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NEW YORK — Few might guess Albuquerque, N.M., and Jersey City, N.J., are among the U.S. cities with the densest gay and lesbian populations. Nor would they likely rank North Dakota and Alabama among the states with the highest concentrations of senior gay and lesbian couples.

But, in fact, gay men and lesbians are 40 percent and 38 percent more likely than the country’s average household to live in Albuquerque and Jersey City, respectively, while senior same-sex couples are 40 percent more inclined to reside in North Dakota and 24 percent more likely to land in Alabama.

This story first appeared in the May 19, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

These and other facts can be found in the 242 pages of “The Gay and Lesbian Atlas” (The Urban Institute Press, $49.50), written by Gary J. Gates and Jason Ost, published this month. The groundbreaking volume, based largely on Census 2000 data, was inspired by Gates’ doctoral dissertation at the Carnegie Mellon University, completed in 2000, on the demographics of the groups. These segments of the population now account for an estimated 2.4 to 2.8 percent of the country’s adults, or between 3.9 million and 4.9 million people, with purchasing power of approximately $485 billion annually. The 2000 census was the first time the government compiled numbers of same-sex households.

“Although there has been an increasing awareness of marketing to gay men and lesbians, I don’t know to what extent marketers have leveraged data on their geographic concentration,” said Gates, a demographer at the Washington-based Urban Institute, referring to a group that could range from makers of products such as apparel to direct marketers in search of zip codes; realtors and developers seeking locations, and the media. Robert Witeck, chief executive officer at Washington-based gay and lesbian marketing specialist Witeck-Combs Communications, said he has already advised client MTV to use the information in the atlas to inform pitches to local cable operators as it prepares to “soon” launch its gay and lesbian channel, with a working name of Outlet.

Other potential uses of the information contained in the reference book include its application to advocacy and legal strategies; the appropriation of public health services, and research projects by social scientists, said Ost, an Urban Institute research associate also specializing in the gay and lesbian populations.

Indeed, the underlying motivation for the project, Gates noted, was his frustration over the growing public debate about various gay and lesbian issues with “so little empirical data” to underpin those discussions.

For example, with the debate over legally sanctioned gay partnerships heating up, now that gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts and civil union between same-sex partners is sanctioned in Vermont, California, Hawaii, New Jersey and Massachusetts, markets stemming from gay weddings and unions are among those that could be more intelligently leveraged by using the atlas.

Among the atlas data pertinent to such marketing opportunities is that Vermont leads the 50 states in the concentration of lesbian and gay couples, followed by California, Washington, Massachusetts and Oregon. Southwest desert states like New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona also appear in the top 10, a group rounded out by New York and Maine.

Most broadly, gay and lesbian couples appear to be urban pioneers, willing to live in and possibly transform distressed urban areas, write Gates and Ost. Too, those partners are more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to live in racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods that have a higher-than-average number of college-educated residents, older housing stock and higher-than-average property values and crime rates.

Large metropolitan areas with the densest enclaves of same-sex couples are San Francisco; Oakland, Calif.; Seattle; Austin, Tex., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Smaller metropolitan areas of note include Portland, Maine; Asheville, N.C.; Bloomington, Ind., and Iowa City, Iowa.

The leading areas for populations of lesbian couples are Santa Rosa, Calif.; Santa Cruz, Calif.; San Francisco; Oakland, Calif., and Santa Fe, N.M., while for gay men they are San Francisco; Santa Cruz, Calif.; Oakland, Calif., and Santa Fe, N.M.

Another consumer sector gaining visibility and examined in the atlas are same-sex couples with children. These couples often live in states and large metropolitan areas not known for large gay and lesbian communities: South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota and Alaska are where homosexual partners are most commonly raising children.

Other data in the broad-ranging atlas includes:

  • Same-sex unmarried partners are present in 99.3 percent of all U.S. counties.
  • Thirty-three percent of lesbian couples and 22 percent of gay male partners have children in their households.
  • Nearly one in five people in a same-sex couple is at least 55 years old.
  • Seniors dominate the gay and lesbian populations in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.
  • Thirteen of the states that have not passed a Defense of Marriage Act restricting marriage to heterosexual couples are among the 20 states with a density of gay and lesbian couples above the U.S. average, or roughly 5.6 per 1,000 households.
  • Fourteen of 20 states with higher-than-average gay and lesbian concentrations supported Democratic nominee Al Gore in the presidential election of 2000.
  • Ninety-two Fortune 100 companies ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

As it is derived primarily from Census 2000 data, “The Gay and Lesbian Atlas” provides the first large-scale look at those populations that goes beyond convenient samples, or those based on extrapolations from mailing lists, which have provided data not representative, said Michael Wilke, executive director at The Commercial Closet, a nonprofit educational project devoted to better representation and inclusion of gay men and lesbians in marketing.

“[Marketers’] interest in reaching gay men and lesbians is largely there,” Wilke noted. “The thing that has been missing has been good data.”

Distribution of Gay and Lesbian Couples:
Top 10 States
% of U.S.
Same-Sex HHs
% of U.S. HHs
Rank in share
of U.S. HHs
1. California
2. New York
3. Texas
4. Florida
5. Illinois
6. Pennsylvania
7. Georgia
8. Ohio
9. Massachusetts
10. New Jersey
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