This article was published on July 17th, 2018
There goes the neighborhood. For decades, queer people gathered and lived in neighborhoods much like other minority groups, building a community around them of like-minded individuals coming together for common interests and goals. Now, it seems that gay communities in cities across the world are becoming so gentrified and diversified with heterosexual integration that it is becoming harder and harder to find exclusively LGBT areas. Is the gayborhood slowly becoming a dying breed or are they acclimating with the times?
Cities like West Hollywood, California, Manhattan’s Chelsea, London’s West End, Chicago’s Boystown, and San Francisco’s Castro district are becoming increasingly more and more heterosexual. The question begs to be asked: what is happening to gayborhoods? Cities used to be gay meccas that drew in the queer population looking for a sense of community and belonging. So, what has happened that has changed this dynamic?
Multiple factors are being attributed to the decline of the gay neighborhood. Escalating rent costs, gentrification, the use of the internet and smart phone apps to connect, LGBT acceptance, and perhaps a desire to expand outside of the queer comfort zone. As more and more neighborhoods welcome straight counterparts and more queer businesses become straight-friendly, are these factors diminishing gayborhoods and their identities or simply becoming more welcoming as Western culture and society become more accepting towards sexuality?
In his article Saving LGBTQ Neighborhoods: People May Come and Go; the Community is Here to Staywriter Alan Martinez says: “Gayborhoods incubate unique cultures, political perspectives, organizations and businesses, family forms, rituals and styles of socialization. In doing so, these areas stand guard against a peculiar problem of ancestry that we encounter as LGBTQ people: They help us to answer the question, ‘Who are my people?’ And thus, they renew a sense of our roots.”
Some cities and people aren’t taking the straightification laying down. When West Hollywood City Council ruled to remove the rainbow and transgender awareness flags from atop city hall in a response to the supposed inclusiveness and acceptance of a growing heterosexual population, the citizens of West Hollywood—its own separate city surrounded by Los Angeles and established as such because of the fight for tenant rights and LGBT rights—caused such an out roar that the city had a specifically queer inclusive flag designed and still hangs the trans and rainbow flags from its rooftop.
President Obama and NYC city officials designated the Stonewall Inn as the first national United States monument for LGBT people in 2016. San Francisco is designating both the Castro and Tenderloin areas as LGBTQ Cultural Districts. Many gay bars and queer establishments in these areas aren’t going anywhere. Los Angeles alone now celebrates 4 different pride festivals within its city limits at different times of the year as recognition of the largest queer communities in the nation lay within its borders.
It is anchor institutions and designations like these in cities across the world, Martinez argues, that “are powerful, and sustainable, because they make sexuality feel like a quasi-ethnicity. Although change is a fact of urban life, anchor institutions in a gayborhood seal the area’s character in the local imagination because anchor institutions are often more salient than are mere residential clusters.”
Are gayborhoods of the future doomed? Maybe in the sense that we know of them today: yes. There is no doubt that more societal acceptance is needed, more recognition needs to be had, and a lot of work is left in the fight for LGBT rights. But gayborhoods can be a long-lasting feature of any city as long as the integrity of these communities is included in the fight.
If you’re worried about the homogenization of your community, there a lot of ways you can help. By local and from queer owned and operated stores, shops, bars, and businesses. Do your research about companies before you make purchases. Attend city council meetings. Volunteer at your local queer community centers. Support legislators who want to see gayborhoods live and thrive in the future. And make like Fred Rogers and be a good neighbor: gayborhoods were founded and thrive when everyone feels a sense of community within their own.
Won’t you be my neighbor (gaybor) in the gayborhood?