Wednesday, June 27, 2001

2000 census undercounted gays, advocacy groups contend

By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Vince Engel and Fred Porcheddu have lived together for 15 years, the past few in a cozy home filled with fine artwork and plush Asian rugs.

        “We viewed ourselves as a family, and from the outset we wanted to build a family home,” Mr. Engel said of their Granville home, about 25 miles east of Columbus. “It's not an alternative lifestyle; it's a valid lifestyle. Our living arrangement is just another expression of family life.”

        Mr. Engel and Mr. Porcheddu and other gay couples on the 2000 Census were given the option of reporting that they lived together. Though they were comfortable identifying their relationship, gay-rights advocates say others were not and may be underrepresented in figures released by the bureau.

        This is the second census in which same-sex couples could disclose their living arrangements. But 1990 statistics were based on a sample of responses, and 2000 data were based on a count of all households.

        Overall in Ohio, the number of households with unmarried couples — both gay and heterosexual — increased 90.4 percent since 1990, and they account for 5.1 percent of all households.

        Of the 229,089 unmarried-couple households in Ohio, there were 9,266 male couples living together and 9,671 female couples living together in 2000.

        Of Ohio's largest cities, Columbus had the most same-sex couples reporting that they lived together, 2,588. Columbus also had the highest percentage of its households, 0.86 percent, occupied by gay couples.

        Gay-rights advocates estimate that in 1990, about 3,100 same-sex couples lived together in Ohio, meaning the number of gay couples living together increased by about six times in the past decade.

        “While we see a positive trend, this in no way, shape or form represents the numbers of gay families in Ohio,” said David Smith, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay-rights group with 400,000 members.

        Other gay-rights advocates agree that the numbers are underreported in Ohio and likely throughout the nation. They cite studies and polls from the November 2000 election to show that roughly 4 percent of the 100 million people who voted throughout the nation — or about 4 million people — said they were gay.

        Advocates say that getting an accurate head count of how many Americans are homosexuals — let alone how many gay couples are living together — is difficult because many fear discrimination if they disclose their orientation, especially on government forms.

        “People still shy away from what's supposed to be a confidential public reporting system because they still feel they could lose their jobs or face other legal issues,” said Jeff Redfield, executive director of Stonewall Columbus, a gay-rights organization.


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