Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Gay Family Down South

If you think that the only cities where you’ll find a lot of gay families are places like San Francisco or Boston or other metropolitan areas that are known for being liberal and tolerant, add Jacksonville to the list. That’s right; Jacksonville, Florida.

The changes may seem surprising for a city where churches that have long condemned homosexuality remain a powerful force. But as demographers sift through recent data releases from the Census Bureau, they have found that Jacksonville is home to one of the biggest populations of gay parents in the country.

In addition, the data show, child rearing among same-sex couples is more common in the South than in any other region of the country, according to Gary Gates, a demographer at the University of California, Los Angeles. Gay couples in Southern states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are more likely to be raising children than their counterparts on the West Coast, in New York and in New England.

The pattern, identified by Mr. Gates, is also notable because the families in this region defy the stereotype of a mainstream gay America that is white, affluent, urban and living in the Northeast or on the West Coast.

“We’re starting to see that the gay community is very diverse,” said Bob Witeck, chief executive of Witeck-Combs Communications, which helped market the census to gay people. “We’re not all rich white guys.”

It is interesting that the route for a lot of these families to acceptance and growth is coming from gay-friendly churches. It’s also ironic that there has to be a designation for a church that is open to gays and lesbians versus those that are not. It seems that the message of “love thy neighbor as thyself” is still lost on some folks.