By Chris Hoenig
Do American men choose where they live based on sexual orientation A review of various forms of data by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz of The New York Times suggests not.
Stephens-Davidowitz looked at information including anonymous surveys (anonymous online surveys are generally believed to be where people will give their most honest answers), social-media and dating-website profiles, and Internet search data, including searches for various forms of pornography. What he found goes against the public perception that gay men choose to live in states that have policies and laws that benefit the LGBT community, including legalized gay marriage.
There are some conclusions drawn from the data that are not of much surprise. A look at user preferences on Facebook (the “Interested In” category), Match.com profiles, U.S. Census data on same-gender households and survey samples from Gallup (one of the largest polling, survey and public-opinion companies in the country) indicates that most openly gay men live in states that are more open to the LGBT community. Stephens-Davidowitz notes Facebook as a specific example: Only 1 percent of men in Mississippi say who are “Interested In” men. In California, that number is above 3 percent. And for every high-school male in Mississippi who indicates he is gay on Facebook, there are more than five in Rhode Island.
But what about men who are not “out of the closet”
A Pew Research survey found that more than a third of LGBT adults have not come out to at least one of their parents (34 percent had not told their mother, 39 percent had not told their father). Only 77 percent of the gay men in the survey say that all or most of the important people in their life are aware that they are LGBT (which is actually higher than the lesbian women [71 percent] and bisexuals [28 percent] in the survey).
And those closeted gay men appear to be pretty evenly distributed across the country.
By analyzing data from gay marriage initiatives in each of the 50 states, Stephens-Davidowitz rated each state’s support of the LGBT population. Rhode Island was ranked as the most supportive; Mississippi was ranked the lowest.
Predictably, the states that most support gay marriage and the LGBT community also had the highest percent of men indicating their sexual orientation using “public sphere” data, such as Facebook: 2.6 percent of all men in the most supportive states chose men, with the number steadily decreasing as LGBT support dropped. Only 1.6 percent of men in Mississippi and similarly low-ranked states chose men, a 39 percent drop.
But when looking at “private sphere” data, such as Google searches for pornography and other phrases of interest, the population spreads much more evenly. The most supportive states still have the most people searching for pornographic images of men (5.4 percent), but the least supportive states are actually next at 5.2 percent. Even in the states with the fewest searches, there is only a 13 percent drop.
But it’s a different Google search that may be most telling. “It turns out that wives suspect their husbands of being gay rather frequently,” Stephens-Davidowitz writes. And because of that, the most popular ending to the search term “Is my husband ” is “gay,” and by a long shot: It’s 10 percent more popular than “cheating,” searched 8 times more than “an alcoholic” and 10 times more than “depressed.” According to Stephens-Davidowitz, South Carolina and Louisiana are the most popular states to search this phrase. DiversityInc research came up with slightly different results but is still led by states that rank among the least supportive: Georgia, North Carolina and Texas. Women’s uncertainty about their husbands expands in these states: Mississippi, West Virginia, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma are the most common states for searching “Is my husband” and letting the results fall where they may.
The even geographic dispersal of gay men and growing support for the LGBT community may be a part of noted statistician Nate Silver’s latest work. Silver, who has correctly predicted the winner in 101 out of 102 states (and D.C.) in the last two Presidential elections and 66 of 68 Senate races in 2008 and 2012, believes all but six states (South Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi) will have a majority of residents supporting same-gender marriage ballot initiatives by 2020. Of those six, South Carolina and Georgia will be less than one-half of one percent from a majority, while Arkansas (49.1 percent) and Louisana (48.1 percent) will be close to having a simple-majority. In Silver’s projections, 24 states (including the District of Columbia) will surpass a 60 percent supermajority, as will national support for same-gender marriage.