Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence: Books

Article excerpt

Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence. By Christina B. Hanhardt. Duke University Press. 360pp, Pounds 71.00 and Pounds 16.99. ISBN 9780822354574 and 4703. Published 25 October 2013

Introducing students to the extensive struggles for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights and equalities in Western societies usually involves a thorough overview of the 1969 Stonewall riots, the precursor to contemporary Gay Pride parades. To a generation that believes gays and lesbians only collect en masse to dance on floats adorned in rainbow flags while in drag or pristine white underpants, the concept of gays rioting never fails to raise an eyebrow or two.

More than four decades later, gay rights are still topical, although they are now usually gained through political processes. While the UK's first same-sex marriage will take place in 2014, in the US such changes have often been the result of legal battles over individual states' positions on homosexuality. Therefore, when Maryland extended marriage rights to same-sex couples earlier this year on the basis of a popular not electoral vote, this was a watershed moment in social progress and equality.

In this vein, it is fitting that Maryland is also home to Christina Hanhardt, author of Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence. The book's extensive coverage of LGBT activism in the latter half of the 20th century illustrates how contemporary socio-legal gains were made possible by resistance-fuelled, political organising. What began as a gay backlash to victimisation soon became a platform for resistance to state violence.

Hanhardt analyses how US crime policies to clamp down on "deviants" and "undesirables" had an impact on specific neighbourhoods, particularly in New York City and San Francisco. Urban development became a prevailing crime-control mechanism in inner-city areas, with spaces rendered "safe" by designated area patrols. Whereas this once meant the state protecting (heterosexual) society from "undesirables" such as gay communities, the gradual shifts towards gentrification led to similar processes creating class and race hierarchies within minority groups. …