Study Offers "Snapshot" of Sacramento-Area Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community

  A 1997 research study of nearly 2300 gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals from Sacramento (CA) and surrounding areas provides a social snapshot of the community, according to Dr. Gregory Herek, a UCD research psychologist and principal investigator for the study.

The data were collected in order to understand the problems and challenges faced by lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults, as well as the strategies that people use to respond effectively to prejudice and discrimination.

The findings are particularly interesting, noted Dr. Herek, because they reflect the experiences of lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals who live outside a major urban gay center like San Francisco or New York. Consequently, they may better describe the lives of people living in smaller cities and suburban areas.

Dr. Herek warned that the sample – although it is fairly large – may not represent the entire Sacramento-area gay and bisexual population. This is because the methods used for recruiting participants to the study were not the sort used by public opinion pollsters to obtain a truly representative sample. Because sexual orientation is stigmatized and can be hidden, many gay and bisexual people pass as heterosexual. Consequently, obtaining a representative sample would be tremendously difficult and expensive, said Dr. Herek

The findings include the following:

Choice in sexual orientation

The vast majority of respondents felt that they did not choose their sexual orientation. Women were more likely than men, and bisexuals more likely than homosexuals, to report at least some choice.


Most respondents – women and men alike – labeled themselves as "gay" at least some of the time. In addition, most women labeled themselves as "lesbian." The term "queer," however, was used by less than one-fourth of the respondents. Nearly half of the gay men and lesbians – and even more of the bisexuals – said that they never use "queer" to describe themselves.

Being out of the closet

Nearly everyone in the sample had told someone else about their sexual orientation. On average, respondents first came out at age 20. Two-thirds of respondents were out to most of their close heterosexual friends, while only one-third were out to most other heterosexual  acquaintances. Fewer than half were out to most people in their workplace or school. Compared to bisexuals, gay men and lesbians were more likely to have disclosed their sexual orientation to others.

Coming out to relatives

Among members of their immediate family, respondents said that their mothers were most likely to know that they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual (79% of mothers knew). Siblings were the next most likely to know – 74% of respondents said that one or more sisters knew, and 69% said one or more brothers knew. 62% of respondents reported that their father knew about their sexual orientation.

More respondents had discussed their sexual orientation with their mother than with their father. 65% had talked directly to their mothers about being gay or bisexual, while only 39% had talked to their father about it.

Relationships and family

Women were more likely than men – and homosexuals were more likely than bisexuals – to report that they were currently in a long-term relationship. Only about one-tenth of those in a relationship had registered formally as domestic partners, with lesbians the most likely to be registered. Overall nearly one-fifth of respondents reported that they were the parent of at least one child. Respondents in this group had an average of two children.

Methods and Background

Respondents completed a lengthy survey that included questions about their experiences with crime, their health and social activities, and a variety of psychological measures. In addition, approximately one-fifth of them were interviewed at length about their experiences.

The sample included nearly equal numbers of men and women. 83% of the respondents were gay or lesbian, while 17% described themselves as bisexual. The median age of respondents was 34 years.

The research was directed by Dr. Herek, Dr. J. Roy Gillis, and Dr. Jeanine Cogan. More details about the study's sample and methods (but not these specific findings) are reported in the research group's 1999 paper published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

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