Sunday, October 17, 2004

Survey: What's gay-friendly, what's not?

By Maggie Downs
Enquirer staff writer

On their questionnaires, gays wrote in specific places where they go to connect with others - and places they avoid:

Where gay people go: Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Esquire Theater in Clifton; Quaker meetings; gay sports groups; online chat sites; coffee shops (Starbucks and Sitwells); the Aronoff Center for the Arts downtown; St. John's Unitarian Universalist Church in Clifton; Newport on the Levee; MainStrasse in Covington; neighborhoods (Clifton, Northside, College Hill); Cincinnati Youth Group; gay-straight alliances and meetings of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network; friends' houses; the Gay and Lesbian Community Center; gay bars (Jacob's on the Avenue and Bullfishes, both in Northside; the Yadda Club and Rosie's, both in Covington; Hamburger Mary's, Carol's on Main, the Dock, and Pipeline, all downtown); MUSE: Cincinnati Women's Choir rehearsals and concerts; the University of Cincinnati women's studies department.

Places gay people avoid: Suburban malls; the bus; Clermont County; Covington floodwall; downtown Cincinnati; church festivals; the West Side; Catholic churches; "anyplace with WLW people"; Republican events; Dayton, Ky.; sporting events; and chain restaurants on Valentine's Day.

This Enquirer special report is the first of four parts:

Today: Coming to terms with gay issues
Survey: What's gay-friendly, what's not?
Covington's legal protections 'reassuring'
Voters, churches and lawyers weigh in on debate on rights
Words and phrases to know
Calls refer to homosexual rights
Bronson: Straight, gay: disagreeing without hate
Monday: Same-sex couples and raising kids
Tuesday: Revealing the secret
Wednesday: Daily workplace drama

Online special:
Complete results of WCPO/Enquirer poll
Gay in Cincinnati: What do you think?
Kings Island and the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art are cool.

Reds and Bengals ballgames are not.

And the downtown Cincinnati entertainment district on Main Street? Many gay residents say they never go near it.

These are findings from an informal survey of local gays and lesbians conducted by the Enquirer over the past two months. The newspaper distributed more than 1,000 questionnaires to 32 gay gathering spots in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Nearly 100 questionnaires were returned.

On a scale of 1 to 10 - with 1 being hostile and 10 being the most welcoming - respondents gave Kings Island amusement park, the Art Center and downtown's five-star Maisonette restaurant 7s and 8s. Respondents said places are gay-friendly if they see other gay people there - and their own sexual orientations can be revealed and respected.

The Cincinnati Zoo, Newport on the Levee and MainStrasse Village in Covington all scored mostly 6s. One woman praised the zoo for selling a family membership to her and her female partner more than 20 years ago. (Two named adults and all children in the same household constitute a family, according to the zoo's membership policy.)

Professional sports games, Fountain Square and Main Street downtown rated mostly 3s, 4s and 5s.

"Downtown, I feel like I'm out of my element," says Steve Nichols, 33, a Villa Hills resident. "It's out of the zone of safety, and anything can happen."

He cites an incident when he and his partner were stuck in downtown traffic after a Bengals game. The windows were rolled down on the blistering day. Then, from the car wedged in on their right side, Nichols heard a man talking on his cell phone.

"All he said was, 'I don't know. There are a couple of fags over here on my left.' "

Nichols says the car full of men exploded with laughter. Immediately, "my whole sense of safety was shaken."

According to the informal survey, workplaces are generally accepting of gays, while religious groups are less so. Forty people said religious groups in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky are "not very accepting."

"I don't feel like I'm always welcome in certain places. I always have to look around and see where we are," says Candice Evans, 36, of Blanchester.

Many respondents said friends or family members have left the region because of bad feelings toward gays. Some have considered moving themselves.

Nichols and his partner of seven years have lost friends to places like Key West, Miami and Los Angeles. Nichols himself recently thought about moving to Toronto - "a place where I can get married, where my relationship can be validated and where my partner could get health-care benefits," he says.

He was one of the 64 respondents who said they would get married if gay marriage were legal.

Lawrence Wolf, 83, of University Heights says the local community is becoming more tolerant of gays and lesbians - but slowly.

"There is a growing acceptance, particularly on the part of the young," he says. "But we still have some rather loud-mouthed critics who are trying to maintain old-time bigotry."


Coming to terms with gay issues
Survey: What's gay-friendly, what's not?
Covington's legal protections 'reassuring'
Voters, churches and lawyers weigh in on debate on rights
Words and phrases to know
• Online special: Complete results of WCPO/Enquirer poll

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