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Gazette Premium Content Census: Number of same sex couples surges in El Paso County

MARIA ST.LOUIS-SANCHEZ Updated: June 29, 2011 at 12:00 am

The number of same sex couples in El Paso County surged by 80 percent from 2000 to 2010 — a growth rate about four times higher than the county’s total population rate, according to data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The data on same-sex households are part of a large census release of Colorado data that also includes details on the race, ethnicity, household structure and age of residents.

According to the census, a total of 1,550 — or about 6.6 per 1,000 households — in El Paso County report to be headed by same-sex partners. About 28 percent of those households have kids. In 2000, 860 households were reported to be headed by same-sex partners.

The data show what many in the gay and lesbian community say they have seen for years —  an increase in their population and also more of an effort by their members of their community to report their home status on the Census form.

“One of the reasons you are probably seeing the increase, is that the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) community is becoming more aware of what is oppressing them,” said Charles Irwin, executive director of the Colorado Springs Pride Center. “You are probably seeing more people saying ‘yes this is a GLBT household.’”

Penny Green, an assistant professor of sociology at Colorado State University-Pueblo agrees.

“I think those people have been here all along,” she said. “I can’t imagine that all of a sudden we have a huge increase in gays and lesbians. I have a feeling that people feel that they can be and they want to be more open. “

She said members of gay households are becoming less scared to reveal themselves as they feel more accepted in the community.  She said this happens as more heterosexuals get to know their gay neighbors and family members.

“All of these myths they have are disproven and they find out how ordinary and safe they are,” she said. “After awhile it matters less and less what their sexual orientation is.”

In 2010, a Gallup poll found for the first time that a majority of Americans found gay and lesbian relations morally acceptable.  In that same survey in 2011, 56 percent of Americans found them morally acceptable while 39 percent found them morally unacceptable.

Amy Ramos said she and her partner, Erin Madigan, made a concerted effort to be counted as a same-sex household when the census form came to their house.

“We made sure we did everything we could on the form that would point to us being a gay family,” she said.

Ramos and Madigan have been partners for about five years and together raise the four children that Ramos had from a former marriage. During the summers, a 12-year-old family friend also joins them. They spend their lives working full-time jobs, shuttling their kids to various sporting events and managing their sons’ wresting club.

“We’re just a typical family,” she said. “We have four kids, they are in three different sports, and we’re very involved in everything.”

Ramos, originally from Colorado Springs, moved to Texas and Mississippi when she was younger and came back to be closer to her family. Even though she grew up here, she was worried about how she would be perceived in a city that has a reputation for being hostile to gays and lesbians.

“It worried me for my kids’ sake,” she said. “I didn’t want them to be treated any differently.”

She said they’ve felt comfortable since they moved within the boundaries of Colorado Springs School District 11.

“The teachers and parents we’ve come across in the kids schools have been amazing, they don’t discriminate,” she said.

Politically, the city is still conservative on the issue of same-sex relationships. In the recent nonpartisan Colorado Springs mayoral election,  a question on a Focus on the Family survey asked candidates whether they would issue a proclamation endorsing the annual gay pride parade.  Seven of the nine candidates — including Mayor Steve Bach — said they opposed issuing such proclamation. Bach kept to his word and did not sign a proclamation endorsing the 2011 PrideFest.

Even so, Madigan said she doesn’t feel discriminated against in Colorado Springs.

 “I know when it comes to the mayor and stuff, yeah the city seems intolerant, but in the day-to-day stuff with other people, not at all.”

The city’s reputation probably does keep some families quiet about their sexuality, said pride center director Irwin. He suspects Colorado Springs has even more same-sex households than what was reported in the census numbers. Still, he said, he’s glad that more people are being counted.

“Do I think everyone has come streaming out? No,” said Irwin. “But I do see a movement where people are saying to themselves and their friends, ‘it’s time people realized that we do live here and we do everything that you do.’”

See an interactive map that shows how the number of same sex households have grown through the state.

Contact the writer at 636-0274.

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