Friday, March 10, 2006

Guess the 5 States

From Po:

This is one of my all-time favorite statistics that came out of our research on The Factbook, and I'm going to use it to wind my way into what Ashley just posted about.

Okay, there are 5 states where fully one-third of all same sex couples in that state are raising a child in their home.

Guess which states?

I asked this in bookstores, and the audience guesses were: "California? Massachusetts? Vermont? New York?"

Nope. There are more gays and lesbians (proportionately) in those states, but they don't raise children as much.

Okay, this shocked me the first time I read it. The 5 states are ...

Mississippi ... Louisiana ... South Carolina ... South Dakota ... and Alaska.

The reddest of the red states!

In those 5 states, fully a third of gay and lesbian couples are raising a child.

How is that possible? Well, it comes right out of what Ashley was posting about. 95% of children with a gay or lesbian parent aren't adopted or fostered. A vast majority of those 95% were born into a heterosexual couple, and sometime later Mom or Dad finally came out of the closet. Usually (not always) a divorce is involved. Often Mom or Dad didn't come out of the closet until after the divorce. Or years later.

So in those 5 red states, people tend to marry younger and have kids early (and get less education - the three always go hand in hand). Many gays and lesbians don't figure out or admit their sexual orientation (even to themselves) until their 20s or 30s - and later. By then, in those 5 states, they're likely to already be married and raising kids.

I interviewed a woman in Louisiana in just this situation. A realtor by trade, she married young and had a girl and a boy three years apart. Her husband became a bit of a scumbag, and they divorced. Her ex-husband fled the state to avoid paying the child support he owed. He rarely showed up to see his children. A single-mother in her 30s, she finally began to admit her sexual orientation to herself. She started seeing another woman, on the side, but didn't come out to any of her adult family for another two years. She still has not come out to her children - now in high school. And she's terrified to do so. Because her kids are soaking up this message in our society that "gays and lesbians shouldn't be parents." She fights that bias, but the kids will often side with their peers just to fit in. She's terrified of the ridicule her kids might receive if she tells them the truth. She's going to wait until they get to college.

You might wonder, "hey, that's a pretty good story. Why isn't it in your book?" Well, it's because she is still in the closet, at least to her kids. I kept thinking, "she'll tell them, and I can write her story." I'm still waiting.

I am still waiting on a lot of stories just like it. During my interview phase for the book, I was contacted frequently by men who were both gay and an immigrant to the US or UK. Because they came from countries with cultures where there is still a great deal of shame in being gay, they felt they could never come out to their families. Their parents were "too traditional." They already had the confusion of being an immigrant to deal with - they weren't prepared to add "gay" to their troubles. With a few of these men, I followed up and continued interviewing them for two or three years. I figured, "any day now, he's going to call, and finally have told his sister, and she'll have told the parents, and it'll all be in the open." Then I could write his story. And I'm still waiting. On every one of those leads.


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