SHARAHN D. BOYKIN
The Daily Times
REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. – Rehoboth is among the Top 5 small cities for same-sex couples, according to a study based on U.S. Census Bureau data.
Rehoboth ranked fourth among cities with populations under 100,000 with 106.87 couples per capita, according to a report published by the Williams Institute, a national sexual orientation law and public policy think tank based at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“Particularly among smaller cities, the data reflects that the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) 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,” Gary Gates, a Williams Institute demographer, said in a written statement.
“People my age were much more hesitant to be open and say they were in a same-sex relationship,” said Steve Elkins, 61, the executive director of CAMP Rehoboth and editor of Letters from CAMP Rehoboth.
CAMP Rehoboth is a nonprofit, gay and lesbian community service organization.
Elkins and his partner, Murray Archibald, 57, co-founded CAMP Rehoboth about 20 years ago after they moved to the city when slogans such as “Keep Rehoboth a family town” were used, he said.
“We, too, want Rehoboth to be a family town, but families come in all sizes, all shapes and all orientations,” he said.
Elkins believes the U.S. Census Bureau attempted to collect data on same-sex couples during the 1990 survey with little success. The number of individuals who identified themselves as being in a homosexual relationship increased in 2000. Now, with more states passing laws making gay marriage legal and acknowledging same-sex civil unions, more people are likely to feel comfortable indicating they are a same-sex couple on a census survey, he said.
“We are in a major generational change,” he said.
Some officials said they expect the study’s findings to have a positive effect on tourism and bolster the city’s image of a diverse destination for all types of families.
“Just because you’re a same-sex couple doesn’t mean you’re not a family,” said Kathy McGuiness, a Rehoboth Beach commissioner. “We’re a wonderful, diverse community. We’re lucky to have that.”
Jess Savage, a 25-year-old Lewes resident, and her fiancée, Lauren Alderson, 21, visit Rehoboth about three times a month. While the bars and clubs are not strictly isolated to homosexual patrons, Savage said she feels like she doesn’t have to hide her relationship with Alderson while she is in the city.
“We go so we can be surrounded by family — other gay people,” Savage said.
When she lived in Chestertown, Md., Savage said she and Alerdson were subjected to “stares of disgust” that made her feel uncomfortable when they held hands in public.
“Being down here, we don’t have to worry about people staring at us because we’re gay,” she said.