Tuesday, September 27, 2005
by Wayne Besen
If only the coffee shop Big Cup had changed its name to the Luxurious Latte it might have survived. Instead, the cornerstone of New York's gay Chelsea neighborhood closed shop earlier this month after the landlord raised the rent from $16,500 to $21,500. The downfall of the Big Cup is indicative of dramatic changes taking place in gayborhoods across America, where artists are pushed out, as art dealers move in.
From San Francisco's Castro District to Provincetown, the hard bodied and cool are displaced in favor of cold hard cash. Gentrification is having a dramatic impact on everything from the GLBT bar scene to politics. The question is, can the GLBT Community survive and thrive without the cocoon of the traditional gay ghetto?
Sure, remnants of the gay ghetto exist, but it is fast becoming the exclusive playground of the very wealthy. As prices rise, heterosexual families are also moving in, further changing the unique character of these neighborhoods. I have nothing against these heterosexual families who are often our friends and allies. But, as the number of heterosexuals increases, the safety net grows smaller and gay people who once freely kissed, suddenly have to look over their shoulders.
For example, demographic changes may be affecting South Beach, a magnificent Miami neighborhood blessed with bountiful sunshine, gorgeous beaches, and scantily clad models. I first started club hopping in South Beach in the late eighties when it was a scary ghost town infested with prostitutes and drug dealers. The gay community opened a few nightclubs in old theatres and by the early nineties the city was booming. For the next decade, working class gay men flocked to this Mecca from all over the world. Eventually, prices skyrocketed as the gay glitterati and sybaritic straights moved in.
The loss of majority status for gay people has seemingly emboldened gay bashers. On July 4, according to the Express Gay News, Carl Zablotny, the gay publisher of Wire, a Miami Beach gay newspaper, was slugged in the mouth and knocked unconscious by two thugs who hurled anti-gay remarks. In January 2003, Earnest Robinson left a popular gay pub and was shot in the shoulder by two men who shouted anti-gay slurs. In another incident, three men attacked and beat a victim who left a gay bar dressed as a belly dancer.
And, this month Miami Heat basketball star Shaquille O'Neal called police after he witnessed gay bashers yell anti-gay slurs and throw a beer bottle at a gay couple. South Beach is still an incredible place to be openly gay. The outbreak of recent bashings is not representative of the community. However, these attacks do suggest that as our numbers decrease, so does the safety zone.
The decline of the gay ghetto also may have political implications. In the past, gay activists had a critical mass of young people who could be organized to protest abuses. It is much more difficult to convince older wealthy gay people to hit the streets chanting slogans.
Meanwhile, the younger, and often angrier, homosexuals can't be mobilized because they are dispersed in isolated, lower income neighborhoods. Perhaps, this dynamic helps explain the tepid response in California this month following Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger's announcement that he would veto legislation allowing gay couples to marry. When Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed pro-gay legislation in the early 90's, there were riots throughout the state, particularly in areas with high concentrations of gay people.
As the ghetto becomes more exclusive, regular gay and lesbian Americans are forced to search for new neighborhoods that are inclusive. For gays who enjoyed living in the traditional gayborhood, moving dramatically changes their quality of life. Instead of living in vibrant areas where one can walk to the grocery store and the gay bar, many gay people today must live in rundown neighborhoods that are quite far from centers of gay culture and the convenience of upscale urban life. For some, this represents a degraded standard of living and a diminished sense of community.
Those looking for solutions to this conundrum may be out of luck. History suggests that neighborhoods are in constant flux and there is little that can be done to reverse changing market and social forces. For example, New York's Lower East Side used to be predominantly Jewish, but that is no longer the case. Before gay people claimed The Castro in the early 1970's, it was primarily a neighborhood of Irish Catholic families.
Gay neighborhoods throughout America are in transition, however, as old communities disappear, new ones are born. In Brooklyn, the areas of Williamsburg and Park Slope have gone from hideous to hip. Back in Manhattan, the once rundown Hells Kitchen is looking more like heaven each day for young gay people. Meanwhile, in Washington, working class GLBT people have moved out of prohibitively pricey DuPont Circle and have rebuilt their lives in nearby Logan Circle, which was not too long ago a place one would not walk at night.
Nothing in life is static. Even as we mourn the blooms falling off the old roses, we can celebrate the flowering of new GLBT-friendly communities.
Well, my old Chelsea neighborhood used to be filled w/ families before it "went Gay," and those small Mom & Pop shops were replaced by trendy shops, florists, restaurants & bars...So, what's REALLY the big deal? Where they used to sell "cheese," they now sell "fromage." Big deal. Boo Hoo.
posted by , at
1) gay demographics changed
2) gay businesses did not keep up with the changes of taste
3) poor marketing ignored the internet and cell phones
4) gays are more demanding of better service and not just a gay hangout
posted by , at
Just because a shop is gay-owned doesn't mean it's worth frequenting. I've gotten plenty of poor customer service and attitude from waiters in shops and eateries in gayborhoods and so they don't get my dollars because they provide inferior service.
I buy from vendors that offer a quality product and great service. And if they happen from gay-owned establishments, that's neither here nor there. I think this notion of cocooning and having gay neighborhoods sends a very sad message--that we still feel as if we don't belong in the larger world.
Personally, I dislike the term "gay ghetto" and found it rather limiting to confine one's self in an area that is predominantly one culture. There is still a sense of seperatism to that and anyone who wants a rich life needs to become part of the greater whole.
I disagree that gay people "must live in rundown neighborhoods" and that younger people tend to live in isolated places--that's a matter of choice. I think today's younger gays are met with far more acceptance and don't feel the need to converge into a self-segregated urban area to find a sense of community.
Where I live, there are plenty of gay men who all own homes and are part of the larger community--they've become one with where they are and don't need to be in an insolated area. In other words, many are choosing to make lives for themselves on their own terms and are successfully integrating with the rest of humanity.
Perhaps we should be more concerned with how to help others integrate into the world at large as opposed to trying to carve out our own niches.
posted by , at
It might be good for gays and straights not to be so segregated. In the long run, perhaps attitudes toward us will change once more people get to know us.
Then again, it is troubling that there has been no great outcries to recent political gay bashing. There has to be a way to mobilize people rather than living next door to them.
posted by Ryan Grant Long, at
"GAY GHETTO" IS THE BEST WAY YOU CAN FIND TO PUT THE NEIGHBORHOODS, WEVE BROUGHT BACK FROM OBLIVION, SOUTH BEACH BEING THE FIRST EXAMPLE HERE IN S.FLA. WELL IF YOUVE RECENTLTY VISITED S.B. IT LOOKS MORE LIKE A GHETTO THAN EVER BEFORE, BUT YOU WONT FIND GAYS LIVING IN THOSE AREAS, WE ARE IN THE HIGHRISES, REFURBISHED HOUSES AND NEW CONSTRUCTION, THE ONLY GAYS LIVING IN GHETTOS, ARE THE CLUB CRAWLING, DRUG ADDICTED QUEENS WHO MOVED TO SOUTH BEACH ONLY TO DO THE ABOVE,EVENTUALLY HAVING TO CRAWL BACK UNDER WHATEVER MIDWESTERN ROCK THEY CRAWLED OUT FROM UNDER.I LOVE S.B. BECAUSE ITS WALKING FRIENDLY GREAT FOR SHOPPING AND HAS A GREAT FLEA MARKET,BUT PLEASE "GHETTOS" ARE EVERYWHERE AND TRASH KNOWS WHERE TO LOOK TO FIND THEM BECAUSE THATS WERE THEY FIT IN,YOUR USE OF THE WORD IS DISGUSTING MAYBE YOU NEED TO LIVE IN A GHETTO TELL ME DO YOU TAKE THE TERM FROM THE HOLOCAUST, THE JEWISH GHETTOS SOMEHOW TRANSLATE TO YOU INTO HOW GAY PEOPLE SHOULD MAKE THEMSELVES TO LIVE.GET REAL GHETTOS AS YOU CHOOSE TO CALL THEM ARE OUT,BECAUSE GAY OR NOT GAY NO ONE WANTS TO LIVE AROUND TRASH,DRUG ADDICTED LOOSERS, AND BY THE WAY I WOULD RATHER EAT AT A STRAIGHT RESTAURANT ANY DAY RATHER THAN AT A GAY ONE WHERE THE FOOD AND SERVICES SUCKS AND THE METH ADDICTED WAITER ISNT GOING TO REMEMBER ANYTHING EXCEPT, WHERE HE IS PARTYING AND WITH WHO THAT NIGHT,SO AS FAR AS RESPECTABLE PEOPLE BEING WORRIED ABOUT THE DESTRUCTION OF YOU GHETTOS, BELIEVE ME WE ARENT.
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