Friday, August 5, 2011

Gay Golconda: Nevada's Homo Haven?!?

Lots of folks are slicing and dicing 2010 Census data, including those interested in tracking the lives of gays and lesbians. The Census does not ask sexual orientation so there's no raw count of how many gay Americans there are, but it does track same-sex households by allowing gays to check either "married" or "unmarried partner" when indicating the second adult's relationship to whomever is Person No. 1.

The first time this was done was in 2000. Before that, the computer automatically changed the gender of Person No. 2 to make hetero-sense of the responses. When the data came out in 2001, it was significant because it was statistical proof that gays literally, truly, are everywhere. Same-sex couples lived in more than 99% of counties in America, meaning we lived among the rest of you even in the reddest, most conservative and religious nooks.

Thus, it's not surprising that on this go-around, the data similarly shows there are same-sex couples in all 17 counties in Nevada. It's equally unsurprising that the percentage and raw numbers of them is high in the Vegas and Reno areas as well as Pahrump. You can see the various breakdowns, including by gender and percent with children, for Nevada and almost every other state here.

But take a look at this map from the Williams Institute at UCLA's Law School:

What, pray tell, is that darker blue splotch that suggests a concentration of The Gay up there in the middle of Northern Nevada's mining country? At first, I thought maybe it was third-largest-"city" Elko, but it's not. I consulted a Silver State county map so I could determine...

...that it sits in the southeastern corner of Humboldt County. This graphic shows Winnemucca, which would be of gay historical significance because one of the most beloved characters in the great novelist Armistead Maupin's "Tales Of The City" series, Mrs. Madrigal (played by Olympia Dukakis in the PBS mini-series) was raised there in a brothel. Her mom's character, in fact, is Mother Mucca.

I digress, though. I got Dr. Gary Gates, the demographer responsible for tabulating and analyzing these numbers, to make sense of that splotch. We worked out that, in fact, the census tract that is that shape doesn't even include Winnemucca. Rather, according to the Census website... just misses that metropolis. Instead, there's another colored bubble therein that implies some sign of life. Let's look closer:


Uh, what?

Golconda. Duhhh! Everybody open your Internet hymnals to Wikipedia:

Golconda is an unincorporated community in Humboldt County, Nevada, United States. Located along Interstate 80 in the northwestern part of the state, it is named for the ancient diamond mining center of Golkonda in India. The community lies east of the city of Winnemucca and the Golconda Summit, a nearby mountain pass. A post office is located in the community.

Golconda was built when discovery of copper, silver, gold, and lead brought entrepreneurs who opened mines and mills in the district. The town was a diverse society including both native-born Americans as well as foreign populations including individuals of French, Portuguese, Paiute, and Chinese descent who all lived and worked in the small community. During 1898-1910, the town had a train depot, several hotels, a school, businesses, newspapers, and two brothels. Its population peaked at about six hundred in 1907-08. Although boosters predicted growth for Golconda, after 1910 the mines played out, leaving the region as an area of ranches and farms. Most of the town's buildings from its mining heyday are gone, and Golconda today is a minor stop on Interstate 80.

And that's all she cut-and-pasted, folks! A short, dry passage, nothing to indicate a love of rainbows or show tunes or Subarus. I may go and update this page shortly, however, to provide the BREAKING NEWS that it's also, according to the data, the GAY CAPITAL OF NORTHERN NEVADA.

Gates and I had quite a chuckle over this. He said that sometimes anomalies arise because people live in complicated households of multiple adults and shared-custody children and don't fill out the forms right. But he took a careful look at what Census gives us for that tract and he found that there are 17 same-sex couples among the 1,824 households reported. (The Wikipedia entry indicating that the population peaked at 600 more than a century ago could refer to a peak at that time and not more recent population data. I'm further baffled by the 1,824 households, though, because this also implies far fewer people up there than what Census came up with.)

Either way, 17 pairs is obviously not a particularly large number, but proportionately -- that is, per capita -- it puts Golconda in league with the Reno area and makes it significantly gay-coupleier than Pahrump. And Pahrump is holding its first gay pride event in a couple weeks!

Here's a cute old picture from the UNR library showing Goldconda in its heyday:

I've put in a request with the Nevada Secretary of State to see how many same-sex couples are registered domestic partners in those parts. (You can be counted as a couple on the Census but not be registered with the state.) I can't wait to ring some of them up and ask them: What gives? Is there a hummus place up there to die for or something? Did "Brokeback Mountain" inspire some sort of retro, head-for-the-hills migration boom? D0es the County Commission hand out free Birkenstocks?

Why do I feel I've got one last Nevada reporting trip in my future?

P.S. Thanks to whomever it was who put that uber-gay-looking Golconda ballcap pic on the Interwebs. God only knows why, but bless you.


Jeff Simpson said...

Your trip may also prove to be a Census-fraud expose. I remember stories about Census enumerators making up Census reports in the 1980 census because they were paid on a form-by-form basis, giving money-motivated workers an incentive to create fictitious households. Of course the Wilipedia population numbers could prove to be bogus, but, if not, it's hard to imagine why Golconda's population climbed so fast unless there's a new mine there or some other big employer. Good luck with your inquiry.

Don B said...

I can't speak for Golconda, but I do spend quite a bit of time up in that area of Nevada and have encountered a fairly high number of women who live in the area and, based on the visible characteristics of their interactions with other women, lead me to wondering whether they might be lesbian. I never see men who are similarly comfortable with other men (except male couples who appear to be tourists), so either gay men leave the area or they hide their interaction more.

There is also some slight evidence that suggests the existence of small, polygamous heterosexual Mormon communities in very rural Nevada, in which case multiple wives may live together in separate households. This would probably be very rare, but it could account for some of the numbers.

Re Jeff Simpson's comment, there is a fair amount of new extraction-related activity occurring in rural Nevada. I was in Elko in July and it was booming due to natural gas exploration and gold mining, with the local paper noting that housing had become so expensive that people were having to live in distant areas. Since the extraction industries often have workforces that move every few years, there may be same-sex households who are such for convenience. I doubt those would claim 'unmarried partner' on the forms, but there is a case where census takers may have incorrectly coded same-sex households. (Of course, I rather believe all those miners are having fun together....)