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The Closet Door's Open

What's Behind Hartford's Surge In Gay Population?

November 5, 2006
Commentary By GARY J. GATES, and M.V. LEE BADGETT

Who knew? Our analyses of new data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that in 2005, Hartford's share of gay and lesbian couples in the population placed the city 10th among America's 50 largest metropolitan areas. This Top 10 finish marks a jump in the past five years from the city's 26th place showing in 2000. With an estimated gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) population of nearly 5,300, or 6.8 percent of the adult population, Hartford ranks among the nation's gayest cities.

Why the quick jump in Hartford's ranking? With all the romantic talk about same-sex marriage in neighboring Massachusetts and, increasingly, in the state Capitol in Hartford, maybe the city's single gay people are more likely to pair off and move in together than they were before. It's hard to imagine such a big change in coupling rates over a short five-year period, though.

Likewise, we don't think gay people from other places were suddenly flocking to Hartford as a new gay mecca of the Northeast. (It will take a lot of global warming before Northern cities rival the continuing appeal of the South and West for mobile Americans.)

Greater openness of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people is the more likely explanation for Hartford's leap. Same-sex couples who were afraid to put an X in the "unmarried partner" box on their census forms in 2000 have apparently decided to take a big step out of the closet. Television shows such as "Will and Grace," "The Ellen Show" and "Queer Eye" have created cultural space for gays and lesbians across the country to be more open and visible in their families and communities.

But those forces are at work everywhere. In Hartford - where state politics are local - a heightened political debate about gay family issues probably pulled even more same-sex couples and single GLB people out of the closet, leading to the city's boost in ranking. Well after the census forms were filled out in 2000, lesbian and gay couples won the right to second-parent adoptions. Civil union and marriage were the hot topics in 2005 as the most recent survey was conducted.

As the local news media have begun to provide more balanced reporting on gay family issues, GLB people in Hartford have heard more about their lives - repeatedly. More exposure and more self-recognition, plus a political incentive to acknowledge homosexuality and bisexuality publicly, all create a path toward self-acceptance and coming out.

And they're not just coming out on surveys. Love Makes A Family's Anne Stanback reports that plenty of same-sex couples with kids volunteered to be photographed in newspapers for stories on the recent first anniversary of civil unions.

Other signs confirm the increased visibility of Hartford's lesbian, gay and bisexual community. The West End thrives as a neighborhood known for its high concentration of gay and lesbian residents and supportive businesses. State legislators Evelyn Mantilla, who is bisexual, and Art Feldman, who is gay, represent parts of the city. Add a supportive mayor and increasingly open and fair coverage from the local news media, and it's no wonder that Hartford's same-sex couples feel safer coming out.

Perhaps a more interesting question than why more same-sex couples have come out is what this trend means for Hartford's future. Heightened visibility and activism among lesbians and gay men might lead to some political change. Three of Connecticut's five congressional districts rank among the top 75 (out of 456) districts in the size of their lesbian, gay and bisexual populations. Hartford is in District 1, with an estimated 30,600 GLB residents - the highest rank in the state - but it is closely followed by two districts where Republican incumbents are in tight races in the upcoming election. District 2 in the eastern part of the state has an estimated 28,500 GLB residents, and District 4 in the southwest has an estimated 26,600 GLB. Given that three-fourths of GLB Americans voted for John Kerry in 2004, GLB voters could constitute a critical bloc in this year's election.

Economic guru Richard Florida's work on the economic value of diversity suggests that Hartford is on the right path. Already Hartford-based Fortune 100 companies are leading the way with policies that support lesbian and ga employees. Aetna and Hartford Financial Services have long offered health benefits to same-sex couples.

Communities that encourage such policies create an environment where talented people of all stripes can feel welcome and supported. In turn, employers can draw from a creative workforce that maximizes innovation and productivity. In short, everyone wins.

Hartford's gay community shows an unexpected strength in the new census numbers. Such strength suggests that Hartford is doing something right in providing a supportive environment for its lesbian and gay citizens. The census results augur a dynamic political environment and potential economic benefits for all of the city's residents.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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