The Life and Afterlife of Gay Neighborhoods: Renaissance and Resurgence
“The relevance of gay neighborhoods—originally formed to promote segregation of individuals who identify as sexual minorities—is lately challenged by advances in technology, experiences with pandemics, shifts in generational opinion and social values, increasing acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals, and (in certain places) increased rights and protections for LGBTQ+ individuals..”
ABOUT THE BOOK
The Life and Afterlife of Gay Neighborhoods: Renaissance and Resurgence
Gay neighborhoods, like all neighborhoods, are in a state of continual change. The relevance of gay neighborhoods—originally formed to promote segregation of individuals who identify as sexual minorities—is lately challenged by advances in technology, experiences with pandemics, shifts in generational opinion and social values, increasing acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals, and (in certain places) increased rights and protections for LGBTQ+ individuals. This confluence of change has created for many people anxiety related to the belief that gay neighborhoods may be dissolving or even disappearing altogether. Seeking to address these concerns, this opening chapter of the book The Life and Afterlife of Gay Neighborhoods: Renaissance and Resurgence presents eight important takeaway messages distilled from the chapters in this volume that, taken together, provide an in-depth overview of the formation, maturation, current challenges, and future prospects of LGBTQ+ spaces in urban environments. Findings suggest that that while gayborhoods have experienced a certain level of de-gaying, the trend toward viewing gayborhoods as inclusive and gay-friendly places de-emphasizes the self-segregation aspects of gayborhoods that were important to their initial formation.
Shifts in patterns of residence, socialization, and entertainment for LGBTQ+ residents and visitors across metropolitan space have resulted in certain gay neighborhoods becoming less gay while other neighborhoods become more gay. In this time of social change, economic inequities, public health crises, and technological evolution, gay neighborhoods provide a culturally and historically significant template for communities in confronting adversity, fear, and discrimination.
At this point in their maturity, gay neighborhoods have reached a plateau in their evolution; from here we pause to consider the current state of gay neighborhoods—and trajectories that might describe their future form—as we contemplate the importance of gay neighborhoods in the ongoing advancement of LGBTQ+ people everywhere. We conclude by observing that while gayborhoods have experienced a certain level of de-gaying, the trend toward viewing gayborhoods as inclusive and gay-friendly places de-emphasizes the self-segregation aspects of gayborhoods that were important to their initial formation, so while gay neighborhoods may becoming less gay, other neighborhoods may also becoming more gay.
Cities across the globe are home to gay neighborhoods (or ‘gayborhoods’). These LGBTQ+ districts established by gay men, lesbian women, and other sexual minorities embody the decades-long struggle for LGBTQ+ rights and equality in gayborhoods such as Greenwich Village in New York City and the Castro in San Francisco. This book examines the significance of gay neighborhoods—‘gayborhoods’—from a period of formation during the gay liberation and gay freedom movements of the 1960s and 1970s, to durability through the HIV/AIDS pandemic during the 1980s and 1990s, to a mature plateau since 2020. These periods provide a framework for contemplating the future form and function of gay neighborhoods in the context of social and cultural shifts.
Following a 50-year period of growth and resilience, gay neighborhoods have recently become “less gay,” a phenomenon related to gentrification, weakening social stigma and enhanced rights for LGBTQ+ people, and changing preferences of LGBTQ+ individuals. Meanwhile, other neighborhoods have become “more gay,” a function of LGBTQ+ families forming community in areas away from established gayborhoods. The recurring themes of gentrification—which has raised property values and replaced longtime LGBTQ+ residents with non-LGTBQ+ residents—and disassociation between LGBTQ+ generations—characterized by the formative efforts of Boomer ‘pioneers’ to establish gayborhoods versus LGBTQ+ Millennials and Generation Z who favor broad inclusivity over LGBTQ+ self-segregation—are reflected in the current ‘de-gaying’ and current ‘plateau’ state of gay neighborhoods. Consequently, gayborhoods are now at a plateau in their spatial and temporal evolution, and various trajectories for the future form—or ‘afterlife’, as the book’s title suggests—of LGBTQ+ urban spaces. In 2020, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on urban space provides a point of comparison for lessons learned from gay neighborhoods that bravely endured the onset of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
This book will be of interest to students and scholars in various disciplines—including sociology, social work, anthropology, gender and sexuality, LGTBQ+ and queer studies, as well as urban geography and city planning—and to policymakers and advocates concerned with LGBTQ+ rights and social justice.
The book is available at your local bookseller or on Amazon.
After/Lives: Insights from the COVID-19 Pandemic for Gay Neighborhoods
Sam Miles, Jack Coffin, Amin Ghaziani, Daniel Baldwin Hess, Alex Bitterman
Beginning in 2020, COVID-19 produced shock-shifts that were felt across the globe, not least at the level of the local neighborhood. Some of these shifts have called into question the role of physical places for face-to-face gatherings, including those used by LGBTQ+ people. Such open questions are a key concern for a book on gayborhoods, so this chapter engages in three analytic tasks to provide preliminary reflections on how pandemics problematize places. While acknowledging a range of threats and challenges that the pandemic poses to the future of LGBTQ+ spaces, this chapter focuses on the potential opportunities and unexpected benefits that COVID-19 can create, running counter to more pessimistic predictions that abound in popular discourse. First, the chapter contextualizes how the COVID-19 pandemic is reminiscent of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, allowing the gayborhood to be uniquely equipped to respond with grassroots activism, particularly in the face of government inaction or apathy. Second, the chapter explores trends that can ensure the future vitality of LGBTQ+ spaces, including (i) the potential of mutual aid networks, (ii) the power of institutional anchors in LGBTQ+ placemaking efforts, (iii) urban changes related to homesteading and population shifts, (iv) innovations in the interior design of physical spaces, and (v) opportunities to enhance social connections through augmented virtual engagements. Far from signaling the death knell of LGBTQ+ spaces, these trends demonstrate the enduring appeal provided by neighborhoods and communities. Third, the cognitive schemas of lockdowns, re-closeting, and digitalscapes are identified as unique expressions of the shifting spatialities of sexuality in post-pandemic urban space. The chapter concludes by arguing that place will still matter for LGBTQ+ people in a post-COVID-19 era, albeit with altered meanings and material expressions. The socio-spatial consequences of the novel coronavirus will be a confluence of positive and negative developments, and while some will be reversed as soon as an effective vaccine is found, others will linger indelibly in bodies and the built environment for years to come.
A tale of three villages: Contested discourses of place-making in central Philadelphia
As the acceptance of queer identities has proceeded in fits and starts over the last few decades, the question has been raised, is it still necessary to have dedicated queer spaces? City dwellers often reason that with supposed improvements in safety and social mixing, the “gay ghettos” that form a transitional stage in neighborhood revitalization should now become common areas. Yet the capitalist logic that drives this thinking often trades the physical threat of exclusion or violence for an existential one, jeopardizing a distinctive culture that remains valuable in the self-realization process of local queer citizens. This is visible not only in changing demographics, but also in the production of discourse across multiple levels; language and semiotics help to constitute neighborhoods, but also to conceptualize them.
This chapter examines how public signs and artifacts reify and sustain three competing narratives of a single central Philadelphia neighborhood in flux: the traditionally queer “Gayborhood” that developed shortly after World War II, the officially designated “Washington Square West,” and the realtor-coined, recently gentrifying “Midtown Village.” I argue that it the naming and describing of these spaces, and how their associated discourses are reflected by their contents, continues to play a role in the ongoing struggle for queer acceptance. Combining observational data of multimodal public texts (storefronts, flyers, street signs, etc.) and critical discourse analysis within the linguistic/semiotic landscapes paradigm, I present a critique of the presumed inevitability of queer erasure here. This is supplemented with a comparison of grassroots, bottom-up and official, top-down documents in various media (maps, brochures, websites, social media, etc.) that perpetuate the different discourses. Ultimately, a change in urban scenery and how a neighborhood is envisioned only masks the fact that spaces of queer expression, marked by their eroding distinctiveness rather than their deviance, are still needed.
Breaking Down Segregation:
Shifting Geographies of Male Same-Sex Households within Desegregating Cities
From 2000 to 2010, the segregation of male same-sex couples from different-sex couples declined in almost all of the nation’s largest cities. This trend towards a more even distribution of male same-sex couples across city neighborhoods calls into question the demographic future of gay neighborhoods. However, it is unclear how exactly male same-sex couples are spatially reorganizing within desegregating cities. Multiple processes could be driving declining segregation, including declining shares of same-sex households within gay neighborhoods, the emergence of gay neighborhoods in new parts of the city, and/or a general dispersal of same-sex couples to almost all neighborhoods. Moreover, it is unclear what characteristics – like urbanicity, housing values, or racial/ethnic composition – define neighborhoods that have gained (or lost) same-sex partners. This chapter uses data from the 2000 and 2010 Decennial Censuses to investigate neighborhood-level changes within desegregating cities. The small number of increasingly-segregated cities are also explored. Results indicate that increasing representation of male same-sex households across most neighborhoods and an expanding number of gay neighborhoods are important contributors to the trend of declining segregation. In contrast, the loss of gay neighborhoods from a city was fairly uncommon – most neighborhoods that obtained large concentrations of same-sex partners tended to keep those concentrations over time. Finally, the same residential expansion of same-sex households that occurred within desegregating cities did not occur in cities that experienced increasing segregation. These results have important implications for the spatial organization of same-sex households into the future. The chapter concludes with a discussion and critique of census data for the continued study of the geography and segregation of same-sex partners.