Vermont has the seventh highest rate of LGBTQ people in the nation, according to survey analysis by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. It also has the highest rate of same-sex couples in the country.
The data comes from a recent report that the number of LGBTQ-identifying adults is increasing nationally. About 7% of adults said they considered themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or something “other than heterosexual” in 2021, up from 3.5% of respondents in 2012, according to Gallup.
Members of “Generation Z”, born between 1997 and 2003, were the most likely to self-identify as LGBTQ, according to the national survey. About 21% said they identified themselves this way, compared to 11% of millennials and even lower rates among older generations.
In Vermont, too, young adults lead the state in LGBTQ identification. About 25% of LGBTQ Vermonters are between the ages of 18 and 24, according to the Williams Institute.
The data is a rare snapshot of the demographics of LGBTQ people in Vermont because data collection on these communities has historically been quite limited, said Kate Jerman, director of the Prism Center, an office that supports LGBTQ people at the University of Vermont. The 2020 census was the first decennial census to collect data on same-sex couples.
“I hope this Williams (Institute) data is sort of a piece of that puzzle, but I think we need much better data collection,” Jerman said.
Vermont leaders from the larger LGBTQ community said the state is known for its relatively high legal protections and cultural acceptance from its peers. It can help people be more willing to openly identify as LGBTQ, they said, or even encourage people to come to the state looking for a more welcoming environment.
“We were first on the bus (from) a lot of places to get these legal protections,” said Kell Arbor, director of health and wellness for the Pride Center of Vermont, which advocates for the health and safety of LGBTQ people. “So it creates this draw…so people look at your state like, ‘Oh, you’re ahead of the curve, you’re safe and welcoming. ”
Vermont introduced civil unions for same-sex couples in 2000, making it the first state to do so. It then became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009.
The state also prohibits discrimination in housing and public places because of sexual orientation or gender identity, prohibits conversion therapy for LGBTQ minors, and requires health insurers to cover child surgery. gender affirmation.
Vermont passed bills to protect LGBTQ rights just last year, when Gov. Phil Scott signed legislation banning LGBTQ+ “panic” advocacy, which uses gender identity or a victim’s sexual orientation as justification for criminal actions.
UVM’s Prism Center provides services and runs programs for LGBTQ students. Jerman said it’s common for UVM’s “gay-friendly campus” to be part of the incoming student draw.
“Sometimes we have students who feel like they’re the only ones, and it wasn’t until they got to college that they discovered the community,” she said.
But being LGBTQ in Vermont comes with its own set of challenges. Arbor of the Pride Center of Vermont said hate crimes and other harassment remain prevalent in Vermont, especially in the post-Trump era.
Vermont was ranked among the highest in the nation for the rate of hate crimes against LGBTQ people in a 2019 Security.org study, although the study did not adjust for the prevalence of LGBTQ people in the population.
Asked about hate incidents in Vermont, Arbor cited several recent examples right above his head, such as someone repeatedly pulling down a teenager’s pride flag in Montpelier and anti-trans stickers placed around the New North End of Burlington.
“People call us (because they) don’t know who else to call. They definitely don’t want to call the police right now,” they said. “So they call us and it’s like, sometimes there’s nothing to do with a complaint like that other than listening.”
In the New North End, the Pride Center placed trans-positive lawn signs so trans people in the area “have an uplifting message as well,” Arbor said.
LGBTQ Vermonters may also struggle more depending on their specific identity and how it intersects with their race, they said.
“If trans women of color feel safe walking in these rural neighborhoods and can live there, that’s my indicator, we’re a safer space,” Arbor said. “Because right now it’s very dangerous for those identities to be open and visible, especially in some of these very rural pockets.”
Even though Vermont has a high overall rate of people who support same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ rights, they said, in a small town, “all it takes is a jerk.”
“And then you think the whole town is like that when it’s like, ‘but is it, or is it just this jerk that’s so loud?’ ” they said.
There is reason to believe that LGBTQ Vermonters are also economically disadvantaged. Same-sex couples have a lower average income, according to census data. Nationally, LGBTQ adults report a higher rate of food insecurity and poverty.
Arbor said that could be partly because LGBTQ people are less likely to have family support to rely on, especially as young adults make their way through the world. The Pride Center and Prism both run food banks for LGBTQ people in need.
Another downside to living in small town Vermont is its isolation for LGBTQ residents. The Pride Center helps promote Pride events statewide, and Arbor said rural Vermonters often travel long distances to attend Pride celebrations in Rutland and White River Junction.
Gay bars and other LGBTQ-specific spaces are also rare. Arbor said going out and meeting other LGBTQ people in town can be difficult.
“Even though I know all these small towns, there are so many queer people living there, we don’t have the spaces to converge,” they said.
They said this would be the next phase of the Pride Center: “How do we become a welcome anchor and then help people network so they can just connect and live free and have fun?” they said.
Jerman said having community centers and places where students can be fully themselves is essential to their well-being. “The more we allow people to be authentic in this way, the more positive the change, the better the world becomes,” she said.