Pride 2014: LGBT neighbourhoods evolving across the Lower Mainland

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      Something’s happening in Vancouver’s traditional LGBT neighbourhood.

      “I’m noticing more gay couples are moving out of the West End,” realtor and same-sex wedding planner Darryl Persello told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      They’re cashing in on their condos and townhomes and buying bigger properties elsewhere in the city. Others are fanning out to Burnaby, New Westminster, and Surrey. “And I did that myself,” Persello, who identifies as gay, said with a laugh. “We did that last year too. We live out in North Burnaby.”

      The reason for the exodus is straightforward.

      “We wanted a house and couldn’t afford a house downtown, couldn’t afford a house East Side, West Side, so the nearest community is Burnaby,” he said. Persello and his partner used to own a condo in the West End. They also had another, an investment property, in Mount Pleasant. They sold both and purchased a detached house in Burnaby.

      Although the West End and Commercial Drive area are known to be LGBT-friendly, other neighbourhoods are becoming more welcoming.

      “Main Street is really, really accepting, really ethnic, really diverse,” Persello said, referring to the area between 2nd Avenue and 16th Avenue. And Fraser Street is “now really developing, between Broadway and 16th [Avenue]”.

      Vancouver may be no different, in some respects, than other North American cities with traditional gay enclaves.

      Because of North American society’s friendlier attitude toward LGBT people, fewer of them are now residing in so-called gay ghettos such as San Francisco’s Castro district, New York’s Chelsea neighbourhood or Greenwich Village, Chicago’s Boystown, and others, according to a UBC academic.

      Sociologist Amin Ghaziani, author of the just released There Goes the Gayborhood? (2014, Princeton University Press), noted in a UBC media bulletin that the “growing acceptance of same-sex couples…is extremely positive”.

      However, Ghaziani also pointed out the “de-gaying” of these neighbourhoods may result in a loss of their cultural identity.

      But while couples like Persello and his partner chose to move out of the West End, others are staying. Persello recently met a couple at an open house; they were renting, and now they want to buy in the West End.

      Gay realtor Blair Smith emphasized one thing about the LGBT market: it’s a broad spectrum that includes all ages, income levels, and ethnicities. “I don’t know that they react a whole lot different than other people,” Smith told the Straight in a phone interview.

      Smith said that although younger people generally cannot afford the West End, others can and are moving in. He said he recently helped an older gay client settle in the West End after years of owning a house in New Westminster. According to Smith, the person, now retired, wanted a more walkable and less car-dependent community.

      Smith used to live in the West End and Yaletown. Four years ago, he moved to North Burnaby.

      “I don’t have a problem being an out and proud gay man wherever I live, so I don’t feel like I have to be in the West End, although the majority of my business is still in the downtown peninsula,” Smith said.

      In the past few years, gay realtor Scott Barry has moved a number of same-sex couples to New Westminster. Price is the number-one consideration. “Even if they’re looking for a one bedroom, they can get a really nice one bedroom in New West for $300,000 instead of $400,000 to $450,000 in Vancouver,” Barry told the Straight by phone.

      The revitalization of New Westminster’s downtown core is also a huge factor. The presence of Steam1, a bathhouse near the Columbia SkyTrain station, helps, especially for couples in open relationships.

      “The New West bathhouse services…Surrey, Langley, Burnaby…Chilliwack—anybody that’s out that way come into New Westminster to play, but they won’t come all the way to Vancouver, necessarily,” Barry said.

      Don’t forget transit. “They can come and have fun downtown [in Vancouver], and just hop on the SkyTrain,” Barry noted. “They’re home in about 40 minutes, and they just walk back to their house.”