How Gay Is Rhode Island?
Saturday, September 03, 2011
A new state-by-state study out of the Williams Institute at UCLA shows that same-sex couples are represented in 99 percent of counties across the United States, with the largest numbers from states on either coast.
The report, which is based on 2010 U.S. Census numbers, shows that the number of people willing to identify as gay is constantly on the rise. In Rhode Island, which has the 14th most same-sex couples (per 1,000 households) in the country, there are 3,664 couples. Providence ranks 11th in terms same-sex couples living in mid-sized cities.
But the ever-increasing numbers don’t paint the whole picture, according to some Rhode Island residents who say the state has truly evolved into a gay-friendly place to be.
Times Have Changed
It wasn’t always that way, of course. John Dorr, owner of the popular downtown nightspot, Mirabar, says he can remember when being openly gay would be grounds for harassment and sometimes, much worse
Mirabar is almost 65 years old and Dorr, who has been there for 40 years, says times have truly changed.
“When I started in 1969, two guys couldn’t even dance together on the dance floor,” Dorr said. “You’d have the police in here harassing us. Times have really changed.”
Dorr said that in his first 20 years at Mirabar, he knew almost 30 people that were murdered. Now he says the city embraces same-sex couples and he considers Rhode Island to be a safe place. He says he believes part of the reason is that people are much more willing to come out and at a younger age.
“I think we’re as safe as any other city in country,” Dorr said. “We haven’t had anything happen lately. The city and state is gay-friendly. Attitude has really changed. It’s a whole different ball game. People used to be worried about losing their jobs. That’s not the case anymore.”
According to the report, there are about 8.9 same-sex couples per 1,000 households in Rhode Island, with the overwhelming majority coming from Providence. 62 percent of couples are female while 38 percent are male.
And while the majority of couples are not raising children, about 693 (19 percent), do have a family.
Nationally, about 901,997 same-sex couples live in the United States with 60 percent being same-sex female couples. 22 percent of all couples are raising children.
According to Williams Institute demographer Gary Gates, the number of same-sex couples with children is far more common in the south and the Mountain West.
“Child-rearing among same-sex couples is most common in the deep South and Mountain West regions,” he said. “In these socially conservative areas, LGBT people likely come out later in life and are more likely to have a child from a relationship with a different-sex partner when they were younger.”
The list of top large cities (population above 250,000) for same-sex couples as a portion of the population include San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; Oakland, CA; Minneapolis, MN; Atlanta, GA; Portland, OR; Long Beach, CA; Washington, DC; Boston, MA; and Denver CO.
The top small cities (population below 100,000) include Provincetown, MA; Wilton Manors, FL; Palm Springs, CA; Rehoboth Beach, DE; Guerneville, CA; West Hollywood, CA; Pleasant Ridge, MI; New Hope, PA; Rancho Mirage, CA; and Oakland Park, FL.
Gates said the numbers show same-sex couples are more comfortable than ever with coming out.
“Particularly among smaller cities, the data reflects that the LGBT community has dispersed beyond traditional enclaves as social stigma eases, couples are more comfortable coming out, and a generation of aging and out same-sex couples begin to retire,” he said.
Fight For Equality Continues
Despite the progress made in Rhode Island and across the country, the fight for true equality continues. This year, the Rhode Island General Assembly managed to get a Civil Unions law passed, but it failed in its efforts to push for same-sex marriage. Marriage Equality Rhode Island campaign director Ray Sullivan calls marriage the “gold standard.”
“We’re never going to be in the Civil Unions business,” he said. “We’re going to keep pushing for marriage equality.”
Openly gay and married State Rep. Frank Ferri said that even though the state has yet to come around on same-sex marriage, he considers Rhode Island to be gay-friendly.
“I think it’s open to diversity and has always been pretty accepting,” Ferri said.
Ferri says he got involved as an advocate for marriage quality because he did he wanted the same rights as everyone else. When asked about recently released data that shows just ten couples have filed for Civil Unions in the Ocean State, Ferri said “advocates for marriage have gotten the message that separate but equal is never really equal.”
It’s Going To Happen
And Ferri said he believes the majority of Rhode Islanders do support same-sex marriage. He says he’s talked to a lot of constituents and friends recently that have been more than supportive after watching the most recent General Assembly session unfold.
“A lot of people have come up to me and made the comment, ‘don’t worry, it’s going to happen,’” he said. “That’s nice to hear.”
And for those that are still unsure, Ferri promises same-sex couples aren’t harming anyone.
“We’re great neighbors and we take care of our families,” he said. “We’re not contagious.”
Source: The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law - Rhode Island Snapshot
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