If you had to name the city in American with the highest population of gay parent households, you might not think to head south. But as revealed in a New York Times article last week, data from the recent US Census says gay families who are raising children are more common in the south than in any other region of the country. And the city with the highest percentage of gay partners raising children subsequently is not one of those bicoastal beacons of queer life — such as San Francisco or New York — but Jacksonville, Fla. (San Antonio, Tex. is a close second).
The new Census data also highlights the racial and class diversity of gay families not usually portrayed in mainstream society. While many people may think of gay families as white city dwellers with the high income necessary to start/support a family, this new data shows that Black and Latino gays are actually twice as likely as their white counterparts to be raising children. (It’s a bit soon, but can we get a remake of The Kids Are All Right with women of color? I’m down.)
Latisha Bines and Misty Gray with their family in Jacksonville
This higher population of gay families down south may be due to the fact that a lot of these couples with children didn’t start their families with a trip to the sperm bank. Many gay families in Jacksonville, for instance, have children from previous marriages. The article suggests that there are more gay people who were at one time heterosexually married because of the fierce homophobia found in the church culture prominent in the south.
One woman interviewed for the article, Darlene Maffett, was married with children for eight years before coming out. “People grew up in church, so a lot of us lived in shame,” she said. “What did we do? We wandered around lost. We married men, and then couldn’t understand why every night we had a headache.”
An extension of the dense population of gay families in Jacksonville is the development of church communities that can accommodate what these families need. While Jacksonville has hosted one or two gay churches since the early aughts, their congregations were mostly white, single gay men. In 2007, an African American church that welcomed gay parishioners opened; later, one of the oldest gay-friendly churches in Jacksonville gained Valerie Williams as an out, black woman pastor who started a program at the church for the children of same-sex parents.
Reginald Maffett, son of lesbian moms, at church
One young girl who attended the program says, “It feels good to be around people who don’t just have moms and dads … I like it because I’m not alone anymore.”
The majority of the states where high populations of gay families were found do not allow same sex marriage. Florida is even one of several states that ban same-sex couples from adoption. Still, these families prevail.
2009 was the first year the Census counted married gay partners; gay couples were first counted in 1990. However, the Census does not count gay single people. (Ouch!) While the inclusion of gay married partners in the most recent Census was seen as a major success for the gay community, there’s obviously still a large chunk of the picture missing (and a super weird subcontext — couples trump individuals?) by leaving gay single citizens uncounted. Here’s to hoping the next Census counts all of us.