'splainin things

Why Britain Says Only 1.5% Of Its Funny Accented People Living On Island In Middle Of Ocean Are Gay

Britain’s Office for National Statistics concluded just 1.5 percent of its population is gay, a figure a gay dating website promptly learned how to turn into a free publicity exercise. But even others are perplexed by the Brits’ low ball calculation, given common wisdom — and we know how accurate that often is — and the notion at least 10 percent of any standardized sample is queer. ONS, however, isn’t changing its tune. But still, how to explain the drop in gays from years earlier, when estimates ranged from 5-7 percent? The BBC dives in:

So why the discrepancy? Some critics point a finger at the methodology used by the ONS. In several newspapers it was reported that the survey had been conducted on the doorstep, with the ONS turning up without prior notice. Critics argue people are reluctant to talk about their sexuality with a stranger on the doorstep.

But the ONS says this wasn’t the case. The 450,000 people involved were chosen through random sampling and were then sent a letter asking if they wanted to take part. If they did a date was set for someone to visit or interview them over the phone. Each member of the household was interviewed separately using question cards and asked a series of questions on a whole range of issues. The ONS had informed them about the nature of the questions beforehand. Not everyone was asked about sexual preference, says the ONS. Some participants were too young, for example. In total 247,623 people were asked and 238,206 gave a valid response.

This is where I’d float a theory that gays only RSVP to dinner and pool parties, not strangers knocking at their door, but then I remembered: Grindr. So let’s try a different approach:

The way people were able to respond was also important and explained to all participants in advance. Each person was asked the same question, but shown a different question card with a unique number next to each preference. It meant anyone trying to overhear the answer could not tell which category the respondent had selected. The ONS says this method reduced the number of refusals and “don’t knows”. The 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. “We’re quite confident that the estimate we have is an accurate estimate of self-perceived sexual identity,” says Stephen Hicks from ONS.

So why was last government estimate put at 5% to 7%? The ONS says one reason for the difference is that the latest figure is for sexual perception, not behaviour – two different things. “Someone may engage in sexual behaviour with someone of the same sex but still not perceive themselves as gay,” says a ONS spokeswoman.

Ah! So only 1.5 percent of Brits identify as gay, while freakin’ half of them could be doing it gay style? Suddenly I’m having less buyer’s remorse about my upcoming U.K. jaunt. Hey, “str8” blokes!

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  • Beelzebab

    Those dirty, dirty, DIRTY, naughty straight boys!

    We know you yankie-doodle dandies think all us Brits are gay anyway cos of our sexy accents!

    (Look up the origin of “Yankie-doodle Dandy”)

  • Mike in Asheville, nee "in Brooklyn"

    Come on, we all know the stereotype: when your gaydar isn’t functioning, you have to ask, well is he gay or English? Seems to me, about 5.5% of the British population is homo-confused.

  • Kev C

    Maybe it has to do with the rampant homophobia that bloodies up the streets of every british town. It isn’t safe to be open in the UK.

  • CaliberGuy

    So in other words 1.5% of the population that was gay was willing to have stangers ask them a bucn of invaseve personal questions including about their sexuality when the goverment sent them an invitation!! And they think that means that the who gay population is that 1.5%, it would take a fool not realise that most gay people don’t want to tell the government their sexuality.

  • Ryan

    Queerty leaves out that 3.8 percent said “don’t know” or refused to respond. Add those to the gay column, as no heterosexual would refuse to resound, and we’ve got 5.3 percent. Sounds about right.

  • StevenW

    Speaking as a Brit, if one of these survey requests had dropped through my mailbox, it would have gone straight in recycling. I ticked the right boxes on the census; why our gov. are obsessed by asking for the same information in a thousand ways is beyond me.

  • andrew

    As we invented English, I would say it’s the Americans with the funny accents.

  • uu

    @andrew: Surely most of the “inventing” was done before the great vowel shift.

  • andrew

    @ UU

    There are thousands of accents in England. Which vowel shift are you talking about?

  • robert in nyc

    Kev C, rampant homophobia on every street in the UK? What a crock. You base that on a few incidences of gay bashing? Its not rampant, just sporadic as it is in most western societies. What about the rampant homophobia in this country and the five recent suicides; what about the rampant homophobia in the republican party and their teabagger offshoot as well as the conservadems in the Democratic party who defeated marriage equality in our state last December? That all contributes to gay bashing. We can’t even get our own society in order, but at least the Brits are rolling ahead on full equality, unlike our own country that is doing nothing about it. British gays have a lot more equality than we in the U.S. could imagine. They have laws protecting them from discrimination in employment, housing, and the delivery of other services….we have no ENDA enacted; they can serve openly in the military…we have DADT; they can bring in their foreign born partners to live and reside there, we can’t; they can adopt children; they have civil partnerships providing all the rights of marriage and now their Liberal Democratic party endorses marriage equality and its rival Labour party has a new leader supporting it. What do we have, and you think its so bad over there? I’d take their society over ours any day.

  • JoeyO'H

    And the rest are “Very English?”

    What’s up with that guy’s body? His head does not match his frame. One of the oddest looking, proportioned men I’ve ever seen!
    I’ll stick with the American men, thank you.

  • malcanoid

    @JoeyO’H: Joey, look up “Little Britain”, David Walliams and Matt Lucas.

  • robert in nyc

    JoeyO’H…and you think there are no obese or out of proportion American men including gay men? How naive!

    Malcanoid, from your inference you think David Williams and Matt Lucas represent all British men? American men are that perfect? There’s enough ugliness to go around in every culture including our own. Your statement borders on stereotyping an entire race of people based on two characters in a comedy. Sad!

  • malcanoid

    @robert in nyc: I was merely directing JoeyO’H to places where he may learn that that the photograph is of two comedy characters in costumes. I consider that straightforward and neither “sad” nor a case of sterotyping.

  • robert in nyc

    Malcanoid, I’m glad you clarified that, thank you.

  • Giovannidude

    One of the big changes in the UK in recent years is that street violence, once practically unknown, has become a big problem. Especially drunken yobs outside pubs. You don’t have to be gay to be a target. There are yobs all over the world, but the difference is that England used to be known for its civility and politeness. It is now known for its large drunken underclass of white trash.

  • robert in nyc

    So Giovannidude…I suppose there is no drunken white trash underclass anywhere but England? We have it in abundance in America and just like the UK or anywhere in Europe, you don’t have to be gay to be a target either. There are violent gangs across the entire country, not all white either, but they don’t represent the society as a whole. The UK still has a better society than ours when it comes to equality, among other things. You’re stereotyping an entire race of people on the actions of a minority and the drunken white trash underclass you mention is not the majority of the British people. I’ve seen identical behavior in Holland, Belgium and Germany but I wouldn’t say that they’re known for it. Civility and politeness is still a characteristic of the British people by and large, at least the ones I’ve met were. Its unfortunate you never met any.

  • Kev C

    @robert in nyc: Google the terms “glassings” and “knife crimes”. They occur hundreds of times a week in the UK. Like Giovannidude said, young, drunk, hooded hooligans, usually near pubs at night. It’s not just gay victims, but homophobic attacks do occur.

  • Miguel

    Just to echo what Ryan said above: 3-4% refused to answer that question, and it is highly unlikely that these people are heterosexuals. Add the non-respondents to the self-identified gay/bis and you are at 4-5%. That seems about right, although you might add a percentage point for closet cases not included in the non-respondents.

    Of course, Queerty mentions none of this, since that would require independent thought and analysis, as opposed to a cut-and-paste job.

  • robert in nyc

    Kev C, I’m well aware of what goes on in the UK, I have many relatives there and I subscribe to two of its national newspapers to keep abreast. What I object to are people who try to paint the actions of a few hundred hooligans representing an entire society as well as singling out only one country when in fact there is plenty to go around in others, some are far worse. I deplore violence against anyone, it is always wrong. Giovannidude’s statement implied that there is no civility or politeness based on the actions of a few. How absurd is that?

    You said…
    “Maybe it has to do with the rampant homophobia that bloodies up the streets of “every british town”. It isn’t safe to be open in the UK.” Come now, that’s an over-exaggeration. I have relatives in several urban areas in England….they haven’t reported any attacks on gay people and their streets and towns aren’t bloodied. Where is your evidence for that? Every British town, really? I detect a bit of unintentional anglophobia and fear mongering in that statement.

    So by your deduction, there is no rampant homophobia in America and its safer to be open here than over there? We just had two men violently attacked here in New York City and lets not forget the recent five suicides across the country as a result of bullying. Why do you think there is no semblance of equality in this country at the national level but in the UK there is? It didn’t happen in the UK because of rampant homophobia but by a progressive government and the support of the majority of the British people who aren’t homophobic and who do not comprise any part of the “white trash underclass”. 61% of the British public polled last year support full marriage quality, not what I would call rampant homophobia by any stretch of the imagination. Again, you’re using the actions of a few to paint an entire society with the same brush.

  • Kev C

    @robert in nyc: You see, when you have the UK government replacing glass bottles with plastic bottles to prevent glassings, and social programs and websites devoted to stopping gay bashings and knife crimes, and frequent news stories of dead tourists, all occuring on an island the size of Alabama, it would be logical to assume that it’s a problem for british society.

  • robert in nyc

    Kev C, nobody is saying it isn’t a problem in British society, it most certainly is but to state that its happening in every British town is absolutely outrageous and anglophobic. At least the authorities there are addressing it and tougher on crime. Better than allowing them to go out and buy guns like they do in America, the highest gun rate crime in the western hemisphere. Its still a better society for gay people than the U.S. in terms of equality in spite of the crime. You seem to ignore the gross inequality in the U.S. along with the homophobia and religious extremism that has infiltrated politics both of which have fueled discrimination, homophobia, bullying and the lack of equality legislation as a direct result.

  • robert in nyc

    Kev C, check out this article. It will give you an idea what’s going on in America in regard to bullying and gay bashing, but I’m sure of course it doesn’t happen in every American town and not every street is bloodied either. This is a problem in American society too, a big one. Do the perpetrators get the honor of being ranked among the white trash underclass I wonder?


  • andrew

    @ Kev C

    (when you have the UK government replacing glass bottles with plastic bottles to prevent glassings)

    I live in London and drink out of a glass pint glass, Please don’t believe the crap some of the british press write. London is a safe city, knife crime is rare.

  • Giovannidude

    Some people who live in England are either in denial or have short memories when it comes to the aggressive behavior of their large drunken underclass of white trash. Police in the UK used to be unarmed; no longer so. There used to be no need for surveillance cameras on every corner of big city streets. Britain is the only country that other European nations have to take special precautions for when British fans come to football matches, because they get drunk and go out of control. British expatriates say they will always be proud to be British, but it is not the same country they grew up in. They feel safer walking down the street in Valencia or Malaga at 2am than they do at 2pm in any British city.

    Anyone who tells the truth about the decaying deterioration that is England is automatically labelled an Anglophobe or else condescendingly told he has his facts wrong because he took them from British newspapers. The British are used to dishing it out about America, but can’t take it themselves.

    Of course there are many things that are wrong with the U.S. I don’t think anyone’s denying that. And, yes, we have white treash in this country too! We’re well aware of it. Many of the homophobic attacks come from these folks. But the difference is, we don’t deny the obvious here. We try to do something about it. It’s an uphill battle, but we will eventually win.

  • andrew


    I don’t know where you are getting your ideas from. But as someone typing on my computer in Waterloo, London I don’t see any of this stuff you are talking about. I often walk home from Soho at 2am and I’ve never had any problems.

    As for football hooligans, Germany, France and Poland all have list of registered hooligans that prevent them from travelling to matches. It’s not a just a UK thing.

    Most Policemen here still don’t carry guns. The US still has a murder rate 4 times higher than the UK (per capita). Last year there were 1201 murders in the UK, in the USA there was 16,204.

    The UK has it’s faults like everywhere else. But please check you facts.

  • Kev C

    London – 7.5 million population – Total Violent Crimes: 174,454 (last 12 months).
    Source: Met Police UK

    New York City – 8.3 million population – Total Violent Crimes: 46,347 (for all of 2009).
    Source: NYS DCJS

  • Kev C

    Glasgow, Scotland – population 600,000 (city only) – All Crimes: 160,835 (last 12 months)
    Source: Strathclyde Police Dept.

    Washington, DC – population 600,000 (city only) – All Crimes: 34,684 (all of 2009)
    Source: Metropolitan Police Dept.

  • robert in nyc

    Kev C, what are the national figures for both and what percentage for both are a result of gun crimes? What is the prison population for both countries? Comparing one city with one in another country doesn’t prove anything.

    Giovannidude, how long have you lived in the UK or if you haven’t, how many times have you visited to make the claim that an entire nation is in decay and decline? I’ve been visiting the UK on average once a year for about a month since 1978, I just don’t see it so bleak as you do. Never met a Brit who was rude or unpolite in my personal experience and haven’t had any experience with the vast white trash underclass that you are very familiar with.

  • robert in nyc

    Andrew, No. 25, thank you. Don’t forget, there is a huge problem in Holland with football hooligans too. I’m assuming Giovannidude has lived in the UK. Comparing one foreign city’s crime statistics with Washington DC as Kev C provides, doesn’t prove anything at the national level. The murder statistics between London and New York are revealing. I wonder how many of them are considered part of a white or ethnic trash underclass and representative of an entire nation that supposedly isn’t in decay or decline?

    Back in June of this year, my partner and I were in Manchester for five days, walked along Canal Street with a friend with whom we were staying close to the heart of the city’s gay area. We weren’t accosted, harrassed, bloodied or threatened at 1:45 a.m. or ran into any of the white trash that are supposedly on every street and corner in every town across the UK where the every street is blooded allegedly. We didn’t witness any of the violence outside any of the pubs. Similary in London, we’d gone to Heaven, an exciting gay nightclub in Leicester Square, with our London host. We exited Heaven at about 3:30 a.m. and decided to walk back to our hotel located in Knightsbridge, not a short distance at that time of the morning. Its a pleasant walk passing through Piccadilly and Green Park, Hyde Park Corner. Not once did we encounter any problem and had no reason to believe that our lives were in danger in any way. In the ten days we were in London, we didn’t see one Bobby carrying a gun, anywhere. From what I understand, the only police officers who carry guns are those from Special Branch who use them in the event of a violent crime where the use of a gun is involved by the perpetrator or the SAS who carry machine guns in the event of terrorism, or specific tourist spots where the event of an attack is imminent. We did see one or two at Heathrow airport but that’s about it. A positive experience all around and we will go back again and again. We had a great time. One thing I noticed that I don’t see much of in New York City except perhaps an occasional couple walking around Greenwich Village, there were a number of gay couples holding hands, something we didn’t see as much of when we were there last year and it wasn’t even in a gay area of town. We didn’t see any harrassment on the streets where they were walking, just a few looks but nothing more than that, very encouraging to see. One couple actually kissed but that was it, we don’t think anything happened to them.

  • tallskin2

    @Giovannidude – you’re a blithering baboon!

    What the hell are you talking about???

    I live in the centre of London, elephant & castle, and I can’t say I recognise the crime and social breakdown you mention.

    And the police here are UNARMED. The only armed police are special police usually in fast cars.

  • Kev C

    @robert in nyc: Obtaining guns is easier in the US than in the UK, so our murder rate is higher because guns are deadlier. If the UK had access to guns instead of just knives and bottles, I’m pretty sure their murder rate would be higher.

  • robert in nyc

    No. 30, Tallskin2, exactly. I was accused indirectly of being in denial about the crime situtation in the UK, something I didn’t deny existed from the outset. It had more to do with a gross over-exaggeration by people who haven’t allegedly lived in the UK let alone visited there to make such outrageous statements and one who claims that he does. There’s a vast amount of ignorance in the U.S. about the UK among others, its culture and institutions mostly by people who’ve never set foot in the country to make a constructive critique about the wrongs and rights of an entire society based on the aberrations of a minority who do not represent the culture at all but seem to derive some enjoyment out of saying it to stoke fear and resentment of another society.

    As a frequent visitor to the UK since 1978, I just don’t see the vast array of decay and decline in my personal experience either. There’s a lot of ignorance and denial in America when it comes to social issues. We don’t even have any semblance of equality across the country as you do in the UK and nothing is being done about it, yet they mouth of about how bad the UK is based on a minority of people committing violent antisocial crimes and who are not the majority at all. There’s violence against gay people everywhere, no country has a monopoly on it as one or two here seem to imply.

  • Silver

    Population estimate for the United Kingdom: 61,113,205. (July 2010)
    Population estimate for the United States: 307,212,123. (July 2010)

    Land area (discounting water) for the UK: 241,930 sq km
    Land area (discounting water) for the US: 9,161,966 sq km

    The entire UK is roughly the size of Oregon. Comparing it to the US is dangerous- our societies are not the same, and the United States has a far more diverse populace due to its large numbers. I know that the UK and England are not coterminous. England has roughly 51 out of the 61 million.

    People make the same argument about decline about the US, as well. I know many French ex-pats who would say the same thing about Paris, too- “It’s a lovely city from the air, but you couldn’t pay me to set foot in it again.” There will always be a rough group of people in any industrialized setting, not everyone will be civil or polite. That doesn’t mean that you can paint an entire nation of people with a broad brush. The converse of that does not allow you to defend equally broadly. There probably are incidences of assault and battery in England, just as there are everywhere. However, to prove that claim you would have to be far more than an armchair sociologist commenting on Q-t.

  • Silver

    Correction: To prove the claim that there is an undue amount given the numerical population. My apologies.

  • tallskin2

    @ Kev C- Obtaining guns is easier in the US than in the UK,

    I thought it was compulsory to own a gun in the US

    (Just joking!)

  • robert in nyc

    Kev C, I agree. Thank goodness it is far harder to obtain a gun in the UK, but that’s another issue unto itself. I personally don’t agree with gun ownership by the civilian citizen, I don’t see the justification for it when you consider that the police force is fully armed to protect society. Remove access to guns and you solve the bulk of violent crime in general. I don’t understand our love affair with guns one bit. Look at all those school shootings all because of easy access to them, young people dying unnecessarily. We’ve become a society with a siege mentality and that won’t change as long as we glorify guns. More celebrities are arming themselves than ever,not a good sign. Its a serious social issue that has really never been taken that seriously, in fact there is resistance to tightening the laws by the GOP and of course the NRA. Thankfully, easy access to gun ownership will not take hold in the UK as a result of its stringent laws making it harder to obtain them. The British public from what I know is overwhelmingly opposed to firearms in the home. Of course, such laws would never be implemented over here and I can only imagine if there were a move to do just that, there would be uproar as if the constitution can’t adapt to the times in which we live if its to be a living document and relevant to the needs of a safer, better society. It defies logic.

  • robert in nyc

    Silver, No. 33, well said, especially the last paragraph.

  • andrew

    The one think I really love about the UK is that Fred Phleps would be in jail for inciting hatred.

  • robert in nyc

    No. 39, Andrew, plus the religious denominations aren’t allowed to get away with discrimination either when it comes to employment and adopting children. I remember reading about the Catholic adoption agency over there threatening to close its doors if they were forced to allow gay couples to adopt children. They backed down of course because of equality laws already in place. Remember the religious bigot who refused to administer a civil partnership contract because of her beliefs. She too lost her case and forced to comply. The list goes on. Another thing I like is foreign partners of British nationals are allowed to reside and work in the UK, we don’t have any of that here. You can also refer to my post at No. 9 regarding the other equality accomplishments in the UK that we’ve not even managed to achieve here in the U.S. We won’t get marriage equality that’s for sure, not with a heavily catholic conservative Supreme Court stacked against us, 5 of the judges at least would vote it down.

  • Steve

    So *that’s* why I’m finding it so hard to find a boyfriend! There just aren’t enough of us to go around over here…sheesh…

  • William Day

    @Kev C: It’s a damn site safer than 8 out of ten places in the world. Including the states.

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