Sonoma County No. 2'gayest' area in U.S.

Sonoma County is the second "gayest" metropolitan area in the nation.

That's according to a demographer at the University of California Los Angeles, who crunched census numbers to find areas with the highest percentage of residents living in same-sex relationships.

Not surprisingly, San Francisco led the list with 12.4 same-sex couples per 1,000 households.

The Santa Rosa Metropolitan Area — in effect Sonoma County — was No.2 with 7.63 gay couples per 1,000 households, a rate 56 percent greater than the national average. Sixty-three percent of Sonoma County's same-sex couples were men.

The statistics were compiled by Gary Gates, a researcher at UCLA's Williams Institute, a think tank on sexual-orientation law, who based his findings on data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2008 American Community Survey.

His results were published this week in an article called "America's Top 20 Gayest Cities" that appeared on the website The Daily Beast.

Portland, Maine; Boston and Seattle rounded out the top five. The rankings take no account of gay single populations.

While Guerneville has long been seen as a gay magnet, the results underscore that Sonoma County is not just a getaway for large numbers of gays, it's also home.

The results were no shock to Gary Saperstein, who has lived near the town of Sonoma for 16 years. Last August, he and friends started Sonoma GayDar, a social group for area gays.

In less than a year, the group's monthly meetings have started attracting upwards of 100 people, including last month when they met at a golf driving range to watch "Mommie Dearest" on a portable screen. Businesses are clamoring for them to visit, he said.

Guerneville has the reputation as the county's gay center but Saperstein said Santa Rosa and the town of Sonoma have sizeable gay communities.

The dearth of gay bars outside of the Russian River signifies how much of Sonoma's gay community is older and in relationships and thus more likely to go to a dinner party than to a bar crawl, he said.

The prevalence of couples is about the only drawback to the area for a single man such as himself, he joked. Saperstein recently started "Out In The Vineyard," a wine-country tour company geared to gay customers.

Joe Lesca, a leader of the Sonoma County Chapter of Marriage Equality USA, which supports same-sex marriages, said he attributes the county's popularity to the quality of life, the popularity of Guerneville and the proximity to San Francisco.

He also said the county is considered politically gay friendly. In 2008, two-thirds of Sonoma County voters cast their ballots against Proposition 8, which limited marriage to a man and woman. In May the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors passed a a resolution commending the gay and lesbian community.

Lynette McClean, who owns the Highlands Resort in Guerneville with her husband, said the county has become increasingly welcoming to gays. A decade ago, large local hotels seemed to have no interest in the gay community, now they getting certified as gay friendly, she said.

At the same time, she said increasingly numbers of straight clients are also frequenting businesses that used to be almost exclusively gay, she said.

Gates said Sonoma County's numbers are in line with earlier results. The list's greater significance was to show that sizable gay communities exist throughout the country, he said, including in cities such as Austin, Texas, (No. 7 on the list); Denver (No. 13); Ithaca, N.Y.; (No. 14),and Columbus, Ohio (No. 16). Gays aren't just in the coastal cities as many people often think, Gates said.

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