Friday, October 20, 2006
Swinging the Closet Door Wide Open
C alifornia researcher Gary Gates has been hearing things lately:
Lots of closet doors opening like never before -- and in places where most gay folks five years ago were too wary of government census takers to acknowledge being in a same-sex relationship.
"The closet door is really opening. That's especially true in the Midwest," says Gates, author of a fascinating study based on the newly released 2005 American Community Survey -- a sort of mini-Census -- and the National Survey of Family Growth, both conducted by the federal government.
Overall, the number of same-sex couples identifying themselves to the government soared 30 percent in five short years -- to 776,943. To put that in perspective, the U.S. population grew 6 percent in that period.
The biggest jumps in self-reporting by gay couples were largely in America's heartland: Take for example, Wisconsin, which surged 81 percent in the number of same-sex couples living together; Ohio 62 percent; and Michigan 48 percent.
While more gay folks may be settling down into committed relationships, the biggest factor driving the increases, Gates bets, is that more gay couples are comfortably out.
And the survey results suggest that anti-gay marriage drives are having a wonderful unintended consequence: They're emboldening more of us to stand up and be counted. Six of the eight states with an anti-gay marriage initiative on this year's ballot -- Arizona, Colorado, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin -- saw rate jumps higher than the 30 percent national average.
"Do some people get afraid and go back into the closet? Sure," says Gates of the Williams Institute. "But that is offset substantially by people who get angry and say, 'Hey, you are talking about me!'"
Because the Family Growth survey found that 4.1 percent of adults identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, Gates estimates that those of us who're gay Americans now number 8.8 million. (To find out more about a place's gay population, read Gates' study by Googling the Williams Institute.)
Meanwhile, a new New York Times poll underscores that as more gay people feel comfortable enough to come out, society grows more accepting -- and vice versa.
The Times asked whether "being homosexual is something people choose to be, or … something they cannot change?"
For the first time in the 13 years the Times has asked, the "cannot change" view rose above 50 percent: By 53-34 percent, Americans say being gay can't be changed, compared with 43-44 percent in 1993.
The Times also asked whether "you think homosexual relations between adults are morally wrong … OK … or don't you care much either way?" Those saying "morally wrong" is down to 37 percent from 55 percent in 1993. The combined "OK" and "don't care" has leaped to 61 percent from 42 percent 13 years ago.
Our nation is progressing toward a healthy understanding that being gay is like lefthandedness--not a choice, not wrong, just a reality for millions.
And Gates is working to see whether being in a coupled relationship is as positive for gays and as for married heterosexuals in terms of such things as lower rates of depression: "Preliminarily, we are finding that gay people get similar positive benefits."
So all of this just proves that if a closeted politician really wants to come out and proud, that he/she can do so. The more of us who are out, the more easily it is for us to win our hard fought rights to marry and live equally. Now, wouldn't that be a great day.