LGBTQ Culture and Life in the U.S. – Frequently Asked Questions

Introduction  Every culture has its own attitudes and beliefs about homosexuality, same-sex relationships, and gender non-conformity.  Now that you are attending school in the United States, you might find it useful to have a better understanding of how many Americans view homosexuality, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer individuals.

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Can you tell if someone is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT)?

It is impossible to tell people’s sexual orientation by their appearance. Stereotypes can be misleading.  In fact, in the U.S., the majority of students in K-12 public schools who are targeted or labeled “gay” by their peers because of dress, speech, or other mannerisms are not gay. Also, many individuals who are gay might look and express gender the same way as many of your ‘straight’ or heterosexual friends.  Someone who is transgender may or may not identify as gay or lesbian.  Gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation.

How many lesbians and gay men are there in the United States?

No one knows exactly how many lesbians and gay men there are in the U.S.  Not all LGBTQ people identify as LGBTQ. Some people choose not to label themselves. Not all LGBTQ people that do identify as LGBTQ  feel comfortable disclosing their sexual identity. Based on studies and survey results, it is estimated that 2% to 10% of the U.S. population is lesbian, gay or bisexual. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates 2.5-3% of Americans are LGBT.  A recent government survey found that 4% of adults aged 18-45 identified as ‘homosexual’ or ‘bisexual.’  Similarly, CNN’s exit polling showed self-identified gay, lesbian, and bisexual voters at 4% of the voting population in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. According to the Williams Institute Dec. 2007 U.S. Census, there are almost 777,000 same-sex couples in the U.S. living in every county of every state.

How many lesbians, bisexuals and gay men are there in Wisconsin?

In 2005, there were more than 160,698 gay, lesbian, and bisexual people (single and coupled) living in Wisconsin.  There are about 15,000 gay couples raising an estimated 3,800 children in their homes.

Are gay individuals discriminated against?

In the U.S., some organizations and individuals discriminate overtly against gay people.  According to APA, “Numerous surveys indicate that verbal harassment and abuse are nearly universal experiences among lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. Also, discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in employment and housing appears to remain widespread.”
Homophobia and discrimination against LGBT people, similar to racism and sexism, exist to varying degrees in all parts of the United States, from personal to institutional levels of discrimination.  However, many organizations, businesses large and small, and millions of individuals are inclusive and accepting of gay individuals, both in policy and In the United States, same-sex marriage is legal in all states since June 26, 2015, when the United States Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that state-level bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.
For information on LGBT rights and current issues, visit:

At UW-Madison, we have a policy of non-discrimination.

For answers to the following questions, visit the American Psychological Association (link included below)

What causes homosexuality?

Is being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender normal?

Is being gay, lesbian or bisexual healthy?

What is homophobia?

What is the impact of homophobia and prejudice on gay people? 

Why are gays, lesbians and bisexuals so public about their sexuality? Isn’t this a private matter?

Some people in the U.S. think that LGBT individuals talk too much about their lives.  In the U.S., heterosexual couples often hold hands and even kiss in public.They commonly talk about boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives. However, lesbians and gays cannot talk openly about their social lives without revealing their sexual orientation. In speaking about their lives and relationships and in showing affection, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals only want the same freedom of expression that heterosexuals enjoy. Cultures differ in how open individuals are about sexuality and intimate relationships in general.

Why does the issue of ‘homosexuality’ get so much attention in the U.S.?

Historically, there have been many social movements for equal rights in the U.S. For example, there have been movements to gain civil rights for women, black people, and people of different religions. The gay rights movement is another example of people in the U.S. working together for civil rights.  Gay rights laws would help protect lesbians and gays from discrimination.

There is disagreement among organizations, religions, and individuals within the U.S. about how homosexuality should be addressed, with strong feelings on multiple sides of the issue.  Because of this, it has often become a political “hot button” issue used to mobilize individuals with different beliefs and positions on how gay individuals should be treated.  Some call the gay rights movement an example of the “culture wars” between ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ leaning groups in the U.S.  It is an issue that often divides not only large organizations and states, but often families and communities.

Movements for civil rights require legal reform. This process creates a lot of debate and gets media attention.

How do issues of homosexual rights and discrimination affect me if I’m heterosexual?

As a university student in the U.S., you may meet lesbians, gays, bisexuals, or transgender individuals.  They may be your classmates, your instructors, and possibly your friends.  You will often read or hear about the issues of gay rights and discrimination against gay people.  If you know about these issues, you will be better able to understand the LGBT people you meet.

Also, UW-Madison promotes and values an inclusive campus environment in which no one is discriminated based on sexual orientation, gender, nationality.

What if I am gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or not sure?

If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender, or exploring your sexuality and gender, there are many resources available to you.  Check out our LGBT Resource section.