Why Are So Many LGBT Families Living in Hostile Territory?

By Alex J Davidson

Originally published on Advocate.com October 24 2013 7:00 AM ET

This year has been a great one for marriage rights for same-sex couples, with the demise of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and victories in states including Minnesota, Rhode Island, and California. But curiously, the infographic below from the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles, shows that large percentages of same-sex couples raising families live in states hostile to LGBT folks — states such as Utah, Virginia and Texas. Why is that?

The above and this Williams Institute press release points out many of the metropolitan areas with the highest percentages of families led by same-sex couples that ban same-sex marriage. Many of those same states also severely limit the rights of LGBT parents.

Who are these families? Here is how the Williams Institute breaks down LGBT families:

- An estimated 37% of LGBT-identified adults have had a child at some time in their lives.
-  An estimated 3 million LGBT Americans have had a child and as many as 6 million American children and adults have an LGBT parent.
- Among those under age 50 who are living alone or with a spouse or partner, nearly half of LGBT women (48%) are raising a child under age 18 along with a fifth of LGBT men (20%).

So what’s up? What’s driving same-sex couples to raise kids in places like Salt Lake City, and Virginia Beach? 

Gary Gates, a Williams Distinguished Scholar at the institute and an expert on the demography of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender population, says that while demographers don’t know a lot about why same-sex couples with children live where they do, there is evidence that LGB people who have children tend to have their first child at a younger age than their non-LGB counterparts, most often with a different sex partner.

“This pattern is more common in socially conservative areas where lesbians and gay men face higher levels of social stigma and probably come out later in life (meaning they are more likely to have different-sex relationships earlier in life),” Gates said in an email. “This group tends to have lower levels of educational attainment and higher levels of economic disadvantage, which limits their mobility.  But even if it didn’t, they might be living where they are simply to be closer to family and more child-friendly communities. Areas with high concentrations of LGBT people tend to be more urban (less child-friendly) and more expensive. “

In a research paper published earlier this year, Gates uncovered compelling statistics about the struggling portions of the LGBT population raising kids:


- Single LGBT adults raising children are three times more likely than comparable non-LGBT individuals to report household incomes near the poverty threshold.
- Married or partnered LGBT individuals living in two-adult households with children are twice as likely as comparable non-LGBT individuals to report household incomes near the poverty threshold.
- The median annual household income of same-sex couples with children under age 18 in the home is lower than that of comparable different-sex couples ($63,900 versus $74,000, respectively).

Where are these families? According to this infographic from the Human Rights Campaign, the states of Utah and Mississippi have bans on adoption by same-sex couples and yet child-rearing, according to Gates, is highest in the South, Mountain West. and Midwest. Salt Lake City has the highest percentage of same-sex couples raising children in the United States.

There are more interesting findings when you look at the HRC and Williams Institute maps side by side:

HRC: http://www.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/parenting_joint-adoption_062013.pdf

Williams: http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/MSAs-pr-img.jpg

State courts in Michigan, for example, have ruled that unmarried individuals may not jointly petition to adopt. And yet 22 percent of same-sex couples in the city of Detroit are raising kids. There are also Virginia, Texas, and Tennessee, where, according to HRC, "It is unclear whether a same-sex couple would be permitted to file a joint petition to adopt." Tell that to the 24 percent of same-sex couples raising kids in Virginia Beach, or the 22 percent of such couples with kids in San Antonio and Memphis.

Regardless of a definitive “why,” it’s clear that parenting is becoming more widespread in the LGBT world.