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Market Research  
 
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Social scientists, demographers, and epidemiologists face significant challenges when they attempt not merely to count glbtq Americans, but also to examine their lives, sexual behavior, and intimate relationships, as well as their households and family structures. Over the past decade, market researchers and political pollsters have also been equally determined to understand the consumer and voting behaviors of gay men and lesbians.

The Persistent Hurdles of Gay Market Research

Stigma, fear of family and social rejection, the loss of employment, legal discrimination, many shades of bigotry, and threats of violence have long made it difficult for sexual minorities truthfully to disclose their identities not only to others but even to themselves. The enduring shadows of the "closet" and confusion about the nature of sexual orientation have confounded many experts from long before the 1940s when Dr. Alfred Kinsey began his work until today.

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These factors highlight this fundamental question: How can we identify, enumerate, and query individuals who often choose not to be recognized, let alone be counted and truthfully observed? Marketers share one basic conundrum: while they are determined to connect with all their customers, including gay men and lesbians, they often must struggle to find them, even those in their own midst.

Remarkably, and despite persistent obstacles, today there is a growing body of new research data that reflects the increasing visibility of gay men and lesbians. This research is helping to replace myths with reality by offering a more complete snapshot of a highly diverse population of gay and lesbian consumers. Though still evolving, newer scientific methodologies enable us now to query gay men and lesbians with a higher degree of safety and anonymity, which leads to growing confidence in the research conclusions.

Beginning with Dr. Kinsey

Starting in the mid-twentieth century, with Dr. Alfred Kinsey, whose estimate that ten percent of the males in his data were more or less exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55 as a benchmark, many researchers have attempted to perform their own counts using a wide range of useful, albeit flawed, tools--ranging from the General Social Survey (GSS), a national survey of adults conducted every two years, through far less scientific intercepts at community events such as gay pride festivals, gay magazine readership analyses, and postcard surveys. Most recently, we have benefited from the much-improved 2000 U.S. Census measure of same-sex households, as well as conventional telephone polls, voter exit polls, and online surveys.

Regrettably, early market researchers too often distorted and hyped the glbtq population by over-emphasizing the highly visible gay white urban male. This segment of the community was the most "out" and, therefore, comprised a larger portion of magazine subscription lists. They were also the likeliest attendees at gay community events. This skewed research also too often relied on unbalanced samples taken primarily from gay magazine readership surveys.

It really is not surprising that some marketers and investigators ballyhooed the affluence and mystique of the gay male consumer. Although they may have been on target, they only provided data about a narrow slice of the entire glbtq population, a segment that was more readily detectable and open in market behaviors.

These distortions led to unwarranted public policy side-effects by exaggerating gay male wealth and incomes and suggesting that economic, social, and political discrimination against gay men and lesbians is either non-existent or overstated. Understanding of gay men and lesbians was frozen in stereotype, which discouraged greater attempts at statistical accuracy.

Fortunately, through advanced survey techniques and through peer-reviewed examination by leading social scientists, such as Dr. Edward O. Laumann at the University of Chicago, Dr. Lee Badgett at the Institute of Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies, Dr. Caitlin Ryan at San Francisco State University, Dr. Gary Gates at the Urban Institute, Dr. Katherine Sender at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Ken Sherrill at Hunter College, and Dr. Gregory Herek at the University of California (Davis), among others, we are now achieving a richer, more complex, and certainly more accurate picture of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals through re-examined and newly emerging survey data.

Marketers and political scientists benefit significantly from these academic perspectives, which foster similar investigations about gay and lesbian households by, for example, tracking attitudes in the workplace and in commerce. Such research helps us understand how glbtq populations are similar to and different from non-gay populations.

Sexual Orientation from Many Dimensions

When we speak about sexual orientation, and refer to gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender individuals, what do market researchers mean?

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