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The Bay Citizen "Guerneville: The Bay Area's Same-Sex Couple Capital"

  • June 27, 2011
Long a popular gay vacation spot, the Russian River town is now drawing LGBT retirees
The Russian River resort town of Guerneville has the highest proportion of same-sex couples in the Bay Area, with 8.7 percent of all households headed by two men or two women.
That's according to a new report from the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles, which analyzed recently released figures from the U.S. Census Bureau — the first time the federal government has systematically tallied the number of same-sex households.
“There’s nothing here but rednecks, hippies and homosexuals,” joked Bob Bowling, 66, the bartender at the Rainbow Cattle Company, one of the town’s many gay-friendly bars and nightclubs.
When it comes to the sheer number of gays and lesbians, no one will ever confuse Guerneville with San Francisco. San Francisco is home to more than 10,384 same-sex couples, the census reports — more than double Guerneville's entire population of 4,534.
In Guerneville, the census counted just 101 same-sex partnerships — 55 gay male couples and 46 lesbian ones. (The Williams Institute believes the real number could be double that, since some gays and lesbians feel uncomfortable revealing the nature of their relationship on a government form.)
But there’s little doubt that 40 years of LGBT tourism to Guerneville are changing the town’s makeup. In all of California, only the gay vacation spot Palm Springs had a larger proportion of gay and lesbian households, according to the Williams Institute’s Gary Gates.
“This is the first generation of a retired, visible gay community,” Gates said.
“Data are starting to show that retiring LGBT people appear to be moving their permanent home to known gay vacation destinations,” he said.
Guerneville is also drawing younger gay and lesbian couples.
"There’s a longtime history of us being a gay and lesbian tourist destination since the late '70s, and over time a lot of people moved up here and made it their home," said Annie Boutelle, 37, who moved to Guerneville from San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood eight years ago with her partner.
Boutelle, who helps manage the Fern Grove Cottages, said she visited Guerneville for 10 years before moving up to the Russian River.
"I wanted to have space and land to farm vegetables. I'm very happy now," she said.
Bowling, the bartender, said he moved to Guerneville a decade ago after working for 15 years at the Eagle Tavern, a recently shuttered leather bar on Folsom Street.
“It’s just more relaxing here,” he said, “and gays and straights mix together easily.”
From the Bay Citizen. Written by Aaron Gantz. Published 6/27/2011