12.9% in Seattle are gay or bisexual, second only to S.F., study says
Seattle Times staff reporter
Among the 50 largest U.S. cities, Seattle is second only to San Francisco in the percentage of residents identifying themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, a new study reports.
A researcher used census and other government statistics to offer an estimate of a segment of the population in cities, metropolitan areas and congressional districts nationwide whose size has only been guessed in the past.
The study reports found that 12.9 percent of Seattle residents — roughly 57,900 people — identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual. In San Francisco, 15.4 percent of residents identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual.
The study's findings are drawn from newly released U.S. census data on same-sex households showing that between 2000 and 2005, the reported number of gay-couple households increased by 30 percent in the United States and by 50 percent in Washington state.
The findings do not necessarily suggest the number of gay people and couples is growing dramatically.
Rather, say the study's author and others, the findings may have more to do with people becoming more comfortable about disclosing their sexual orientation in government surveys.
They also believe the trend holds social and political implications, as civil rights for gays remain a deeply divisive issue across the country.
"Basically, we're looking at the size of America's closet," said Gary Gates, senior research fellow at the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles. The institute focuses on sexual-orientation law and public policy.
While there have been attempts to estimate the gay and lesbian population in specific cities or states, the Williams Institute estimated the population's size across cities, metropolitan areas, states and congressional districts.
Gates used data from the National Survey of Family Growth, a multipurpose survey sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to estimate a gay, lesbian and bisexual population in the United States of 8.8 million people.
He then applied that data to the results of the American Community Survey, a periodic census update, to estimate the number of gay, lesbian and bisexual people in cities, metropolitan areas and congressional districts.
His formula assumed that the percentage of all same-sex coupled households in any area — data provided by the census — reflects the percentage of all gays, lesbians and bisexuals in that same area.
He multiplied the estimated total national gay, lesbian and bisexual population of 8.8 million by the percentage of all same-sex couples in a given area to reach an estimated gay, lesbian or bisexual population for that area.
"There's really no other way to get at this population," he said. "There's not a better source out there."
The findings come in a year the state Supreme Court upheld a ban on same-sex marriage and when Washington became the 17th state in the nation to pass legislation extending housing and workplace protections to gays.
Josh Friedes, advocacy director for the gay-rights group Equal Rights Washington, said the numbers demonstrate why it's important for states such as Washington to address such issues as how best to meet the needs of gay and lesbian couples as they age.
State Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who is gay, said that while the goal is still same-sex marriage, he plans to introduce legislation in the next session that "extends to gays and lesbians the same benefits of marriage, even if we can't get marriage.
"I know it will be a multiyear process."
Cheryl Haskins, executive director of Allies for Marriage and Children, said her organization is working to ensure it will have a voice in what goes on. The group supports defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman.
Seattle news researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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