Military 2% Gay

How gay is the U.S. military?

gay-soldiersAn estimated 66,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual people are serving in the U.S. military, roughly 2 percent of all military personnel, according to a report released Tuesday by a gay rights policy center. The figures suggest a slight increase in the number of gays, lesbians and bisexuals in the military, and they provide opponents of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with fresh data as they lobby the Obama administration for its repeal.

Gays, lesbians and bisexuals account for about 13,000 active duty service members, equal to less than 1 percent currently deployed, the report estimated. About 53,000 others serve in the National Guard and reserves, equaling about 3.4 percent.

The actual number of gays, lesbians and bisexuals serving in uniform is unknown; the military does not track such figures. The research brief was released by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, a public policy institute that studies sexual orientation law.

Its authors used a variety of statistical methods to arrive at the estimate, drawing in part on the Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey and the 2000 Census, in which some people identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual and as serving in the military. A similar 2004 study, widely quoted by gay rights advocates and supportive lawmakers, estimated that roughly 65,000 gay people were serving in the military.

There’s no way to know, really, since gays can’t openly serve in the military.  But it strikes me as incredibly unlikely that a self-selected group that actively excludes homosexuals — and where gay jokes are a 24 hour enterprise — would happen to have the same percentage of homosexuals as society as a whole.

Regardless, there’s not much doubt that the actual numbers of gays in the military is non-zero and non-trivial.  And, yet, we’re somehow managing to fight two major wars, a handful of undeclared smaller ones, and a major humanitarian relief effort without issue.  Or, at least, issues related to the sexual orientation of those serving.

Non-statistical aside:  Doing a Google Image search for “gay military” is not advisable for those at work.

Story via Gabriel Malor.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Military Affairs, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. and where gay jokes are a 24 hour enterprise

    What makes you think homosexuals never tell jokes that revolve around being gay? This is like concluding Chris Rock is white because he does a lot of humor involving black stereotypes.

    There is, of course, a difference between using such humor to intimidate and using it to socialize, but that’s not something you address.

  2. Mike says:

    Sorry but I don’t buy it – 24 hour enterprise – maybe when you were in but not anymore – I think 24 hour political jokes about our inept elected officials but not gay jokes –

  3. Jeff says:

    I served in the US Navy for over 10 years as both an Officer and as an enlisted man and I cannot recall a single gay joke being told in my presence. Maybe the Army puts up with that sort of thing, the Navy certainly didn’t.
    I’m not saying my shipmates were gay friendly but a 24 hour enterprise ? Sounds like you are trying to butch up your time in the Army sir.

  4. As always, depends on what definition people use. As you know, the 2% figure for the general population is self-reporting. Study after study shows that the number of people who have engaged in same-sex sexual contact is 2x or 3x as the self-reporting number. Now, I don’t want to seem arrogant by insisting that my definition of gay should rule… but ya know, if you are a man and have sex with a man, you’re at least bi. And no amount of “I was experimenting,” or “I was drunk,” or “It was a dare” will convince me otherwise.

    Anyway, the point is, gay rights groups tends to assume that anyone who has had same-sex contact ought to be counted as GLB, which serves the political purpose of inflating the numbers. But, on the other hand, I am not sure that they are wholly wrong as a matter of methodology. If it walks like a duck, etc.

    Now, that said, the newspaper reports that they are using self-reported orientation, and some sort of sampling algorithm. Unless you have good reason to assume that self-identifying gays are overrepresented in the sample, I don’t know that we should doubt the numbers.

    The reasons people give for joining the military operate just as much on homosexuals as on anyone else. Everyone joining makes massive lifestyle sacrifices. So I don’t think there is any particularly reason to think that sexual orientation would be a higher hurdle for joining that for many other groups.

  5. Douglas says:

    Gay jokes are all over the place. Might be less common in the Navy because they tend to be the but of most of those jokes, but they are all over the place.

    I knew very few people who used homosexual humor as a cudgel and they were ostracized, but the day to day use of homosexuality as a snipe on manhood was common, Not 24 hours, but hard to make it a day without at least one navy joke that involved homosexuality. But it was more about a lack of manliness, not actually brutal about homosexuality.

    And I knew a fair few homosexuals in the Marine Corps and I was a GI Joe kinda guy at the time, so If I knew as many as I did, I actually wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers were actually larger than in everyday society.

    When I was in oki, there were two known hangouts for gay servicemembers, and they were both packed all the time. Maybe they just know how to make a night at the bar a party better than the uptight hicks.

  6. Andy says:

    I served in the Navy on active duty for seven years. There were some gay jokes, but most of them were also Marine jokes. There, I made a funny. Seriously though, Jeff is right that the truly offensive jokes weren’t much tolerated and, in fact, I found conditions much worse in some of my civilian jobs.

    In my sixteen years of total military service active and reserve I’ve personally known about a half-dozen gay service members. I would not be at all surprised if the numbers in the military were pretty close to the population.

  7. Franklin says:

    The research brief was released by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, a public policy institute that studies sexual orientation law.

    It’s possible that the report is biased, too.

  8. How gay is the U.S. military?

    That depends on the meaning of the word “is.”

  9. Douglas says:

    thing that kinda jumped at me was “bisexual.”

    Sorry but it’s true, women do have a more tolerant view of bisexual activity, does the study use those women who engaged in rare bisexual activity, as bisexual? or self defined bisexuals?

    We are still a largely male society when it comes to sexual norms, and the majority of women will still do something for their man to make him happy that they otherwise wouldn’t normally do.

    That still doesn’t change my opinion that at current homosexuality is present in the military at about, if not greater than in civilian society, but these studies always fundamentally suck.

    Also I don’t like the use of “representative” It’s a stupid thing on my part I know, but I don’t like using “gay representation” in the military, because in the military, you represent the military, nothing else, I don’t give a damn who you are, where you from, if you like clowns, or are afraid of midgets, you are in the effing military, stop fighting for something you don’t rate anyways, “representation.” YOU reperesent the military, not the other way around.

  10. sam says:

    When I was in the Corps, there were known gay corpsmen. Dunno if I ever met any gay Marines, but I’ll bet did. The corpsmen were teased a bit, and just that, teased. I never heard of any abuse or rough treatment. And I don’t think the Marines would have stood for it. They were the docs and that was enough. We knew what they meant to us.

  11. Douglas says:

    Yeah the Corpsman could basically stab a baby and their units would protect them like they were the last bald eagle hatchling on the planet.

  12. john personna says:

    Funny first line, funny picture.

  13. ole_sarge says:

    I served in the USAF for 22 years, yes there were a few lesbians and more than a few homosexuals.

    Frankly those were LESS of a problem than the inappropriate heterosexual relations between Senior NCOs and junior enlisted, or Senior Grade Officers and junior officers.

    The lesbians and homosexuals I knew were not the “flaming” or “in your face about it,” types. They kept it low key and really, it was not my business whom they shared a room or a bed with, just like it was not my business which airman was dating which airman.

    Until that relationship became a problem at work, (and that can go for “any” mix) it was not something I needed/wanted to get involved with.

  14. Richard Gardner says:

    From the Left Coast, I’m watching Senator McCain on DADT after the SOTU. I agree with his position, it works, and shouldn’t be instantaneously reversed. What I really am afraid of is sexual politics/advantage.

    I was on some of the first Navy ships that went co-ed (AS-37/41 – we were over 50% female, then the Lesbian witch hunts happened). Before that there were no obvious sexual issues (OK, it was a man’s world). Then it got politically correct. Then there was an explosion of sex problems. By problems I mean code of conduct issues. Once sex gets into the equation military discipline gets complicated.

    I spend over 20 years in the submarine Navy. I don’t mind the jokes that 120 men went down, and 60 couples came up – I think that dates to about 1960. Things I know:

    – In the Navy I guessed I knew many lesbians (I wasn’t in their beds). I’d say the F/F were more obvious to me than M/M.

    – I saw several cases of junior bimbos (M/F) having the senior person (F/M) compromised (19 versus 25 year old, maybe 35 year old).

    – Same sex sexual politics was about zero.

    Basic thought, fraternization is fraternization. Period. But when you are 80+% male you can’t magically adjust to 50-50.

    – The stupid shall be punished

  15. brainy435 says:

    I want to know how they will repeal DADT without changing the UCMJ statutes on sodomy. I don’t think they can just choose to look the other way without riskng a lot of blowback during NJPs or masts.

    Oh, and having served 6 yrs in the Navy, gay jokes were constant. Not so much “jokes” or cruelty as much as making the noobies as uncomfortable as humanly possible with innuendo, wildly inappropriate observations, etc. This was in the late 90’s on subs, so maybe the PC insanity hadn’t taken over completely, though it sure felt like it had.

  16. sam says:

    I want to know how they will repeal DADT without changing the UCMJ statutes on sodomy.

    That’s an interesting question, and I think the answer is that the statute on sodomy is so broad as to be unenforceable. Here’s the first paragraph of the text. Note the parts I’ve highlighted:

    Article 125 – Sodomy

    (a) Any person subject to this chapter who engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal is guilty of sodomy. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the offense.

    Now, consider this:


    It is unnatural carnal copulation for a person to take into that person’s mouth or anus the sexual organ of another person or of an animal; or to place that person’s sexual organ in the mouth or anus of another person or of an animal; or to have carnal copulation in any opening of the body, except the sexual parts, with another person; or to have carnal copulation with an animal.

    In other words, (I daresay common) heterosexual practices are also criminalized by the statute. Let me go out on a limb here and say that the vast majority of heterosexual couples in the military would be subject to criminal prosecution on this statute.

  17. brainy435 says:

    sam, the heterosexual practice is absolutely criminalized, and hard to enforce. But not impossible.

    While in Prototype school (for the nucleal training pipeline) our instructor told us of an unfortunate instructor who while walking through the guard station one morning set off the radiation detectors. This was considered odd, since he was coming into work with the reactors and not leaving after having spent time working around them. They used a handheld detector and found that his crotch was reading as contaminated. An investigation found that his wife had had a Berrilyum enema as part of a medical procedure recently. He was sent to NJP for breaking that statute of the UCMJ.

    He swore it happened, but he could have been putting us on. That happens sometimes in the Nav…

  18. sam says:

    Yeah, I’m sure it can be if the officer bringing the charge is a vindictive sort. But the way to strike down the statute is to show that it would criminalize socially accepted conduct for, well, for almost everybody. BTW, that’s a great story. I absolutely don’t believe it, but it’s a great story.

  19. sam says:

    BTW, if something like that ever got beyond a captain’s mast, I’d try and depose the convening officers and have them testify under oath on whether they’d ever gotten a blow job. Heh.