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LGBT Individuals Often Switch to Straight Identity, Says Landmark Study in Duke Journal

  • Michael Foust Crosswalk Headlines Contributor
  • Updated Jun 13, 2023
LGBT Individuals Often Switch to Straight Identity, Says Landmark Study in Duke Journal

New research in a Duke University academic journal confronts a controversial subject within the LGBT community and comes to an equally controversial conclusion: a significant portion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals switch to a “straight” identity.

The landmark research, published in the Duke University Press journal Demography, examined data from the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Study, which involved interviews with 22,673 people who were interviewed in two waves: first in 2011–2013 and then in 2017–2019.

A total of 8.6 percent of people who identified as gay and lesbian in the first wave changed their identity to heterosexual by the second wave (in other words, roughly six years later).

The switch was even more dramatic within other LGBT categories. Among those who identified as bisexual, 44 percent changed their identity to heterosexual. And among those who identified as “other” – a category that includes transgender individuals – a total of 69.6 percent changed to heterosexual. Even among those who didn’t want to disclose their sexual identity in the first wave, 62.2 percent identified as heterosexual by the second wave.

Only 3.3 percent of those who identified as heterosexual in the first wave changed to a different identity.

Yang Hu of Lancaster University and Nicole Denier of the University of Alberta led the research.

“Sexual identity is fluid,” the paper says. “… Our findings encourage researchers and data collectors to fully examine sexual identity mobility and consider its implications for measuring sexual identity.”

The researchers said the paper broke new ground. The research community knows “relatively little about how fluid sexual identity is in the general population and how the degree of fluidity varies across demographic groups,” the paper says.

Further, the research “calls into question the linear assumption that sexual identity ‘stabilizes’ over the life course.”

Researcher and demographer Lyman Stone, who was not involved in the study, said the data “pretty much obliterates the notion of immutable sexual identity.” It also, he said, “points to the difficulty in measuring and studying sexual identity.”

“It's fairly stable for heterosexuals, but extremely unstable for non-heterosexuals,” Stone said.

Photo courtesy: Kirsty Lee/Unsplash

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.