Losing the “Gayborhood”
Posted by Roobs on February 25, 2011
Is America losing its gay neighborhoods by out-pricing young gays or have gay men and women simply changed their tastes and preferences?
(Photo by Roobs)
Every once in a while I read an article about how traditionally “gay” neighborhoods have been becoming “less gay” or, to use some creative journalists phrase, “the graying of gay neighborhoods”. One that has come up more often than not has been the City of West Hollywood; a 25 year old self governing city West of Downtown Los Angeles that has served as Southern California’s gay mecca. (Note: I am a resident of the City of West Hollywood).
Is this true? Are gay meccas becoming less gay as property values rise and straight families enter with their minivans and lattes? Many in West Hollywood would probably say yes. But I am not entirely sure.
The following excerpt comes from the website Curbed LA:
With West Hollywood elections coming up, both candidates (three council seats are opening up), and residents are taking the opportunity to vent, particularly about development. KCRW’s “Which Way, LA” recently covered the fight, interviewing John D’Amico, a candidate for city council, and former planning commissioner for the city, who believes that the current regime is more interested in catering to developers–and their “$1 million condos” than creating an that allows younger gays to afford to move in. West Hollywood losing its culture has been an ongoing theme for quite some time. [Which Way, LA]
Again, is this really the case? Are gay neighborhoods really becoming less gay or, perhaps, are they merely reflecting the current state of the gay community in American society?
More than 50 years ago, the gay community was in a different state than it is now. Gay men and women were hiding and often in fear of being discovered. After the Stonewall riots in New York City in 1969, the gay community did an about-face from their shy hermit days and boldly said “Yes! We’re here and we’re queer!” From this grand assertion in the face of hate and bigotry came “pride” – men and women openly showing their “gayness” with everything from public displays of affection for their partners to dressing in fabulous drag in public. The point here is that early gay culture revolved around taking our gayness and displaying it for all to see, forcing society to not just deal with it, but to see how being gay was not inferior to heterosexuality.
With this type of culture came the gay neighborhoods (gayborhoods) that many know and love today, like the Castro District in San Francisco and West Hollywood. These cities became a mecca to those young individuals who were out displaying their identities and found homes where they felt safe to do so. But that was then.
Today, gays are more accepted (though not completely). President Obama has repealed the military’s ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ law and has directed the Federal Government to no longer defend the discriminatory ‘Defense of Marriage Act’. Television shows are becoming increasingly comfortable with lead gay characters. Openly gay politicians are being elected with large margins. Young gays are coming out earlier now than ever before. Despite many obstacles, both current and present, gays have incorporated themselves into mainstream society a great deal; in politics, entertainment and the everyday job market.
To put simply, gays have succeeded in their movement thus far in a way that no longer requires the flamboyant display of their identities that once helped define a community and its neighborhoods. Gays living in these neighborhoods are no longer the young bohemians and activists of the of the last 40 years. Now they are, if you will indulge, like myself.
I am a young gay man living in West Hollywood. I have a Bachelors degree from UC Berkeley and working on a Masters from UCLA. I will join the many ranks of young gay professional when I graduate. But while many like me are by no means shy or “in the closet” about our sexual identity, we are also not “out loud and proud”. Having grown up in a society that has become increasingly receptive towards us, we do not feel required to advertise our sexual identity any more than is natural by our mere existence. Pride is now part of our public existence and not necessarily from our public display.
Further, if we hold true that gay men and women are, in fact, becoming more accepted in society, then gayborhoods no longer serve their traditional purpose as a safe haven for gay men and women. Now, gays young and old are free to live in and out of gayborhoods. No matter how affordable D’Amico thinks he can make West Hollywood, it will still be cheaper to live in Riverside or East Los Angeles. And as these areas become more accepting of gays, the lower cost of living makes it a real option for gay men and women just as it does with straight men and women.
If we return to my hypothesis, can we say that neighborhoods like the Castro and West Hollywood are really outpricing gays or are gays just now more free to chose from other locations? Are these neighborhoods really losing their “gayness” or are the gays loosing their “gayness”? If places like West Hollywood become populated by gays like me and not those who are “out loud and proud”, can we still say that these neighborhoods are “less gay” simply because I don’t walk around in headdress? And if y0ur answer is yes, then how are those who are less flamboyant with their sexuality less gay than those who are not? If your answer is no, then the question posed by Mr. D’Amico and others like him become not a question of neighborhoods out-pricing young gays, but simply out-pricing everyone.
I will state now that I have no numbers to test my hypothesis. And it is indeed a hypothesis, not a counter claim to those like John D’Amico. The real test would come from identifying the percentage of those in these neighborhoods. The City of West Hollywood has been said to have anywhere from 25-30% LGBT population. If we go back and find that this number has fluctuated very little over the past 25 years of West Hollywoods incorporation, then I believe my hypothesis would be proven true.
This is a real question whose answer should have a impact on gay communities around the country, their identity and the future we, as a community, wish to foster for ourselves.
Roobs is a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles pursuing a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning with concentrations in Transportation Planning & Policy and Urban Design & Development. Roobs is a former Waterfront Commissioner for the City of Berkeley and graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in Legal Studies and Sociology. Roobs worked as a clerk and paralegal for 5 years at the firm, Katzoff & Riggs in Emeryville, CA that specialized in real estate development.