Out.

    153
    print

    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.