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Charly Haley, Published February 15 2013

Gallup: North Dakota has lowest percentage of gays in the U.S.

FARGO – North Dakota is the U.S. state with the smallest percentage of residents who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to a new Gallup survey.

In what Gallup is hailing as the largest study ever of the distribution of the LGBT population in the U.S., 1.7 percent of North Dakota residents surveyed reported that they identify as LGBT. Montana, Mississippi and Tennessee all tie for the next-smallest LGBT population with 2.6 percent.

South Dakota ranked eighth with 4.4 percent. At 2.9 percent, Minnesota ranked 36th among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., topped the list at 10 percent.

Hawaii was next at 5.1 percent, followed by Vermont and Oregon at 4.9 percent.

The survey is based on more than 206,000 of Gallup’s daily tracking interviews conducted between June and December 2012, in which respondents were asked, “Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?”

The margin of error varies depending on the state, but it is less than plus or minus 2 percent in each state. The Minnesota results were based on 4,365 interviews, while North Dakota’s came from 615 interviews with residents.

A North Dakota State University political science professor said she doesn’t doubt that North Dakota is home to a smaller proportion of LGBT residents than other states, but she thinks the specific percentage is likely an undercount.

“I thought (the study) was interesting and a good basis for discussion, but I am somewhat skeptical that the (LGBT) population of North Dakota is only 1.7 percent,” Kjersten Nelson said.

Dave Lanpher, chairman of the Fargo Human Relations Commission, is also skeptical of that number, saying that people who live in smaller, rural North Dakota towns might be less likely to be honest about their sexual orientation.

“Anytime you live in a smaller community and are a minority, that’s more difficult for you,” he said.

Nelson said North Dakota’s survey results could show that the state isn’t an LGBT-friendly environment. She said people here may not be comfortable coming out as LGBT, or could be relocating to states that are more accepting.

An analysis of the survey by Gallup pollsters said the states that ranked at the top of the list generally have more supportive laws for LGBT residents. Among the states with an LGBT population of 4 percent or more, only South Dakota doesn’t have an LGBT anti-discrimination law and a legal recognition of some type for same-sex couples.

On Thursday, North Dakota Senate shot down a bill that would have protected against discrimination by employers and landlords on the basis of sexual orientation.

Rep. Joshua Boschee, who co-sponsored that bill and is North Dakota’s first openly gay legislator, said he doesn’t think there’s necessarily a correlation between the survey results and the state’s lack of protection for LGBT residents.

He said while people may feel less comfortable coming out in North Dakota, the poll was anonymous and people would probably answer questions honestly.

Gallup reports the national average of LGBT residents at 3.5 percent. All of the states are within two points of that number.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Charly Haley at (701) 235-7311

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