EDGE 10.0: The Decade in Gayborhoods

by Steve Weinstein
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday May 13, 2014

In celebration of our tenth anniversary, EDGE is proud to launch "EDGE 10.0: The Decade in," a retrospective series of features looking back on the past ten years of headlines, politics, personalities, trends, music, film, parties, etc... written by Editor in Chief Emeritus Steve Weinstein.

EDGE was founded in Boston back in 2004, and ever since, every time it has added another city to its family of local portals, it has made a point of charting the evolution of the gayborhood in that city. At the same time, EDGE has taken the longer view, questioning whether there is even a necessity for gayborhoods as gay men, lesbians and transgender individuals become more integrated into larger society.

Back in 2007, an EDGE story questioned whether gayborhoods had become victims of their own success: "For more than 30 years, most big cities have had a district either explicitly or implicitly understood to be the place to go if you were gay -- the West Village and Chelsea in New York City, Washington's Dupont Circle, Boston's South End.

"But, the article added, "as gays and lesbians win legal rights and greater social acceptance, community activists worry these so-called "gayborhoods" are losing their relevance. Like the bedsheet-sized rainbow flag rippling majestically at the intersection marking the entrance to the Castro, they are at a historical crossroads."

A year earlier, David Toussaint opined , in an article appropriately headlined, "Where the boys aren't," "The 'Straightrification' of Boys Town can no longer be tolerated. It's come to the point where a decent, law-abiding, mindless Chelsea clone can no longer feel comfortable in his own steroid-inflated skin."

Flash forward to 2013, when I asked, in "Gay migration or end of an era?": "One by one, the traditional gayborhoods in major cities across the country have become victims of their own success. As in Chelsea, skyrocketing residential rents and home prices are forcing longtime gay residents out of Miami's South Beach, Boston's South End, the Castro in San Francisco, L.A.'s Silver Lake and many other such communities, while commercial rents have forced the closing of bars and clubs considered institutions by their patrons."

Such complaining was nothing new. As a matter of fact, in EDGE’s earliest days, Peter Cassels noted that even the Castro, San Francisco’s world-famous gayborhood, was going the way of Boston’s South End, the gayborhood in EDGE’s own backyard.

"The cities’ booming economies, which benefit many residents but squeeze out others, also are creating many of the same problems," Cassels noted. "San Francisco has a reputation as a laid-back place, with courteous drivers and safe pedestrian zones. Boston is equally famous for rude drivers where pedestrians fear for their safety."

With rising housing prices came hordes of "dotcommers," bringing with them oodles of money and pushing out longtime residents. In both cities, along with NYC’s Chelsea, "asking prices for residential property became starting prices," Cassels noted. And this was before the Great Recession! Since then, if anything, the pace of change has only accelerated.
In 2011, Shaun Knittel noted that, in Seattle, even as the 2010 census showed that LGBT households in Washington State had increased by 50 percent in a decade, "same-sex couples living are moving out of Capitol Hill and other historically gay neighborhoods into all parts of Seattle and Lynwood, Shoreline, Lake Forest Park and other suburbs."

The suburbs?!? Killian Melloy noted a fact that longtime observers of the scene in Miami’s South Beach had long known: Gay men were migrating northward, to Ft. Lauderdale, specifically to the suburb of Wilton Manors.

Blame lesbians? Heather Cassell pointed to the growing number of lesbians who "have been pushed out of the Mission District" -- once considered the epicenter of San Fracisco’s "lesbihood." Along with them came lesbian bars. Good? Bad? Or, as the headline read, was "Feminizing the gay mecca" merely inevitable?

In many of these cities, the gayborhood simply went elsewhere. As I noted in 2013, gay men had long been abandoning Chelsea for Hell’s Kitchen, the neighborhood to the immediate north. And in 2010, Matt Vanderveer pointed out that "Downtown LA emerges as city’s newest gayborhood."

That may have come as news to many Angelenos. But at least they had a gayborhood. Back in 2008, Richard Davis bemoaned the fact that Las Vegas didn’t have one neighborhood that could be classified as a gayborhood.

Similarly, Dallas’ Oak Lawn’s obituary was premature, according to an EDGE article in 2007. Responding to an article in the Dallas Morning News about "the city’s gayborhood dissolving," David Webb countered, "That’s wrong. We started in Oak Lawn, and we’ve never left." No, what happened, according to Webb, was the boundaries of what constituted Oak Lawn simply were up for grabs.

As Michael Milliken, the president of a local citizen’s group, noted, "It’s important to maintain the boundaries to define our neighborhood so we can recognize our history and address quality of life issues that we feel are important."

In other cities, like Chicago and Philadelphia, the city’s own government had taken steps to preserve the gayborhood by making the designation official. In Chicago, it was the bestowing on North Halsted the name by which everyone already knew it, Boystown. In Philly, in 2007, street signs defined a large swath of Center City as the gayborhood with 36 rainbow flag street signs.

The designation took two years from suggestion to implementation. The flags allowed Center City to "take its place alongside San Francisco and Chicago (and Toronto and Montreal in Canada) as cities offering districts marketed specifically to gay tourism," Melloy wrote .

In 2007, in an article on Boston’s South End, Scott Kearnan asked whether "for a younger generation, one reared in a culture where ’Will & Grace’ were as ubiquitous a couple as Adam & Eve, the sanctuary of an exclusively gay scene may not seem necessary."

Analyzing the 2011 Massachusetts census data, Melloy offered another explanation: "Same-sex families in cities seen as ’gay friendly’ used to be more likely to disclose their relationship status. Now, a much broader pattern of residence can be seen, with gay and lesbian families living all across the state."

"The joke used to be that we all live in gay ghettos," the Massachusetts Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus’ Arline Isaacson told the Boston Globe. "But you can’t make that joke any more. They have expanded significantly in the suburbs."

In a 2010 article, L.A. Realtor Gay Steinberg asked whether the City of Angels needed a gayborhood at all: "It used to be that being gay in Los Angeles meant living in one of the traditional strongholds of the gay community. That usually meant West Hollywood or Silverlake," Steinberg wrote, ominously adding, "I can tell you that this notion of self-segregation by our tribe into its own reservations is as passe as frozen cosmos and a closeted soldier."

The debate about whether gayborhoods are necessary; whether they are dying or reformulating; and whether younger LGBT city dwellers want to live there if they are will undoubtedly continue. Meanwhile, at last look Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C.; Midtown in Atlanta; Hillsboro in San Diego; and other such enclaves from coast to coast continue to thrive.

Just ask the people who live there -- only these days, you’ll be asking the question of men and women who are straight and gay. Progress or retraction? Maybe it all depends on whom you ask.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).


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