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2010-03-15: Petition to keep sexual orientation question on General Social Survey

If you'd like to sign onto this petition, please reply directly to

Hi folks--as you know, the 2008 General Social Survey included a question on sexual orientation identity for the first time. That data is now publicly available for us and our grad students to use. But the GSS is now planning to drop the identity question, which is a major problem . We are circulating the letter to Tom Smith, the GSS director, below to demonstrate support for continuing to include that question. If you're willing to sign onto the letter, please reply to me ( and we'll add your name. Below is the sample letter. Please circulate this to other scholars you know, as well. Thanks!
yours, Lee
M. V. Lee Badgett
Director, Center for Public Policy & Administration
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Thompson Hall
Amherst, MA 01003
(v) 413-545-3162
(c) 310-904-9761

Research Director
Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law & Public Policy
UCLA School of Law

Professor of Economics
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Dear Tom Smith,

We understand that there is a debate about continuing to include a
sexual orientation identity question on the GSS 2010 core. We write
to strongly urge you to continue to include this question, which would
put the GSS back in position to be a primary dataset used by academic,
government, and graduate student researchers across the country to
study issues related to sexual orientation. Removing the question would
disappoint these many experienced and emerging scholars and would cut
against the growing consensus view that sexual orientation identity is
a key characteristic that should be included in social surveys.

In ongoing public discussions about LGB policy issues, the practical
importance of good data that accurately describe the lives of same-
sex couples, their children, and single LGB people has become
increasingly clear. These discussions must rely on sound facts and analyses that
come from survey research, but often those facts are not available in
the context of gay-related policy issues because LGB people cannot be
identified in surveys without specific questions on sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, at the same time that the need for data on sexual
orientation has grown, the limitations of existing American data have
also become clearer. With only have a small number of surveys that
include questions on sexual orientation, so the potential for research
that can be generalized to the larger population is limited. In the
absence of survey data from probability samples, in particular,
scholars, policymakers, and the general public run the risk of
falling back on stereotypes and myths about the experiences and social
situations of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. While researchers
have developed more sophisticated data collection methods than simple
convenience sampling (e.g. stratified sampling, social network driven
sampling, venue sampling, etc.), there is no substitute for full
probability sampling when attempting to generalize from a smaller
group to the larger population.

Using only behavioral measures to ascertain sexual orientation, the
GSS has been used to show that gay men earn less than other men, while
lesbians often appear to earn somewhat more than heterosexual women.
Having explicit sexual orientation questions can help to provide even
better information about the economic conditions of LGB Americans and
will vastly increase the value of the GSS data for scholars studying
the effect of sexual orientation on social, economic, and health
outcomes. Such findings have potential public policy implications with respect
to outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation. Debates about
marriage equality and LGB parenting are also ongoing. Findings from
the 2008 GSS show that a quarter of LGB men and women have had children
at some point in their lives and, on average, they had their first child
at an earlier age than their heterosexual counterparts. This is new and
important information to help us understand the life courses of LGB

We have so little information about whether and how life experiences
Of Americans differ by sexual orientation. The decision to add a sexual
orientation identity question to the GSS created an important opportunity to fill this large scientific gap. We urge you to continue to include a sexual orientation identity question on the GSS core.


Gary Gates
M. V. Lee Badgett
and your name here!