Report Cover
A Special Report of Boston Indicators and The Fenway Institute
Supported by The Equality Fund at The Boston Foundation

Sean Cahill, The Fenway Institute Sophia Geffen, The Fenway Institute Anise Vance, Boston Indicators Timothy Wang, The Fenway Institute Jacob Barrera, The Fenway Institute
Stephen Chan, The Boston Foundation Barbara Hindley, The Boston Foundation Luc Schuster, Boston Indicators
Print Design
Kate Canfield, Canfield Design
Website Design

Peter Ciurczak, Boston Indicators

For endnotes, please see the PDF version of this report.


This report comes at a critical moment for the LGBT community in Massachusetts. We in the Commonwealth have a long track record of securing legislative victories, establishing innovative programming, and building sustainable institutions in support of LGBT people. Even so, there is much unfinished work related to the state’s growing LGBT population, and rising threats, both federal and local, to the health and safety of many LGBT people. With this in mind, Boston Indicators and The Fenway Institute set out to leverage increasingly LGBT-inclusive public data, findings from existing research and key insights from interviews and listening sessions in a first-of-its-kind report on the local LGBT community in Massachusetts. The insights generously shared in those listening sessions and interviews, by a diverse set of people from across the LGBT community, have informed and guided our research. Our efforts were also nurtured by conversations with and the work of the Boston Foundation, whose commitment to the LGBT community stretches back decades. In particular, we worked in close partnership with the Boston Foundation’s Equality Fund, which was established in 2012 to support nonprofits serving the diverse members of the LGBTQ1 community.

The Equality Fund’s prior outreach to leaders in the LGBT community surfaced many challenges and opportunities. In this report, we build on those findings to provide a demographic snapshot of Massachusetts’ LGBT population, an outline of obstacles faced by particular groups within the LGBT community, and examples of ways we can support those groups. In doing so, we hope this research is a platform for further discussion on the LGBT community’s future and the collective action we can take to sustain, and accelerate, progress.At the outset of this report, we feel it is critical to provide some context about the presented data. Much of the available data on LGBT people  is from public health surveys and research projects that focus on health concerns and risk. We tried to balance this data—by definition focused on deficit or vulnerability—with information about community-based innovative programming, services for LGBT people and pro-LGBT public policies, which we believe reflect the resiliency, strength and vision of the LGBT community in Massachusetts. Also, for reasons described in the Methodology section (Appendix 1), some surveys only provide information about lesbian, gay or bisexual people, or about same-sex couples. Whenever possible we provide data on transgender people. Unfortunately, this is not always available.

Key Findings

  • As a share of its total population, Massachusetts has the second largest LGBT population of any state (5 percent).
  • Almost 16 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or something else.
  • Almost half (48 percent) of Massachusetts’ LGB youth have considered attempting suicide. Some 11 percent of non-LGB youth have considered attempting suicide.
  • A large share of LGBTQ youth of color in Greater Boston are unemployed (32.7 percent), unstably housed (15.5 percent) and food insecure (30.9 percent)
  • Almost two-thirds (65 percent) of Massachusetts’ transgender people report experiencing discrimination in public spaces in the past year. And 17 percent of trans- gender people were living in poverty in 2015, compared to 11.5 percent of the general population.
  • Almost one-third (32.9 percent) of LGBT adults aged 50 to 75 have been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives.

From Stonewall to Today:

A Story of Progress, Strength and Resilience in the Commonwealth

In 1969, a police raid of the Stonewall Inn, a bar in New York City that welcomed LGBT people, prompted physical resistance from the bar’s patrons. The riots that ensued helped inspire a new era of LGBT activism nationwide, one in which Massachusetts has played a prominent role. Demonstrating tremendous strength and resiliency, our local LGBT community has achieved much progress in the face of a deeply unjust legal system, a severe HIV/AIDS epidemic and countless acts of daily discrimination.

The 1970s and 1980s were periods of great activity for the LGBT community in Massachusetts. A Boston chapter of the Mattachine Society existed during the 1960s, and in late 1969 and 1970 a number of new groups were formed: a chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, the Homophile Union of Boston and the Student Homophile League.2 In June 1971 Boston was one of the first cities in the U.S. to organize a gay and lesbian liberation march (New York had held the Christopher Street Liberation Day parade in June 1970 to commemorate the Stonewall riots). This eventually became LGBT Pride.3 Several important community organizations were formed in the 1970s and 1980s, including Fenway Community Health Center (1971), Gay Community News (1973), Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (1978), the Boston Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Youth (1980), the AIDS Action Committee (1983), the Bisexual Resource Center (1985), the Multicultural AIDS Coalition (1989), and political organizations.

In 1989, after at least a 17 year long struggle, the Massachusetts state legislature passed a sexual orientation nondiscrimination law covering employment, housing and public accommodations, making Massachusetts only the second state in the nation to do so.4

Since then, we have developed strong social services and policy initiatives for the LGBT population generally, and for youth and older adults:

  • In 1992, we became the first and only state to establish a Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. Also in 1992, we became the first state to establish a Safe Schools Program for Gay and Lesbian Students.
  • In 1993, the Massachusetts State Legislature passed a Gay and Lesbian Student Rights Law.5
  • In 2003, we became the first state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage.6

Over the following five years, LGBT activists and allies fought to defend the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling against attacks by local and national religious right organizations and elected officials.

  • In 2004, we were the first state to use Older Americans Act funding (Title III c) to support LGBT-focused congregate meal programs, thanks to advocacy by the LGBT Aging Project, founded in 2001.
  • In 2012, the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Elder Affairs was the first to designate LGBT elders as a population of greatest social need under the Older Americans Act.7
  • In 2014, the Massachusetts State Legislature created the first and only statewide Special Legislative Commission on LGBT Aging.8

Massachusetts has also been home to some of the first openly LGBT politicians at both the state and federal levels. For example, in 1974, State Representative Elaine Noble became the first openly lesbian or gay candidate elected to a state legislature in the country.9

In addition to advancing policies and services, Massachusetts has led the nation in collecting data to better understand and address disparities affecting LGBT people:

  • Massachusetts was among the first states to ask sexual orientation questions on the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), starting with a sexual behavior question in 1993, and adding a sexual orientation identity question in 1995.10
  • In 2013, Massachusetts became the first state to ask a transgender status question on its YRBS. In 2017, the state added a gender expression question.11
  • The Massachusetts Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) has asked about sexual orientation since 2001 and transgender status since 2007.12

While our overall record of progress is laudable, we lag behind other states in supporting the transgender community. In 2011, Massachusetts passed a gender identity nondiscrimination law, following the example of 15 other states.13 Oregon,14 Washington15 and California16 offer nonbinary gender markers on state licensed identification documents. In 2011 California passed a law requiring that LGBT history be taught in schools.17 Massachusetts Governor William Weld’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth recommended inclusion of gay and lesbian people in curricula in 1993.18 Just as we were going to press with this report, in April 2018, Massachusetts state government finally approved optional LGBT-inclusive curricula for the first time.19

Nationwide, significant progress has been made in ensuring equality for LGBT people. Still, 28 states do not have nondiscrimination laws that protect people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.20 Worse, many states are considering and passing laws that authorize health care providers to discriminate against LGBT people based on religious or moral objection.21 Even in Massachusetts, an upcomingveto referendum in November 2018 seeks to overturn a law signed in 2016 prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of gender identity.22

Originally a liberation movement, the LGBT movement has focused in recent years on achieving legal equality. We have achieved this in Massachusetts, but not under many aspects of federal policy. And even local advances are under threat. Many of the challenges facing the LGBT community are equity issues— health disparities, disproportionate violence and discrimination, overrepresentation in the juvenile justice and foster care systems, and socioeconomic inequality. It is our hope that in describing work to advance affirming and culturally competent services and strengthen resiliency for all LGBT people, we begin to articulate a vision of equity for our community.

Go to Demographic Overview

Please note that we use the term LGBT, meaning “lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender,” throughout this report. Some data sources we cite use different terms that refer to similar and overlapping populations. Many surveys report on lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people, or same-sex couple households, but not on transgender people. Sometimes surveys that ask questions about gender identity or transgender status do not have a large enough sample size for analysis. At various points, we refer to LGBT people, LGB people and same-sex couple households to defer to the terms used by the studies, reports and surveys themselves. For more information on the terminology used in this report, please see the Glossary in Appendix 2.