Imagine a utopia. Queer paradise. A place where you were constantly surrounded by pleasant, like-minded people that all get along. A place where you never had to worry about discrimination or prejudice. Life is just easy-going without any unnecessary negative experiences. Theoretically that’s what a gayborhood, or a neighborhood with a large number of LGBTQ+ residents, is supposed to be. And while there are plenty of benefits to living in a place filled with people like you, there also comes some strong negative impacts.
In George Chauncey’s Gay New York he discusses the queer communities in the late 1800s that were established in different parts of New York. Contrary to popular belief, prior to World War II gay men were able to congregate and share their identities and were not forced to live solitary lives. These are the first gay neighborhoods in the United States that we know of, granted they consisted primarily of cis gay men so they are fairly different from the ones we see in large cities today. These queer oases facilitated the creation of a very strong gay culture and gave members of the queer community outlets to showcase talents, socialize with people that had similar identities, and form romantic relationships with one another. They also served as a sort of barrier to the policing of queerness by creating a safe space.
Linda Goode Bryant and Laura Poitras’ 2003 documentary Flag Wars depicts a more modern version of gay neighborhoods. It follows the conflict in a Columbus, Ohio neighborhood between the gay and African American communities as a large white, LGBTQ+ population begins moving in and gentrifying the neighborhood. Throughout the film the queer population uses civil law to speed up the process of removing the African American community. This includes having parts of the neighborhood declared historic to create restricted housing codes, fighting the presence of low-income housing, and continually making code enforcement complaints. The displacement of these people is treated with such nonchalance. At one point in the documentary, while attending a neighborhood meeting a member of the queer community states, “If you can’t take care of your house then don’t live there.” If only it was that easy. I understand the want to have a clean, beautiful neighborhood but most of these people simply do not have the money to allocate funds to the upkeep of their homes. The woman they were following in particular had a disease and was living off a $500 per month disability check. It is important to remember that people sharing one or both of these identities are all in need of safe spaces and that it is always better to be allied than at each other’s throats.
This is not an isolated incident. Gay neighborhoods typically begin in low-income neighborhoods that are then revamped and given higher taxes, pushing the existing population out of their homes. An influx of LGBTQ+ peoples is now seen as a early marker of gentrification to come.
In addition to gentrification, gay neighborhoods are often not always inclusive to all members of the queer community. Since these neighborhoods are usually of higher income, residents tend to be white and wealthy. There is usually a higher concentration of gay men than women since research shows that lesbians are less likely to live in close proximity to one another. And of course there are populations that are unwanted as in any community, such as prostitutes and those with “strange” kinks, which are pushed out either because of the gentrification or because of harassment by other residents.
I am not saying that gayborhoods are the worst places in the world. I am sure there are some people that have really benefited by living surrounded by others similar to them, especially in the past, knowing they will be safe where they sleep and not hated solely because of their sexual orientation. But it is important to recognize and change the faults of our queer community rather than pretend they don’t exist.