24 May 2013

Why Are Gay Families In Salt Lake City?

According to a recent study, the US city in which the highest percentage of itsr gay couples is raising children is in a state that I wouldn't expect to legalize same-sex marriage in my lifetime.  In fact, two of the next three cities with metropolitan areas  of a milion or more are in such states.

The winner in that category is Salt Lake City.   Next is Virginia Beach, followed by Detroitand  Memphis. Jacksonville, FL is another place where more than one in four gay couples is raising children..  Of those cities, only Detroit is in a state in which there seems to be any chance of legalizing same-sex unions any time soon.

Mind you, New York, San Francisco and Boston have larger overall numbers of gay couples raising kids. But the percentage of such couples is actually much smaller than the cities I've mentioned--or the California communities of Visalia and Porterville.

The researchers who conducted the study say that the main reason for this phenomena is that members of gay couples in Salt Lake City and the other seemingly-unlikely hubs were in heterosexual marriages before coming out as gay.  They had kids in those unions and brought them into their new domestic arrangements.

The terrible irony of this is that in such places, gay people often feel more external or internal pressures to get married and have children--whether to mollify members of their families or churches, or in an attempt to silence their own inner voices.  A young person who's grown up in Park Slope or Chelsea or Castro or the Back Bay is less likely to feel such pressures and thus more likely to come out earlier--and less likely to enter into a heterosexual marriage.  On the other hand, I can only imagine how it feels to grow up gay or trans in a place where the center of life is a fundamentalist church.

Now, I don't want to depict all of those places where gay people are raising kids as backward or imprisoning.  Rather, I want to point out that the very same social milieu that causes people to avoid living as themselves--or simply not to be aware of their true natures--is also, in many ways, more conducive to raising families than what we find in larger and more cosmopolitan cities.

One, of course, is economics.  One almost has to be very wealthy to raise kids in New York, where I live, or in San Francisco, Boston or Washington.  At least, one has to be wealthy if one wants his or her kids to be safe, attend good schools and get good health care--and find kid- and family-friendly facilities.  What that means, of course, is that one has to have independent wealth or the sort of career that both pays well and has policies that allow parents to take time off to care for kids and such without losing a day's pay--or risking his or her job.  Contrary to popular perception, not all LGBT people are in such careers.

Also, while there is more than likely plenty of homo- and trans-phobia in the smaller cities and towns, those kinds of hatred are not absent in the Big Apple, the Hub or the City by the Bay.  In fact, gay, lesbian and transgender people from other places have expressed, to me, their surprise at how much homo- or trans-phobia they found here.  One reason for that, I think, is that New York is a much more segregated city than most people realize.  Many people live in neighborhoods populated mainly by people who come from their country or culture, or share their religion.  And, in another contrast to public perception, there's religious fundamentalism in this city.  We may not have snake-handlers and such here, but there are people who belong to various fundamentalist churches.  And, of course, there are ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jews who, although they barely communicate with anyone else in this city, have a disproportionate influence on public policy.

(To my own surprise, in my early transition, I didn't encounter prejudice from religious Muslims or Catholics, even those who come from "macho" cultures.  The latter may have to do with my own Catholic upbringing and the fact that I speak Spanish.)

So, really, I'm not surprised that so many gay couples by the Great Salt Lake or along the Virginia coast or across the river from Windsor are raising kids.   To me, it means that simply legalizing same-sex marriage or adding protections for LGBT people to civil-rights laws--as important as those things are--aren't enough to ensure that any kid with gay parents (or, for that matter, LGBT kids) will have the same access to the benefits of a good family and community that their peers (some of them, anyway) have.  

Kudos to all of the people in those places--and in my hometown and the other gay "capitals"--who are doing what they can to understand (and, hopefully, accept and support) same-sex parents and their kids.  If they are doing so out of their concern for children, as I suspect they are, that is as good a starting point as any.  

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