Magazine article The American Prospect

The End of the Lavender Ghetto: As Gays and Lesbians Gain Acceptance, They Are Moving Away from the Old Neighborhoods That Long Epitomized Gay Culture

Magazine article The American Prospect

The End of the Lavender Ghetto: As Gays and Lesbians Gain Acceptance, They Are Moving Away from the Old Neighborhoods That Long Epitomized Gay Culture

Article excerpt

THERE GOES THE GAYBORHOOD?

BY AMIN GHAZIANI

Princeton University Press

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

For nearly half a century, San Francisco's Castro district has been the gay Mecca, and from every corner of the globe LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) tourists have made the pilgrimage. They came to party, and many wound up staying. The rainbow flag was first flown there. The annual Gay Pride parade and Halloween party were red-letter days on the LGBT calendar.

Gay tourists still throng the Castro, and tour buses continue to bring gawking tourists, but the neighborhood isn't what it used to be. Lesbians and gays are moving out, the census data show, and straights are moving in--that means more strollers and fewer sex shops. The Gay Pride parade, once a cultural celebration, has morphed into a corporate-sponsored event, and like Halloween, it draws thousands of titillation-seeking suburbanites. The rainbow flag has become as ubiquitous, and as stripped of meaning, as the "I Heart [fill in the blank]."

This transformation story is much the same in other gay enclaves such as Chelsea and Greenwich Village in Manhattan, Dupont Circle in D.C., and Boystown in Chicago. As a Chicago journalist observed, "With more [straight] families moving in and longtime [gay and lesbian] residents moving out, some say Boystown is losing its gay flavor."

Some observers cheer the demise of these neighborhoods, among them veteran gay activist Urvashi Vaid, who has urged gays and lesbians to "leave the ghetto." Others lament the loss of a distinct gay sensibility and the homogenization that accompanies these demographic shifts. Like it or not, though, the change seems to be inevitable and permanent. "We tend to assume that once created, queer neighborhoods will be self-sustaining," Don Romesburg, a historian, points out. "That's not true. Our neighborhoods get built within particular economic, political, and cultural circumstances. When those change, so do our neighborhoods."

In There Goes the Gayborhood?, University of British Columbia sociologist Amin Ghaziani vivisects the transformation of these communities, which he labels "gayborhoods," as well as the emergence of gay enclaves in other urban precincts, suburbs, and small towns across America. The census data--the only information available to Ghaziani for broadbrush arguments--have only limited value. The Census Bureau only counts gay households, not LGBT individuals, which excludes the estimated 75 percent of gay men and 60 percent of lesbians who are single, as well as gay couples who live apart and transgender and bisexual men and women. For finer-grained analysis, Ghaziani draws on 40 years of newspaper coverage and 125 interviews to explore how gay life has evolved during the past generation--what has been termed the "post-gay" era. While some LGBT residents are moving out of the gayborhoods, Ghaziani argues that a distinct, place-based gay identity continues to evolve. It's a nuanced and complex tale--a tale of neighborhood changes and cultural shifts, an identity in flux--and Ghaziani does a nice job of telling it.

IN A BREATHTAKINGLY short time span, we've seen a tectonic shift in popular attitudes toward gays and lesbians, away from bigotry and toward acceptance. At the same time, gays have grown less inclined to regard their sexuality as defining who they are. They're more apt to see themselves as multifaceted individuals who happen to be gay--think Emmy-winning comedy Modern Family, with its multiple story lines that showcase how the meaning of "family" keeps evolving. As Nate Silver, editor of ESPN's FiveThirtyEight, put it, "I'm kind of sexually gay, but ethnically straight."

Marriage equality provides the most dramatic example of this change. A decade ago, Massachusetts was the lone state to legalize LGBT marriage. The idea was widely dismissed as a liberal pipe dream--even civil unions, gay marriage lite, seemed a stretch--but now the movement seems unstoppable. …

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