Gay family beach?

For Weekly SurgeSeptember 1, 2011 

Chris Rudisill.

The Grand Strand is known for its hospitality and friendly nature, but its also long been known for its redneck clientele and often small town conservative nature. That's why it was both a surprise and justification two weeks ago when the Williams Institute, a leading think-tank on issues of law and public policy related to sexual orientation and gender identity, released its statistical snapshot of the 2010 South Carolina Census data on same-sex couples. Myrtle Beach, which often ranks among the top family beach destinations in the nation, came back with the highest density of lesbian and gay couples in the state.

With 11.67 same-sex households per 1,000, or approximately 141, Myrtle Beach took the top spot in number and density. North Myrtle Beach ranked fifth having 9.86 same-sex couples per 1,000 households, or approximately 66 and Horry County as a whole ranked fifth in the state with approximately 872 same-sex couples. Charleston County had the highest number of same-sex couples with 1,177 and Jasper County had the highest density - 8.93 per 1,000 households.

The report shows South Carolina with an average of 6.4 same-sex couples per 1,000 households for a total of 11,532. "This is a big jump from 2000 (Census data)," says Christine Johnson of S.C. Equality. The Williams Institute reported 7,609 same-sex couples lived in South Carolina then. More than 66 percent of the same-sex couples in the state now are women and 34 percent are male. Twenty-five percent of those couples are raising families, which goes along with early reports from January that parenting by gay and lesbian couples was more common in the South. The District of Columbia, which was counted as a state for the purpose of the survey ranked highest with 19.3 same-sex for every 1,000 households. North Carolina came in with 7.28 same-sex couples per 1,000 households. The 2010 Census was the first time that gay and lesbian partners had the option of choosing "unmarried partner" as the relationship with another household member. This year also marks the first time that some states will actually report data on married same-sex couples.

Micki Strickland, owner of Rainbow House Bar & Grill in Myrtle Beach told WPDE Channel 15 that she sees Myrtle Beach as a "giant melting pot." Like many beach towns, that melting pot is caused by migration of people from the Northeast and even some Midwest cities which are often a bit more liberal and diverse. Another factor is also retirement. Gary Gates, a Williams Institute demographer said in a statement following the official release of the nationwide data that "the LGBT community has dispersed beyond traditional enclaves as social stigma eases, couples are more comfortable coming out and a generation of aging and out same-sex couples begin to retire."

However, even with good reports such as these - many believe that the actual numbers from the Census Reports will be lower than what's really out there. The Williams Institute even mentions that many same-sex couples still feel that it's too risky to identify themselves honestly on a government survey such as the Census. These reports take that into consideration so they may be the best number we can reach. The population of the United States will not be enumerated again until 2020, in which time more states, if not all, will hopefully have legalized gay marriage and we will have an accurate account for our communities. However, the numbers here make it harder for our government to disregard our existence or justify unequal legislation.

S.C. PRIDE

South Carolina Pride kicks off this week in Columbia. The event is a project of the Harriett Hancock Community Center and the South Carolina Pride Movement, a statewide organization dedicated to celebrating, advocating, educating and supporting the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) communities of the Palmetto State. Here's a quick primer on a few of the events.

Saturday - Saturday is the big day with the WXRY Parade heading down Main Street, west along Gervais, then north back up Park Street to Finlay Park where the festival will run from noon to 6 p.m. and feature return performances by Martha Wash and dance music superstar Amber. The event will also feature vendors from the region and the 2011 S.C. Gay and Lesbian Business Guild Expo. VIP Tent tickets are available which include a meet-and-greet with the headlining entertainers, beer, soda, exclusive stage access and most importantly - shade all day. Advance tickets are $25 available online at www.scpride.org and $30 the day of the event.

Sunday - The Sunday after offers some events for the more spiritually inclined as well as a few ways to keep the party going. First up, Reformation Lutheran Church, at 1101 Union Street, Columbia, will host a Pride Sunday Worship Service starting at 9 a.m. The congregation at this Evangelical Lutheran Church was winner of the 2009 S.C. Pride community service award for promoting human rights. Garden of Grace United Church of Christ, located at 1020 Atlas Road, Columbia will also have a Candlelight Worship Service starting at 11 a.m.

For more details visit www.scpride.org.

OUT & ABOUT

Friday, Sept. 2 - The First Friday Happy Hour group will meet from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. Sept. 2 at California Dreaming, located at 2657 Beaver Run Blvd. in Myrtle Beach. First Friday is a gay professionals' after work happy hour where everyone is welcome. For more information email FirstFriday@GambleLivingston.com.

Have a thought, comment or Out & About event? Send Chris Rudisill an e-mail to SouthernGayWriter@gmail.com. You can also follow along on Facebook.com@SouthernGayWriter for more news and events.

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