Remember Benoit Denizet-Lewis’ lengthy exploration of young gay marrieds in Sunday’s New York Times?
Well, the journalist got flack for only profiling white, middle-class, educated men, which led some to wonder whether he simply chose to ignore people of color.
Tired of whispers and murmurs, Denizet-Lewis sent out an email earlier this afternoon and tried to clear things up.
He’s not a racist, you see, but simply couldn’t find any black people! In fact, there aren’t many black marrieds to be found, he says – after the jump, of course.
Some of you have questioned why I focused only on white couples in my story. I did so because I could not find a single married male couple of color in their twenties in Massachusetts to write about. I spent a month looking, and I was only able to find one couple of color (both men are Asian). But they were in a long-distance relationship (one lived in Boston, the other in California), and I was not able to spend time with them together before my deadline.
Am I claiming that there are no young gay married male couples of color living in Massachusetts? Absolutely not. There may be some (there certainly are plenty of gay male couples of color who aren’t married), but after a month of looking (calling gay organizations, sending out countless emails, asking every gay person I knew to ask every gay person they knew, etc.), I did not find any who were married. I knew I would be criticized for not including a young gay couple of color. But I could not write about something I could not find.
I do reference a study in my article that found that those who are choosing to register their relationships are “overwhelmingly European American.” (Other demographers and gay marriage experts seconded the findings of that study.) I have attached the complete study, but what follows is the relevant text. The entire study can be found in handy PDF form at the end of this posting.
We hoped that including two states with large ethnic-minority populations would increase the racial and ethnic diversity of our sample, yet the majority of same-sex couples who participated in our study identified as White.
One possibility involves a sampling bias–that people of color were less likely to complete the survey. However, it appears that couples who choose to legalize their same-sex relationships are overwhelmingly European American. Vermont is the only one of the three states in our study that asks about race and ethnicity on the civil union certificate.
In 2004, 92% of civil union participants identified as White, exactly the same as that of our Vermont sample (Richard McCoy, Vermont Department of Health, personal communication, April 21, 2006). Thus, we have reason to believe that our sample was comparable to the overall population of same-sex couples in legalized relationships in regard to race and ethnic composition.
In the Black Pride Survey (Battle et al., 2002), marriage and domestic partnerships were listed as one of three of the most important issues facing
Black LGBT people. Yet, only 6% of the sample was married to a same-sex partner; this finding corresponds to the results of our study for African American respondents.
Why are same-sex couples of color less likely to legalize their relationships?
It is possible that LGB people of color may be faced with the dilemma of choosing between the LGB communities and the communities of color (e.g., Greene, 1994, 1997, 2000; Walters, 1998). Greene (1994) has referred to lesbians of color as those who are facing a triple jeopardy based on minority gender, race, and sexual orientation–which would logically present gay men of color with a double jeopardy. Consider, for example, the following quote: “If I could take all my parts with me when I go somewhere, and not have to say to one of them, “No, you stay home tonight, you won’t be welcome,” because I’m going to an all-white party where I can be gay, but not Black. Or, I’m going to a Black poetry reading, and half the poets are antihomosexual, or thousands of situations where something of what I am cannot come with me. The day all the different parts of me can come along, we would have a revolution.” (Parker, as quoted in Battle et al., 2002, p. vi)
Thus, same-sex couples of color may prefer not to come out publicly (in the form of a legalized relationship that is a matter of public record) in order to stay close to their communities of origin. Bennett and Battle (2001) have described the role of homophobia in Black churches, for example.
Finally, marriage has been criticized by queer scholars of color. In the chapter “Is Gay Marriage Racist?” (Bailey, Kandaswamy, & Richardson, 2004), the authors state, “In the U.S., race is the strongest determinant of whether or not the state chooses to recognize your parental ties. Black families are the most likely of any racial group to be disrupted by Child Protection authorities, and 42 percent of all children in foster care in the U.S. are black. If being married doesn’t protect straight black families from having their children taken away, it’s unlikely that it will protect queer black families. It is incredibly important that we organize to have non-biological ties to children recognized and respected. While marriage might offer limited protections to some people, it will not change the racist and homophobic practices through which Child Protection Services determines who is fit or unfit to be a parent (89).”
I was also criticized by some for writing about upper-middle-class people. While several of the young men I profile are far from upper-middle-class (Brandon Andrew is a waiter and stuggles to pay his art school college tuition on his own; Vassili is also a waiter; Marc works as a manager of a dental office), demographers and those who have studied what kind of gay men register their relationships have found that the vast majority are a) college educated, b) well off financially. This is especially true in Massachusetts.
What follows are two excerpts from the same study:
There was a significant interstate difference on level of education, with
couples in Massachusetts being more educated (having completed a college degree, on average) than those in California or Vermont (who had come close to a college degree, on average). There was also a significant interstate difference for income, with couples in Vermont earning lower incomes (by about $20,000 lower, on average) than those of couples in Massachusetts or California. Men also earned significantly higher incomes than did women.
There were few significant interstate differences, and some of them can be accounted for by the demographics of the state. Couples in Massachusetts were the most highly educated, possibly reflecting Massachusetts as a center of many colleges and universities.
In addition, our Massachusetts sample lived in Cambridge and Somerville, both suburbs of Boston with its high population of college students and faculty. However, couples in all three states had high mean levels of education, similar to other studies of LGBs (e.g., Rothblum, Balsam, & Mickey, 2004; Rothblum & Factor, 2001; Solomon et al., 2004), including studies of LGBs of color–for example, in the Black Pride Survey, over half the respondents had college degrees and an additional 29% had some college (Battle, Cohen,Warren, Fergerson, & Audam, 2002). As compared to couples in Vermont, twice as many couples in Massachusetts and California lived in large cities, probably reflecting the large urban centers in the latter two states. Even though the Vermont sample was more so a national sample, with only 24% of the sample residing in Vermont, many states are more rural than Massachusetts or California.
Should I have done more explaining in my story about why I focused on the couples I did? Perhaps. Should someone write an article looking at why it seems to be mostly white and financially well off gay men who are getting married? Absolutely. (I may even do it myself.) But I hope this email, and the text of the study I reference, will help explain where I was coming from.
Rothblum’s Study [PDF]