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Originally published August 4, 2011 at 12:09 AM | Page modified August 4, 2011 at 8:46 PM

State sees surge in gay couples, especially outside Seattle

While Seattle's Capitol Hill remains the center of gay life in the area, the number of same-sex couples there barely budged over the decade — growing only slightly for male couples and not at all for female couples. Meanwhile, neighborhoods such as West Seattle and suburbs like Lynnwood, Shoreline and Lake Forest Park saw the number of same-sex couples rise sharply.

Seattle Times staff reporters

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Seattle's Capitol Hill is still the center of gay life for this region. But increasingly, same-sex couples, especially those raising children, are choosing to live elsewhere — in places like West Seattle and suburbs like Lynnwood, Shoreline and Lake Forest Park.

New census data show that the number of gay and lesbian couples living in the same household on pricey Capitol Hill barely budged over the last decade, growing only slightly for male couples and not at all for females.

The number of gay couples living together surged elsewhere: across the state, where it far outpaced general population growth — and in neighborhoods like West Seattle, where it grew 55 percent. In fact, West Seattle has become so popular among gays that some have started calling it Capitol Hill West.

Tom and Mark Batterson moved there four years ago from the Green Lake area, in search of more space for themselves and their three kids. Tom Batterson said the couple wasn't so much seeking the comfort of a gay community as searching for a family-friendly atmosphere. Most of their friends, he said, are straight.

"Out here, we can go to a restaurant and not get stared at because we brought our kids," he said.

Amy and Jen Hallmon moved there from Burien two years ago after they couldn't resolve some problems their oldest daughter was having in school where, they say, she was the only student from a same-sex household.

While they never met with hostility in Burien, in West Seattle they didn't have to keep explaining themselves and their families, Amy Hallmon said. Their daughter found a school where she didn't feel like "the unpaid ambassador for kids with two moms."

Unexpected locations

Most same-sex couples, in choosing a place to live, want what other families want — affordable housing, more space, good schools and generally a better quality of life.

And the new census data show them living in most cities and every county in Washington state.

Women drove the growth outside Seattle, in suburbs across the metropolitan area.

The census first began widely reporting same-sex couple data in 2000 and last year, for the first time, allowed couples to check if they were married. Census data on same-sex marriages won't be released until later this year.

Vashon Island, population 10,600, has the highest concentration of same-sex couples in the state. Some 5.5 percent of all couples there were same-sex, followed by Seattle, at 5.4 percent.

Gay-couple households with children, whose numbers were reported in the 2010 decennial census for the first time, also show up in some unexpected places.

Yakima, Wenatchee and Pasco had some of the highest concentrations in the state. Ironically, those are the same areas of the state where two years ago voters soundly defeated a measure to expand domestic-partner benefits for same-sex couples. The measure, Referendum 71, eventually passed.

Marriages, partnerships

Many factors account for the growth in numbers of same-sex couples over the decade.

Since 2000, Canada and several U.S. states have legalized gay marriage, and Washington has a domestic-partnership law that grants same-sex couples many of the same state-level benefits as married people.

At the same time, couples have become more aware that they can indicate their status on the census forms, and many are likely more comfortable than they were 10 years ago in doing so.

Gary Gates, a demographer at the University of California, Los Angeles, said, "It's more common to see such increases in conservative parts of the country and of states — places where you have the biggest closets."

Gates said it shouldn't surprise anyone, either, that many same-sex couples are raising children. Statewide, 20 percent of all same-sex couples fall into that category.

While more same-sex couples are becoming parents through adoption, surrogacy and artificial insemination, others — primarily women — are still raising children from previous heterosexual relationships, he said.

"A high percentage of parenting is still likely to be people who had children relatively young with a different-sex partner, before coming out."

Comfort is key

While the Hallmons chose West Seattle because it held a more welcoming environment for their children, and the Battersons chose it because it was more family oriented, Geoffery McAnalloy and his husband left West Seattle for Federal Way in 2001 because they found West Seattle too congested.

"We have three boys we are raising, and we needed more space," McAnalloy said. "We could get far more home for our money."

There's a "Seattle perception," he said, that places outside the city are not as welcoming to gay families as those inside. It's not necessarily true.

He recognizes that Federal Way is a conservative community and said many of his neighbors are seniors. Yet, they could not be friendlier, he said. "We don't mind setting an example and blazing a path."

The Battersons had considered a number of other areas — Mill Creek, Kent, Auburn — that also would have given them the space and atmosphere they sought, but West Seattle was the closest, Tom Batterson said.

"At Green Lake we saw joggers and adults walking around. Lincoln Park (in West Seattle) has lots of families, picnics on the water."

That gays are spreading out beyond the traditional gay hub of Capitol Hill suggests that gay families are feeling more comfortable living everywhere — and practically anywhere.

And there are many positive aspects to that, said Josh Friedes, marriage-equality director with Equal Rights Washington, a Seattle-based advocacy group for gays.

"They are becoming neighbors with people who've not had a lot of exposure and had not been familiar with gay families," he said. "You begin to see increased support for things like marriage equality as the general population has more and more gay neighbors."

Kevin Patterson and Mark Sluga, who moved to Walla Walla from Seattle's Capitol Hill five years ago, would like to think they are having that kind of impact.

Married in Vancouver, B.C., in 2005, the men left Seattle after both lost their jobs and grew fearful of skyrocketing housing costs.

In Walla Walla, people who initially didn't want to socialize with them have become acquaintances or good friends, Patterson said. "We never would have met them in Seattle because we would have thought them too conservative and not bothered."

Larry Nicholas admires those who are willing to move farther out, but he doesn't see it for himself.

A psychotherapist who lives on Capitol Hill with his husband and two young children, Nicholas said he has no desire to leave the neighborhood.

It's where he feels comfortable, he said.

"I want to stay here because we can," he said, referring to affordability. "It's a better quality of life. I came here from New York. I feel comfortable in the city."

Nicholas said that on the one day a month the couple goes out to dinner, "We can walk to Broadway. We can walk to the playground.

"I've lived on Capitol Hill for 20 years and I recognize that I'm out of touch with what else might be out there. But from my vantage point it doesn't seem very safe."

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com

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