Topeka The number of same-sex partner households in Kansas showed a fivefold increase in the past decade, with such living arrangements found in all 105 counties.
Many feel the numbers don't reflect more gay men and lesbians in Kansas, but more same-sex partners acknowledging their living arrangements in the 2000 Census Bureau questionnaire.
The figures also showed most same-sex households were in urban areas, although there was an increase in rural areas. Even so, rainbow flags a symbol of the gay and lesbian community aren't flying from tractors.
"We were there all along. We just weren't being counted," said David Elliot of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington. "It's not like we were invented in the last decade because of Ellen DeGeneres."
Donald Haider-Markel, a Kansas University political science professor, agreed.
"There is no reason to think the number of gay and lesbian people has changed over time. The only thing that changed is the number who would identify themselves," he said.
Haider-Markel also said the numbers don't really reflect how many gays and lesbians live in Kansas because the question was asked only of couples.
"I'm not sure these figures give us a true sense of the gay and lesbian population in the state," he said.
Haider-Markel estimated the state's overall gay and lesbian population around 2 percent of the 2,688,418 Kansans the Census Bureau reported for April 1, 2000.
Census figures released Tuesday showed 3,973 same-sex partner households in Kansas in 2000, a 514 percent increase from 1990.
Male couples made up 1,888 households a 423 percent jump and female couples comprised 2,085 households a 629 percent increase.
Same-sex partner households made up 9.4 percent of the state's 42,299 unmarried partner households and 0.38 percent of all 1,037,891 Kansas households.
In 1990, unmarried partner statistics were based on a sample of responses while the 2000 figures were based on a count of all households.
Elliot said same-sex partner households were undercounted in 1990 because many people didn't know how to fill out the form correctly or didn't want to disclose the information to the government.
"Even if they are willing to mark it, that doesn't mean they are out in any other part of their lives," Haider-Markel said.
But, he added, "During the 1990s, more people came out. People who wouldn't have marked the question in 1990 would have done so in 2000."
Sedgwick County led with 820 same-sex partner households, including 685 in Wichita. The numbers ran all the way down to one or two such households in many of the rural western counties.
There's a comfort level for same-sex partners living in urban areas, which tend to be more tolerant of diversity, said Haider-Markel, who has researched and written about gay and lesbian issues.
"The biggest reason for moving to an urban area is the psychological cost of staying in the closet," he said. "The notion that you can't be who you are you can't say 'we' when talking about your personal life."
The statistics came from answers to questions on census forms including gender and, if two or more people lived in a home, "What is your relationship?"
The census didn't ask about sexuality, but offered "unmarried partner" as a way to describe a relationship between two unrelated people living together.
If "unmarried partner" was checked off on the census form, and either two men or two women live in the home, that could suggest a gay or lesbian relationship.
The figures also showed that in 2000, 1,429 same-sex partner households were in rural Kansas, the Human Rights Campaign in Washington noted. In 1990, there were 185 such households in rural areas.
Haider-Markel said there have been no major problems with same-sex partners living in rural areas. That may be because they don't advertise their lifestyle and rural Kansans' general live-and-let-live attitude.
"It's when people want to bring their private lives to the public that some people get upset," he said. "As long as they say nothing, they will be OK, but when they start flying rainbow colored flags, it'll be a problem."