Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Good News Would Be More Gays And Lesbians

Clearly, what Memphis and Shelby County need are more gays and lesbians.

After all, reports put Memphis near the bottom of the nation’s largest 50 cities in same sex couples and gay, lesbian and bisexual population. Meanwhile, Memphis is at the bottom in major economic indicators.

With only 3.5 percent of its MSA population, Memphis ranked #46 in gay and lesbian population, with only Buffalo, Detroit, Richmond and Riverside ranking lower.

Meanwhile, heading up the list were San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Portland, Tampa, Austin, Denver and Minneapolis. The cities topping this list also happen to be the cities that are proving the most successful in today’s economy and in attracting the highly-coveted 25-34 year-old college-educated workers (see Sunday’s post about the connection between this demographic and tolerant cities).

Dots Connect

Factoid: 11 of the top 15 leading high-tech metros are on the list of the cities with the largest gay, lesbian and bisexual population. Comparing the cities with large gay populations with the cities that are most successfully competing in today’s economy, it suggests that when Memphis rolls out its economic development plans for the future, we need to have attracting more gays at the top of our list.

Census Bureau data suggests that we are losing 25-34 year-old gays as fast, or faster, than straights of the same age. It appears that Nashville is a frequent destination (another booming economy by the way) where there is a more active gay community, more tolerance and a lower “redneck factor.”

To reprise our theme from Sunday’s post, tolerance as a selling point is vastly underrated and misunderstood in Memphis. But more and more, it is a priority for cities that understand how to attract and retain knowledge economy workers.

It is uppermost in the minds of this critical portion of the workforce as they make decisions on where they will work and live. It’s not that they are asking if cities have gays and a vibrant gay culture. Rather, they ask about how the city is open to them, how it welcomes their opinions and accepts their choices. There is no more telling indicator that the presence and acceptance of gays and lesbians.

Nothing Gay About Our Index

Statistics about same-sex couples and the gay, lesbian and bisexual population are contained in a recent report of the Williams Institute and is reminiscent of the widely misunderstood “Gay Index” made famous by Richard Florida in his book, The Rise of the Creative Class.

In his book, Mr. Florida pointed out that Memphis ranked #43 on the 1990 Gay Index and #41 on the 2000 Gay Index. At the same time, Memphis ranked #48 on the High-Tech Index. While those taking shots at his premise mischaracterized it to say that he was suggesting a direct correlation between gays and high-tech jobs, Mr. Florida actually made the point that gays concentrate in open, tolerant cities, and it is these kinds of cities that have a competitive advantage in attracting creative workers generally.

It’s our suspicion that the percentage of gays in Memphis is underreported. After all, the statistics are based on same sex couples, gays and lesbians identifying themselves. In a city with a historic problem with intolerance, it’s not surprising that there is a reluctance to respond openly, and there’s no question that African-American gays tend to stay deep in the closet.

In Memphis, 1,821 couples identified themselves as same sex couples, but the percentage of same sex couples here is about 20% lower than Nashville. In fact, the number of same sex couples was down 936 since 2000, suggesting an out-migration to friendlier environments, taking with them the higher percentage of college degrees when compared to straight couples.

Decent And Intelligent

In Tennessee, there are 148,868 gays, lesbians and bisexuals, and they are equally divided between males and females. Fourteen percent work for government.

In 2000, the gay and lesbian population of Memphis was listed at 30,531. If Memphis could record a sudden uptick in the number of same sex couples and gays and lesbians (or even in an increase based on feelings that things here are safe enough to identify yourselves), it’s a positive sign that things are getting better.

That’s why as Memphis follows key indicators and trends to chart its progress, chief among them should be a trend line for gays and lesbians.

Tolerance is now more than simple decency. Today, it’s a competitive necessity, the reflection of a community that is open and inclusive at a time when these qualities are vital if we are to compete for the kinds of jobs that matter most in a knowledge-based economy.


Steve Steffens said...

Yup, you're on target.

Bigoted comments in 3, 2, 1.....

Anonymous said...

I love gay people. Never met a happier bunch, and I'm not kidding. Artsy, life loving, creative folks that I only learn from. I don't understand why gay is an issue. It doesn't effect my life one way or the other. I'm happy to see a gay couple in love.

snoland said...

Yay!! This is a great way to argue with some of the bigots I have to deal with about this issue. I never can understand why they have to be in other people's lives, but now I ca nargue more than privacy! I hope the move to tolerance spreads beyond sexuality to religion, gender, and even further into race. It's really hard to think of a future here when it seems like such a closed city. The state is even worse than memphis on the religous intolerance scale. Horray for small steps, stand back for impending leap!

Anonymous said...

You produce good articles here most of the time but you blew it on this one.

You seem to have the attitude that Memphis is some grubby redneck town that is intolerant of everything. The one thing that can save us, according to your article, is a larger homosexual presence. As I said the other day, you might as well say fewer African Americans is also what we need since we have the largest black presence of any metro area in the USA and most poor people here are African American.

You also give statistical information though, to my knowledge, the Census Bureau doesn't measure sexual orientation.

So let me propose a radical alternative. Instead of making special efforts to attract gays, we concentrate on improving our racial tolerance and conditions, give better opportunities to our African American professionals, and work towards a city with a reputation for racial harmony. Additionally, you work on making Memphis a more family friendly city with improved neighborhoods which will help bring in people of all persuasions..

Smart City Consulting said...

anonymous 12:46:

It appears that your opinion obscured the point of the post. You might want to read the reports at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. They are authoritative and well-respected.

The primary point is that if Memphis is tolerance of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, it is prima facie tolerant, and that is a competitive advantage that we do not have, and because of it, it's not about recruiting more gays. It's a barrier to recruiting young, creative workers...period.

Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

hey anon, why don't you work on getting African Americans in Memphis to be more tolerant of people different from them? An example would be my friend who is Asian/Phillipine from NJ who worked at the hub at Fedex and experienced quite a bit of bigotry from his African American co-workers. But somehow, that is to be excused, right? It's more than a one-way street, pal.

Zippy the giver said...

So, having gays will fix it all and intolerance is why our leave?
They leave because we turn a lot of ignorance out of public schools, our drop out rate has always been abysmal, people do 100% what they think is right and if Gays are leaving Memphis it's be cause they have a marketable skill garnering "real money" in some other market where crime is lower like LA CA, NY NY, or almost any other "non-urban" city in the US.
They leave because they see no hope in a city where what should be important is played for it's value as political currency for as long as it can be without solution until it is dried up and worthless.
I find your post bigoted, but, I won't blame you for that, I blame what has traumatized you to even try to posit it as a "possible truth" and fuel for a blanket policy.
Gays leave for the same reasons that others leave.
They don't see an end to the boldfaced corruption and distraction tactics of local government and the baiting by the state.
Memphis digs it's own grave constantly and the state shovels dirt on top as it does.
WHO in their right mind would want to live here, when you could live somewhere else.

Anonymous said...