Census identifies more same-sex couples in S.J.

BUT SOME WONDER WHETHER ESTIMATES REFLECT

CHANGE IN CULTURE, NOT POPULATION

 

By Mike Swift, MercuryNews.com from the Web, January 2, 2007

 

 

Patrick Tehan / Mercury News

Mountain View residents Gary Lawson, left, and Tom Ammon, have been together since 1979.

 

When Clark Williams was coming out as a gay man in the late 1980s, he didn't know any gay or lesbian parents.  He still didn't know any when he and his partner, James Moore, began the process of adopting their daughter, Caroline, five years ago.

"There was nobody we could talk to about the adoption process," Williams said.  Instead, they found the support they needed on the Internet.

But here in San Jose, Williams says that's changed in a big way in the past few years.  The Willow Glen resident, who ran unsuccessfully for city council this year, says he's noticed a "huge" increase in the number of gays and lesbians who are becoming parents in Santa Clara County.

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau seems to support his experience:  A mid-decade snapshot of the nation's same-sex couples shows a sharp increase in the number of gay and lesbian couples in Santa Clara County since 2000.  The new estimates provide one of the first looks at the portion of those couples who live in families and show that compared with San Francisco, a much higher percentage of same-sex couples in Silicon Valley have children.

New data

The Census Bureau first collected data on same-sex "unmarried partner" households in 2000.  The new 2005 data is imprecise, however, because in local areas such as Santa Clara County it is based on a small statistical sample.  And the 2005 census estimates may reflect a cultural shift as much as an actual change in the population.

One effect of California's domestic partnership law is that more couples are formalizing an existing relationship, and that has triggered "a lot of gay people to come out of the closet again" as they tell employers and relatives, said Troy May, editor and publisher of ON, or Out Now, a San Jose-based gay lifestyle and culture magazine for the Bay Area.

Acknowledging a couple's status on a census survey is a natural step, May said. But the new census data may also reflect, to some extent, a shift in how people live.

"I've noticed a lot more couples, gay people coming together, forming relationships, settling down, more than before.  Because now there's real legitimacy to it and openness to it and a conversation about it," May said.

He and his partner also hear a new question from their heterosexual friends:  "`Are you going to have kids?'  It's just recently.  The whole conversation with gay marriage nationwide has brought all of this to the surface."

The Census Bureau estimates that San Jose has more than 1,000 families headed by same-sex unmarried partners, roughly the same number as San Francisco.

The census defines a "family household" as people living together who are related by birth, adoption or marriage.  A sizable majority of those same-sex family households in California have children younger than age 18 in the home, said Gary Gates, a demographer for the Williams Institute at the UCLA law school, a think-tank that studies sexual orientation issues in public policy and law.

California had about 108,000 gay and lesbian couples in 2005, census figures show, about a 17 percent increase over the year 2000.  Roughly one-third were family households.  In Santa Clara County, the number of gay couples rose about 30 percent.  However, that increase was not statistically significant because of the small sample size

Nationally, according to Gates, about one in five male same-sex couples and one in three female same-sex couples are parents.

Using the new 2005 census estimates and other data, Gates estimates that California has 1.3 million gay, lesbian or bisexual people -- 15 percent of the nation's 8.8 million person total.

Cultural shift

The new numbers may reflect a "de-urbanization" of gay life that some commentators have predicted.  Between two-thirds and three-quarters of the Bay Area's gay and lesbian couples -- including those with and without children -- now live outside San Francisco.

In earlier generations, intense bias forced many gay people who grew up in the suburbs or rural areas to move to a big city.  That's less the case now, said Michelangelo Signorile, a New York-based journalist and radio talk-show host who writes about gay politics and culture.

"You now have people who are coming out and staying where they are.  Particularly, if it's a place where it's very comfortable to be gay," such as Silicon Valley, Signorile said.

That rings true for Tom Ammon and Gary Lawson, a Mountain View couple who have been together since 1979, and who cared for four foster sons.

"I don't think the population has increased that much," said Lawson, a psychologist.  He and Ammon say they have noticed that younger gay and lesbian people who grow up in the South Bay more often are staying here.

Intolerance still exists

Still, settling down and having a family in the suburbs isn't without challenges, even in the supposedly tolerant Bay Area.

In San Carlos, Ramona Gatto still regularly replaces the rainbow flag outside her house, which is periodically vandalized by people hostile to Gatto and the woman Gatto calls her wife, Arzu

Gatto.  They have one daughter, Marina.  Last year, someone burned marks on Marina's Honda with cigarettes.  Marina Gatto, a freshman at the University of California-Berkeley, is such a prominent gay rights activist that although she identifies as straight, she was chosen the grand marshal of the 2003 Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco.

"The question is:  Do you choose to allow people to frighten you or intimidate you?" Ramona Gatto said.  "And the answer is, we don't."

Others say sexual orientation is less of a lightning rod than it once was.

Evan Low, a gay man who was elected to the Campbell City Council in November at the age of 23, said sexual orientation wasn't important in his campaign.

"I got way more questions about my age, and even ethnicity, than" about being gay, he said.

Parenthood, Williams said, can be a powerful counter to prejudice.

"Caroline communicates equality in a way that Jim and I never could talk about.  People see our family and they get it:  We're a family just like any other family," Williams said.

"We want to raise children like everyone else," Gatto said.  "We are everyone else."

Contact Mike Swift at mswift@mercurynews.com or (408) 271-3648.

 

Send mail to email@gaypasg.org with questions or comments about this web site.
Copyright 1998 - 2008 Gay & Lesbian Political Action & Support Groups
Last modified: August 10, 2011 by Outstanding Web Stuff