Column: Underestimating the gay presence

08/10/2011 5:38 PM |

Here are some new fascinating facts for William Gibbons, Warren McKnight and other letter-writers and Web commentors distressed by my recent column identifying Orient as Long Island’s “gayest” community, based on 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data. Orient turns out to be even gayer than we thought!

At least that’s the conclusion of a recent informal but well-informed survey conducted by a lesbian couple of my acquaintance who have lived in the village for decades. Following is the text of their recent email, with the original census figures added by me in parentheses:

“ … Here are numbers we came up with (of folks we know of) which might double your numbers. Women, 25 couples households (13), 7 single households. Men, 12 couples households (8), 3 singles households. In all fairness, one male and one female couple of these just sold their houses. These numbers also include longtime renters.”

If these latest figures are accurate, then 19 percent (not the census’s 11 percent) of Orient’s 196 households with couples living in them are same-sex households. And that doesn’t take the single households into account.

Like I said, Orient is gayer than we thought.

I’d also like to take this occasion to address Mr. Gibbons’ attempt to subvert the original column by asserting that lesbians somehow favor dirty water because one prominent resident of the hamlet who happens to be lesbian was an outspoken opponent of the recent unsuccessful bid to bring Suffolk County Water Authority mains to Orient. This is the note I would have appended to his letter to the editor if I had been given the opportunity to do so:

“Mr. Gibbons puts words in my mouth. There was no mention of the Orient water controversy in my original column, and I’d like to know his basis — other than outright homophobia ­— for saying lesbians prefer dirty water.

Was he checking everyone’s sexual orientation at the public meetings? Based on his letter, I wouldn’t be surprised.

P.S.: Just in case you’re wondering, I have no strong feelings on either side of the water issue.”

A certain sense of déjà vu descended over our little Mini Cooper as the former Joan Giger Walker and I drove up to the site of the NOFO music festival at Peconic Bay Vineyards in Cutchogue late last Sunday afternoon.

We had timed our arrival to catch Sunday’s headline act, Foghat, and thus were surprised to see no more than a few hundred people scattered around the festival grounds. Admittedly, you can’t judge a two-day festival by its final hours alone, but we drove home thinking and talking about another East End music event held years ago that attracted hundreds, not thousands, of attendees — and the economic challenges inherent in presenting live music on the North Fork.

As president of the East End Arts Council at the time, I was instrumental in booking country/blues singer Delbert McClinton for an open-air concert at the Talmage family’s Friar’s Head Farm on Sound Avenue in Baiting Hollow.

Long story short: It was a disaster.

Not musically — Delbert delivered, as advertised — but financially, because there’s just almost no way to charge enough for tickets to cover the cost of booking a name artist like Delbert McClinton, who commands fees measured in the tens of thousands of dollars. It also stings, obviously, when hundreds of fans turn out when you have hoped for thousands. And never mind the fact that Delbert’s tour bus got stuck in the mud in the middle of a farm field.

(Recent real-life example: To cover the cost of presenting Jackson Browne in concert on Oct. 14, the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center is charging a minimum of $200 a ticket!)

I’m not saying price sensitivity contributed to the low attendance at this year’s NOFO — Times/Review staffers who visited the festival several times over the weekend estimate this year’s crowds to be roughly half the size they were last year — but it’s a vicious cycle.

To book acts strong enough to attract big crowds, you must charge so much money for tickets that you discourage attendance. And if you book acts affordable enough to help keep ticket costs low, they’re less likely to be acts big enough to drive attendance.

Then there’s the spiky issue of the corporate sponsorship generally needed to cover the gulf between ticket revenues and booking costs. When you’re in the middle of an extended recession — which we obviously are — that, too, becomes increasingly problematic.

All of which is to say that as commendable an endeavor as the NOFO music festival is, I will be surprised if the third annual sees the light of day next summer.

tgustavson@timesreview.com