more same-sex couples in S.J.
BUT SOME WONDER
WHETHER ESTIMATES REFLECT
CHANGE IN CULTURE,
By Mike Swift,
MercuryNews.com from the Web, January 2, 2007
Patrick Tehan / Mercury News
View residents Gary Lawson, left, and Tom Ammon, have been together
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.
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
"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
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
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.
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
Contact Mike Swift at
email@example.com or (408) 271-3648.