identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual were most likely to be single, never married or civil partnered.

ONS researchers said this could be associated with the young age structure of the population that identify with these categories, and the fact that legal unions available to same-sex couples are relatively new.

The percentage of the UK population identifying as heterosexual or straight stood at 93.4 per cent in 2016. A further 0.5 per cent of the population identified themselves as “other”, while 4.1 per cent refused or did not know how to identify themselves.

Responding to the figures, spokesperson from LGBT rights charity Stonewall said: “It is interesting to see more data being gathered on this issue. It is also important to recognise the context of this kind of research.

“Although people may feel comfortable answering an anonymous survey, they may struggle to open up about their identity with friends, family or colleagues. To ensure that LGBT people feel safe and supported, it is vital to recognise the discrimination and anti-LGBT abuse that still exists.

“Our recent hate crime research shows that one in five LGBT people (21 per cent) has experienced a hate crime or incident due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the last 12 months.

“That’s why we are encouraging allies to ‘Come Out for LGBT’ and support equality for lesbian, gay, bi and trans people so we can achieve acceptance without exception.”

Emily Knipe, of the Office for National Statistics, said: “In 2016, around 2 per cent of the population identified themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual. This has increased from 1.7 per cent in 2015 – a statistically significant increase.

“London had the largest proportion of the population who identified as LGB (2.7 per cent), which could be associated with a relatively young and diverse population.”

Keith Carlton, a psychotherapist from the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) familiar with LGBT issues, welcomed the statistics saying they indicated that people feel more able to be “open” about their sexuality, and emphasised the “awful” impact on one’s mental health when societal pressures make them feel unable to.

“It is great to see that more people now feel able to be open about their sexuality. When society forces people into the closet, it can have an awful impact on mental health,” he said.

“Nobody should be made to live in a state of anxiety or depression simply because of other people’s views about who they are, or are not, attracted to, or their gender identity.”