The Times They Are A-Changing — Same-Sex Couples and the Village

Villagers celebrate marriage equality in New York State

As one-time Villager Bob Dylan famously called it, the Times, They Are A-Changing.  This Sunday New York State will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and apparently the New York City Clerk’s office is expecting a flood of marriage license applicants that first day.  The occasion presents a good opportunity to wonder how many of those applicants might be from the Village, East Village, and NoHo, traditionally the center of gay life in New York and some of the city’s most gay-friendly neighborhoods.

I’ll admit — I’m a bit of a census geek (see prior post HERE, and full disclosure — I was a census worker in 1990).  But some recently-released analysis of 2010 Census figures provides what I think may be some fascinating insight into just how many of those couples might come from our neighborhoods, and just how central the Village still is — or is not — to gay life in New York.

Last week WNYC mapped and released its analysis of 2010 Census data for New York City showing, by census tract, where self-identified gay couples lived, and their percentages relative to the number of couples in the same tract.  It provides some compelling  indications, if not exhaustive documentation, of where  lesbian and gay New Yorkers (particularly those who live with their partners) can be found.

First, a word about the methodology.  As I understand it, the information used by WNYC has been extrapolated from Census figures by identifying those who responded to the census by saying that they lived with an unmarried partner, and then cross-tabulating to see when those partners were of the same sex.  The census does not ask respondents their sexual orientation, nor does it ask if they are part of a same-sex couple.

So it’s important to keep two things in mind: 1) these figures do not identify the number (or percentage) of gay or lesbian people in a census tract, it ONLY pertains to those who are living with a same sex partner (and their percentages as compared to the overall number of people in that tract who claimed to live with a married or unmarried partner, of either the opposite or same sex), and 2) the respondent had to identify the person they lived with as their partner.  This is significant because one would expect that many gay or lesbian couples would not identify their co-habitating partner as such on the census forms, for a variety of reasons.

First, many gay people and couples remain partially or entirely ‘closeted’ and might not want to identify themselves as such, even on a ‘confidential’ form such as the census.  Second, given that legal recognition of same-sex couples is still in its infancy, many same-sex couples would not think to identify themselves as such on a census form, assuming or just being used to the fact that such relationships are not recognized (and in many cases they are correct — the 1996 ‘Defense of Marriage Act,’  for instance, bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, and most states have laws or even constitutional amendments which bar their recognition; even New York State will not begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses until this Sunday).  Case in point — neither I nor my same-sex partner of 11 years identified the other as our “unmarried partner” on our census forms in 2010 (we’ll know better for 2020!).

Nevertheless, WNYC’s data shows a pronounced concentration of self-identified same-sex couples in the Village, with the highest concentration being in the 36.61.7700 and 36.61.7300 tracts which, appropriately enough, include the Stonewall Inn, the historic birthplace of the modern gay rights movement.  Much of the rest of the Village has noticeably higher concentrations of same-sex couples as identified by WNYC, as do NoHo and the East Village.

What might come as a bit of a surprise to some (but not much of a surprise to others) is that the census tracts with the highest concentrations of same-sex couples are not actually in the Village at all, but in Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen.

In fact, while the Village, NoHo, and the East Village remain centers of gay and lesbian culture, entertainment, and residence as identified by this census analysis, it would seem that for pure concentration and number of gay or lesbian neighborhood residents, the Village has been eclipsed by both Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, and citywide, it has been joined by a cadre of neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan, Brownstone Brooklyn, western and Central Queens, the South Bronx, and the north shore of Staten Island that serve as home to identifiable concentrations of same sex couples.

Citywide, WNYC identifies a 27% increase in the number of same-sex couples in the 2010 census as compared to the 2000 census (the first census in which one could identify an unmarried same-sex partner).

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Andrew Berman

Andrew Berman has been the Executive Director of GVSHP since 2002.