Are gay neighbourhoods passé?
In a world that’s getting more inclusive, it seems they’re becoming relics of a discriminatory past.
When UBC sociologist Amin Ghaziani was doing research for his 2014 book There Goes the Gayborhood?, which found that traditional gay enclaves in the U.S. are becoming more straight, he noticed two trends. One is a sense of “cultural sameness”.
“The idea here is that, increasingly, gays and lesbians don’t feel like they’re all that different from their straight friends and their straight neighbours,” the associate professor told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
The other trend is what he called an “expansion of the residential imagination”. It’s the notion that progressive cities transform into a “functional equivalent of what a gay neighbourhood once was”.
“So I would hear things like, ‘Where’s the gay neighbourhood in Seattle?’ Residents would say, ‘Seattle is a gaybourhood.’ Or ‘San Francisco is the Castro.’ Or ‘The entire island of Manhattan is gay,’ ” the academic recalled.
According to Ghaziani, these trends are evidence of increasing equality. This, in turn, allows gays and lesbians to move out of their sanctuaries to other areas, an exodus accompanied by the arrival of more straight people in traditionally gay neighbourhoods.
As well, gays and lesbians in Canada and the U.S. have the same matrimonial rights as their heterosexual counterparts. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada since 2005. Across the border, on June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling allowing gay marriages.
“So some people are tempted to conclude from that, that because we live in a society where gays and lesbians have full legislative equality, that that means that bigotry and bias have somehow gone away,” Ghaziani said. “And that’s, of course, untrue.”
One need not look further than Metro Vancouver, one of Canada’s biggest urban centres and home to a diverse population, where strong laws are in place regarding discrimination.
In 2011, a UBC study found that same-sex male couples seeking to rent a home in the region are almost 25 percent more likely than straight pairs to be refused by landlords.
However, the study established that in neighbourhoods with large gay populations such as Vancouver’s West End, landlords exhibited far less prejudice against gay male couples.
These findings suggest to Ghaziani that there’s a lot more to be done in the fight for equality and that gay neighbourhoods have an enduring purpose.
“Gay neighbourhoods—even in a societal context of full legislative equality—still provide a buffer against discrimination in matters such as housing or in the workplace,” he said.
According to Ghaziani, the presence of gay neighbourhoods is a marker of a city’s commitment to diversity, but it’s also much more than that.
“We know historically that gay neighbourhoods have provided crucibles of cultural innovation,” he said, citing New York’s Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s. “They have inspired expressions that range from music to fashion, poetry, and literature.”
It is in these neighbourhoods that members of the LGBT community create unique expressions of their identity, such as Pride parades and street parties like the one on Vancouver’s Davie Street.
Ghaziani also referenced Richard Florida, an urban-studies theorist who looked at the “aesthetic-amenity premium” that gays create.
“As selective buyers with an eye for amenity, authenticity and aesthetics, locations where artists, bohemians, and gays concentrate are likely to be highly sought after for their cultural amenities, desirable neighborhood character, and aesthetic quality of the housing stock,” Florida and a coauthor wrote in a 2007 paper, There Goes the Neighborhood: How and Why Bohemians, Artists and Gays Affect Regional Housing Values.
As cities ponder how to preserve gay neighbourhoods, Ghaziani suggested they should do so in ways that “do not naively deny the realities of residential change”.
“You do not want to assume that only gay people live in a place like the West End,” he said, “or that gay people don’t live anywhere else other than the West End.”