Tuesday, October 23, 2007

From The “No Shit, Sherlock” Files

Guess what: not all gays and lesbians are alike.

To judge from the images on network television and corporate advertising, lesbians and gay men share the same demographic niche: affluent, educated, urban — and usually white.

Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong, says a new national demographic study that suggests lesbians and gays are more likely to be older, “responsible” suburbanites sharing a mortgage payment and listening to country music than young turks partying in the Castro or Chelsea.

In other words, we’re just like everybody else…except with excellent taste.

“We wanted to bust some stereotypes,” said David Morse, president and chief executive of New American Dimensions, a Los Angeles market research company that joined forces with San Francisco-based Asterix Group, a brand strategy firm, in an attempt to paint a more nuanced portrait of the nation’s gays and lesbians.

Some findings surprised even the researchers:

African-Americans and Latinos were more comfortable expressing their gay identity than whites, although their gay identity was not the most important part of who they are. And, while whites were more likely to be in live-together relationships than Latinos or blacks, they were less likely to include children in their family plans.

Gays and lesbians are increasingly open and honest about their sexuality. Two-thirds agreed with the statement, “Everyone knows I’m gay.”

A majority of lesbians and gay men live outside big cities, with about one-third of lesbians and one-quarter of gay men living in small towns or rural areas.

The average age people realized their sexual orientation was 15, but it was younger for men than for women.

Corporate America frequently stumbles when it attempts to sell its products to gays, the study’s authors say. They blamed a one-size-fits-all marketing approach.

“It would be wrong for marketers to think that this was a rich and white, male, partying group,” said Christine Lehtonen, president of Asterix.


The New American Dimensions/Asterix study also looked at how lesbians and gays reacted to TV and print advertising, and studied brand loyalties to cars and other products. Among the winners: Subaru, Budweiser and Yahoo, which was favored by a nearly 2-1 ratio over Google.

The study classified about 12 percent of the study’s respondents as “closeted.” They were more likely to be single, older, live in small towns, read Reader’s Digest and People magazine, and drive a Chevrolet. Only about one in five say their sexual orientation is an important part of their identity.

At the other end of the study’s spectrum were the “super gays,” who were almost universally open about their sexual orientation, and tended to be highly educated, affluent, be in couples, live in large cities and listen to classical music.

For what it’s worth, I knew I was gay in Grade 3 — I got a crush on another boy in my class — and that was long before I knew there was anything such as sex, so that knocks out the fundie Christianist stereotype that being gay is all about getting laid. I also have spent most of my life living in small to medium-sized towns and I never was much of a party guy. I’m pretty sure that most of the people I know know that I’m gay; not because I live up to some flaming stereotype but because I don’t hide it, and if someone asks, I tell them. But I am “highly educated” (in theatre, no less), somewhat affluent (i.e. I have a job with health insurance and a pension plan), and I listen to classical music…along with classic rock, bluegrass (and I’m not all that wild about showtunes). So instead of being a “super gay,” I’m just your average everyday middle-class queer. (“Supergay” does conjure up all sorts of images of a well-built guy in Speedos swooping in to whisk me away…. I’m sorry, where was I?)

I suppose it’s nice that corporate America is finally figuring out that we’re not a one-size-fits-all demographic — (nor are we all size queens…) — but I’d much rather have the rights that all the rest of the citizens get, such as the right to marry whom I choose, the right not to be fired or evicted for being gay, the right to adopt a child (it’s illegal for gays to adopt in Florida regardless of their income or living status), and the rest of the mundane things that make up a normal American life than have some products pitched to me because I’m gay. That’s probably not in their research, but it’s what matters most.