Out.

Out.

A November 2007 study released
by University of California Los
Angeles’s Williams Institute found
that the number of same-sex couples
in Fort Worth increased more than 10
times since 1990. This trend is reflected
across the nation with the number of
“unmarried partners” increasing by five
times over the 16 year period, according
to the study.

The most dramatic increases were
reported in socially conservative Southern
and Mountain states, and Texas was no
exception.
David Jenkins, a social work professor
at TCU and a member of Fort Worth’s
gay community, said these numbers
surprised him.
“Fort Worth really doesn’t have a very
obvious gay community like a lot of
urban areas like San Francisco or Oak
Lawn in Dallas,” he said. “I think times
are changing.”
Though there may be more gay and lesbian
couples in Fort Worth, Harriet Cohen, a
lesbian social work professor at TCU,
said the numbers can also be attributed
to a changing attitude of both the gay
community and the larger society.
The Williams Institute’s study lists several
reasons for the dramatic increase.
Coming out: Acceptance
One theory, the report cites, is that
couples feel more comfortable with their
status as a cohabiting, same-sex couple
than in years past.
Cohen said gay and lesbian people are
more proud of their sexuality and are
more willing to divulge their sexual
orientation on census reports.
“I think there is a maturing of the gay
and lesbian community,” she said. “We
have more self-confidence in who we
are as people, and we are realizing that
being gay or lesbian is one of multiple
identities, but isn’t our only identity.”
Jenkins said this maturing is leading to
the acceptance of the diversity of the gay
community.
“Gay used to be fairly one-dimensional
and now it’s taking on different roles,
like parents, older adults, men and
women,” he said. “There is a maturing in
the community about what it means to
be gay, and we’re not ashamed of it.”
Jenkins said confidence enables gays and
lesbians to come out to the community,
but it doesn’t mean there won’t be
negative reactions.
“When a gay person moves into a nongay
neighborhood, they might get
reactions of “Oh, yay! Someone’s going
to have a great yard and a nice house,’
and others will say “Oh, yikes. A sinner,'”
he said. “We can’t escape that.”
Despite setbacks, Jenkins said progress is
being made.
“Sixteen years ago, we were in the middle
of the AIDS crisis,” he said. “We were
dying, we were overwhelmed and we
were hunkered down just trying to
survive. We’ve moved past that now.”
Jenkins said that there is a new strength
in the gay community that is empowering
gay and lesbian couples to be forthright
with their sexuality, but the fear to come
out has not disappeared.
“I don’t think we’ve totally come of age,”
he said, “but we’re moving forward.”
The migration: Suburbia
Gay and lesbian couples are moving to the
suburbs more frequently than the general
population, according the report. Jenkins
said this is a result of feeling safer and
more accepted in society.
He said Oak Lawn, in Dallas, was once
one of the more densely populated gay
communities in the nation because it
provided a feeling of security that other
cities couldn’t offer.
“It was unsafe most every other place
around here,” he said. “That was one place
in good old Texas 8212; in the Bible Belt 8212;
for gay people to feel accepted.”
But, Jenkins said, things are changing.
He said same-sex couples in general no
longer feel they have to flee to these urban
areas 8212; “gayborhoods” as he called them
8212; to feel secure. These areas, he said, can
provide community, but is often perceived
as an exile for homosexuals.
“I think the urban areas were a good place
to hide, but I don’t think gay people are
hiding anymore,” he said. “I think we are
sensing now that we are welcome in other
areas.”
Cohen agreed and said gay and lesbian
couples may not feel the need to settle in
urban areas as they did in the past.
“People aren’t flocking to those traditional
cities that had gay ghettos,” she said.
“Gays and lesbians are more integrated
into the non-gay community and feel
that they truly have a place there.”
Raising questions
With large increases in the amount of
same-sex couples in the U.S., Cohen said,
there needs to be legislation supporting
this growing population.
While TCU offers a health plan for
faculty in same-sex relationships, it
is not a common provision for other
institutions, she said.
“The fact that TCU has domestic partner
benefits is one of the reasons that I ended
up here instead of another university,”
she said. “There are too few places that
offer that.”
Many couples are not able to get joint
coverage, even if they have been in
a loving, committed relationship for
15 years 8212; longer than the average
duration of a heterosexual marriage in
this country, she said.
“There are over a thousand benefits that
heterosexual couples have that gay and
lesbian couples do not have access to,”
Cohen said. “While I’m excited that I
can cover my partner with medical and
dental, we still have the issue of life
insurance and retirement. I would like to
see policy that is open and inclusive.”
Jenkins shares this sentiment, and said
there is a need for a legislative wake-up
call in the U.S. He said there is a need
for policy-makers to recognize the large
population of gay couples who are being
denied the same rights as heterosexual
couples.
“There was a TV show several years
ago called “Who Wants to Marry a
Millionaire?’ where the contestants met
and married a person the same night,” he
said. “That woman and man had every
benefit and right that I will never have.
It’s kind of a sad commentary on how we
“value’ marriage.”
The TCU community
Jenkins said, like Fort Worth, TCU
students and faculty have varying beliefs
about homosexuality. While some are
accepting and encouraging, others can
be judgmental and stigmatic in their
acknowledgment of gays and lesbians,
he said.
“I think TCU is trying,” he said.
Blade Berkman, a sophomore at TCU, is
a vice president of TCU’s Gay/Straight
Alliance. He said the alliance has been
a major source of encouragement and
support for him and other gay and
lesbian students.
When he first came to TCU, Berkman
said, he was looking for a gay organization
on campus and found the Gay/Straight
Alliance.
“It was really important for me to have
this place where there are other people
like me,” he said. “It is a safe haven
where I know I am always accepted and
supported.”
This is important at a university like
TCU, he said.
“At TCU, there is more tolerance than
acceptance,” he said. “Tolerance is a step
in the right direction, but it’s not the
same as acceptance.”
Berkman said he hopes that students will
understand the need for a “gay-friendly”
environment, and maybe even help stir
up social activism around the topic of
homosexuality. He said he has yet to see
this support at TCU.
“People aren’t motivated or passionate
about things anymore,” he said. “As a
gay man, there are a lot of injustices
that I’m interested in seeing righted in
my lifetime, and I want to be a part
of it.”
Berkman said his reaction to the Williams
Institute study was not one of happiness,
but of relief that things are changing for
the gay community.
“This is the beginning of a community in
Fort Worth,” he said.