Gay-friendly, and growing
Franklin County tops in same-sex Ohio households
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCHIn the past decade, Franklin County added more households led by same-sex couples than any other Ohio county, new census information shows.
The 5,132 gay households make up just 2.3 percent of the Franklin County homes in which a couple lived together in 2010, but the number grew by almost 1,900, or 58 percent, during the decade.
The next-largest gain was in Cuyahoga County, which added 750 same-sex-couple households, or 28 percent. The statewide number grew by 51 percent, to 28,600 households.
Franklin also has more gay couples overall.
"None of this really surprises me," said Mike Daniels, co-publisher of Outlook: Columbus, a magazine geared to the gay community. "Columbus is a top-10 gay city across America, but Columbus is a very interesting place because it is a very welcoming environment for absolutely everyone."
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The census probably "somewhere between mildly and grossly underestimates the number," Daniels added.
Same-sex couples are counted because the census tracks relationships within households. It does not ask about sexual orientation more broadly, so there is no census count of the total number of gays, including single people and couples who do not live together.
It's difficult to know whether the growing number of same-sex households means that more gay couples live in Franklin County, or whether more have become willing to identify themselves that way.
"I would suspect there might be a little of both," said Tom Grote, who lives in German Village with his partner, Rick Neal, and their 2-year-old daughter. "More people are probably familiar with that checkbox on the census form, and more people are in fact checking it."
The Columbus area feels welcoming to gay couples and families, and many employers - both public and private - offer friendly work environments and domestic-partner insurance benefits, he said.
"There's probably more settling-down going on," said Grote, 46, the chief financial officer at ButylFuel, a biofuel company. He also is a trustee for the United Way of Central Ohio and Miami University.
"I think you have more and more gay couples comfortable with coming out and living in the suburbs," Grote said. "We know a lot more people who are adopting - that definitely is a trend."
Neal, 45, who moved to Columbus from Washington, D.C.,said the city is a great place for families.
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"It was really the right decision to come here," he said. "People here are very, very nice."
There are about the same number of gay and lesbian households in Franklin County, at just under 2,600 each, and about 21 percent reported that they have a child living with them. Statewide, about 26 percent of gay couples were raising children. About 41 percent of straight couples in Ohio - whether married or not - reported having a child in their home.
Five other central Ohio counties - Union, Delaware, Madison, Pickaway and Fairfield - were in the top 11 counties statewide as far as percentage growth in gay households. Union County was No. 1, up 185 percent to 114 households.
"When I was kid, if you were a same-sex couple, you moved to New York or San Francisco or someplace that you felt welcome," said Ed Mullen, executive director of Equality Ohio, an advocacy group for gay, bisexual and transgender people. Today, "people don't feel the need to."
For many gays, living in Columbus has a legal benefit: Neither state nor federal law protects gay people against discrimination, while the city of Columbus has a human-rights ordinance that considers sexual orientation, Mullen said.
The city has included gays as a protected class for more than two decades, and Columbus added "transgender residents" - men who consider themselves women and women who consider themselves men - in 2008. The ordinance applies to all private landlords and sellers of homes, employers and operators of public accommodations in the city, said Napoleon Bell, director of the Columbus Community Relations Commission.
The city of Columbus, Columbus City Schools, Franklin County, Ohio State University and some large private employers that are based here offer domestic-partner health benefits, also luring gays.
"Columbus has become a Mecca for GLBT folks," Daniels said.
The Census Bureau is advising that it will release "alternative estimates" later this year for same-sex partner numbers to account for "data capture errors." A census spokeswoman couldn't say how those estimates might differ from the current numbers.