Others were less open to the idea of gays in their midst.
When I brought up the topic with a gray-haired woman I met in front of the grocery store in Meadville, she basically told me gay people don't exist -- like, at all.
"I don't believe in them kind of people. I don't believe in it," she said. "We don't need that same-sex marriage. That is wrong!"
"Y'all know what's right and wrong," she said, getting into her car and peering at me through the cracked driver's seat window. "Ask to find out (what's wrong) before you meet our God up in heaven. ... You have to be born again or you're not goin' up to heaven. There's only one other place to go and you don't want to go there, I'm sure. Take care!"
And she drove off.
I didn't even get a chance to tell her she was talking with a real, live gay person.
In a place where "everybody knows everybody," as Richard Pickett put it, very few seem willing to talk about the possibility of gay residents. You could blame that on the would-be gays. "If (a gay couple) did live together, they would probably keep it quiet," the 54-year-old told me. "They're not going to march up and down the street with a sign" announcing their homosexuality. The common Franklin County wisdom seems to be that gays, like unicorns or dragons, are living over the next pine-covered hill, out of sight and out of mind. They're not my kids. Not my neighbors. They're somewhere else. Maybe.
But here's the thing: There certainly are gay people in Franklin County. And for the most part, they're not in the closet. Many are happy to talk about it.
It's their neighbors and families who aren't.
'There are some things you just don't talk about'
Here's a striking example: Completely at random, I decided to chat with two men I saw talking outside a cute shop in the eastern part of the county. Both were wearing bright orange hats, the kind of unnatural-looking headgear that prevents hunters from mistaking each other for deer in the woods. One had a potbelly and was sitting on a bench. The other was slimmer and sat on a rusted, 1970s bicycle.
The larger man didn't want to go on camera ("My head looks like 'Shrek' in photos"), so I started a conversation with Slim, whose name is Willie Garner, age 60. I told him about the census-based statistic -- no gays here -- and asked if he thought that was correct.
"I don't have any knowledge one way or the other about that," Garner said. "It's not too much of a topic around here."
"There are some things you just don't talk about," the other man added.
It's kind of my job to make people talk about things like that, so I kept pressing:
Do you support same-sex marriage?
Garner: No, I don't.
The larger man chimed in. He'd been watching the interview from the entrance to the store, careful to stay in the shadows and out of a news camera's vision.
"I think people should be able to marry whoever they want to."
I walked over to ask why, in this place where most people seem cool to the idea of gay people, that he took such a progressive stance. He waved me inside the store.
"I'm gay myself, that's why," he said in that kind of intense whisper that conveys both urgency and secrecy. It's the tone you hear a lot in movies like "Argo."
I was stunned.
"It's hell, I'm telling you," he said.
Does the other guy know?
"Everybody knows who everybody is around here," he said. "I live openly, but I can't live with anybody or anything like that because they persecute you."