In Greater Minnesota, Census Bureau finds Pine City area to be the most gay

Census:  Pokegama is the township with the highest proportion of same-sex partners in the state; also Rock Creek and Pine City are among gayest cities Statewide

In the last 10 years, Minnesota saw quite the surge in the number of same-sex households and the brunt of the growth, 80% of it, took place beyond Minneapolis and St. Paul—in the suburbs, exurbs and the least likely of small towns—places like Pine City. 

Or is Pine City the least likely of places?

According to the U.S. Census, which recently released its second-ever count of same-sex partners in Minnesota, the Greater Pine City area is home to some of the most concentrated same-sex coupled households among any of the areas of the State, outside of metropolitan areas.

There are 1,786 townships in Minnesota and the “gayest” of them all is Pokegama Township (pop. 2,743), which surrounds the city of Pine City on three sides.  White Bear Township (pop. 10,949) is the only township that has more by sheer numbers—just eight more households—but Pokegama by far has the highest percentage, 2.1% of all of the households, more than twice that of the average across the State.  In Minnesota, there were 13,718 same-sex couples in 2010, accounting for about one percent of couples statewide.

Pine City itself, within the relatively-small municipal limits, has eight such couples, a 14.3% increase from the previous Census, which even then was higher than the State average.   The city had the equivalent or more same-sex coupled households than a handful of cities over twice its size, including St. Joseph (pop. 6,534), Victoria (pop. 7,345), Big Lake (pop. 7,386), Baxter (pop. 7,610), Mahtomedi (pop. 7,676), Crookston (pop. 7,891), Cambridge (pop. 8,111) and Waconia (pop. 10,697) – even Hennepin County’s Minnetrista (6,384).

And, Rock Creek, just 1.5 miles down the road, has twice as many same-sex coupled households as Pine City.  Yet just 20 miles to the west, in Mora, a community of similar size and distance from the Twin Cities, there weren’t any same sex couples reported to be living there. 

As far as counties are concerned, only Hennepin and Ramsey have more same-sex couple households per thousand households; Pine County comes in third out of all 87 counties.

Some may ask, “Why does this rural part of the state have a higher concentration of same-sex couples?”

Why Pine City?

When looked at in comparison to other areas outside of Micro and Metropolitan statistical areas, Pine City stood out as having a high proportion of same-sex couples living within it.

The Greater Pine City community has a history of dealing with gay issues stemming back to 1996, when a hometown guy, Wally Lundin, was found in his Minneapolis apartment gagged and bound, left for dead, the victim of a gay hate crime.    When a plethora of news reports spoke of the 1983 Pine City High School graduate’s death, if not sooner, it was then that the community realized there were GLBT people among them.

Before that, in the late 1980’s, a few locals were able to get to know Hüsker Dü legend Bob Mould and his partner, who took up residency just south of Pine City in an old farmhouse, in what is considered Rock Creek.  It was there he would write the songs to make up his first and best-selling album, “Notebook”.  

In 2005, Pine City became home to one of the first rural gay prides in the country, East Central Minnesota Pride.  Hundreds of people turned out for the event, which continued to be held on an annual basis despite organized protests by some ‘profamily’ groups (Never mind that nearly half of the same-sex couple households in Pine City and two-thirds of the same-sex couple households in Rock Creek are families of their own, with children).

Another reason for the concentration in the Pine City area might be that the City is like its tagline suggests, “North. Nice and close.”  People are coming here from the Twin Cities area, primarily, because of the great quality of life.  And because of events like pride, there are opportunities for people to be open about who they are and who they love.

And, while Minneapolis has been named the nation’s most gay-friendly city, Pine City has evidence of a community that embraces gay as well.    Consider this:  the city is home to a health food store, gyms, a community theater and an arts center—not to mention the recreational aspects of the Snake River and nearby lakes.  One can buy anything from hummus to sushi here. 

“It’s different than a lot of small towns” said Travis Peterson, who moved to Pine City from Mora immediately after graduating high school there.  “Pine City can offer the lifestyle and the comfort zone.  It’s a progressive city that’s been welcoming, and the word spreads.”

Others in the community, including straight residents, are becoming aware of the changes.  The Census also suggests there is an aging population here, which in a way flies in the face of the usual myth that older people won’t accept gays.

Yes the Twin Cities is considered the gay mecca between the coasts and Minneapolis accounts for nearly one in four same-sex couples, towering over the rest of the state in sheer numbers, but its dominance is fading to places like Pine City.  Although, the Pine City numbers reported by the Census may even be lower than reality; some in the community think there are probably additional couples out there who for whatever reasons are nervous about reporting they are in a same-sex relationship.   

“You wouldn’t believe how many gay people live around here,” asserted Rob Morrisette, owner of Rob’s Place Salon, downtown Pine City.  “I have a lot of local clients who are gay.”

Promising is that it is believed that the numbers are becoming more accurate because of social and political changes in recent years that have made gay and lesbian people more willing to identify themselves.

Bottom line, as reported recently in the Star Tribune, the increase since 2000 in the number of same-sex partners reflects three changes:   More gays and lesbians in the area; more choosing to live together; and more of them willing to identify themselves as gay.

Fewer are married

Another finding from the latest Census 2010 data, there are fewer married households in Pine City and in Pine County today than 10 years ago:

Married households in Pine County

  • 2000:  5,620 out of 9,939 or 57%
  • 2010: 5,862 out of 11,373 or 52%

 Married households in Pine City

  • 2000:  523 out of 1,222 or 43%
  • 2010:  498 out of 1,333 or 38%

List of Gayest Cities outside a MN Metropolitan Statistical Area by Number

City (pop.)                                             No.                                            %

  1. Mahnomen (1,214)                       10                                            4.0
  2. Pine City (3,123)                           8                                              1.3
  3. Dassel (1,469)                               6                                              1.8
  4. Rock Creek (1,628)                       6                                              1.4
  5. Bagley (1,392)                               6                                              2.4
  6. Bovey (804)                                   5                                              2.7
  7. Morgan (896)                                5                                              2.4
  8. Lanesboro (754)                            5                                              2.5
  9. Stockton (697)                               4                                              2.1
  10. Wykoff (444)                                 4                                              3.6

List of Gayest Cities outside a MN Metropolitan Statistical Area by Percentage

City (pop.)                                             No.                                                  %

  1. Mahnomen (1,214)                 10                                            4.0
  2. Wykoff (444)                           4                                              3.6
  3. Bovey (804)                             5                                              2.7
  4. Lanesboro (754)                      5                                              2.5
  5. Bagley (1,392)                         6                                              2.4
  6. Morgan (896)                          5                                              2.4
  7. Stockton (697)                         4                                              2.1
  8. Dassel (1,469)                         6                                              1.8
  9. Rock Creek (1,628)                 6                                              1.4
  10. Pine City (3,123)                     8                                              1.3

East Central Regional Cities by Comparison | Number of Same-Sex Households

 1. Pine City (8), 2. Cambridge (5), Hinckley (4), Rush City (3), Sandstone (2), Harris (1), Mora (0), Brook Park (0), Grasston (0) and Henriette (0).

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