the rise (and fall?) of gayborhoods (and why that’s not necessarily a bad thing)
- From slums to seedbed of the Creative Class, LGBT2Q+ communities promote thriving urban development wherever they pop up.
- Areas with a >1% concentration of same-sex households appreciate in value more than the national average: Male concentration saw real estate growth of 14% and female, of 16.5%.
- Richard Florida of the University of Toronto determined 3 Ts that drive economic advantage – Talent, Technology, and Tolerance, and identified burgeoning queer communities as a growth indicator.
- Today, “gayborhoods” are giving way to smaller enclaves and spreading across the country. Only 12% of the LGBT2Q+ population live in these urban centers; 72% never have.
The Value of The Gayborhood
The term “gayborhood” brings to mind a diverse urban atmosphere with a rich nightlife. Something like the aptly named Boysville in Chicago or the million-dollar Castro District in San Francisco. It sparks visions of proud, rainbow-festooned streets and a glamorous lifestyle that’s funded by zero kids, two incomes, a whole lot of activism.
While you wouldn’t think it by looking at them (and their real estate values) today, these progressive hubs started out as the “slums” of the city. Places where military discharges of WWII came together and all too quickly began marching to the beat of their own drums.
Today, gayborhoods are less of a forever home and more of a tourist destination. As the LGBT2Q+ population gains more widespread acceptance and political clout, they have less need for these “hoods,” many choosing instead to settle outside city centers.
far from home
An LGBT2Q+ person in the 1940s was simply not “employable”. During WWII, those in the military who were even suspected of being homosexual were immediately discharged. Because of the associated stigma, many of these servicemen did not opt to return to their hometowns. Instead, they attempted to make a life for themselves in their new cities. Places like New York, San Francisco, and Seattle that were home to major military bases.
Unfortunately, many LGBT2Q+ people could not secure stable employment once out of the military. Many couldn’t even qualify for a loan. Others had their rental applications rejected solely because of their sexual orientation. Because of these limitations, they were forced to live in the less desirable parts of town. Many eventually bought real estate there, giving rise to the first gayborhoods.
Mister Rogers’ Gayborhood
As word of these emerging communities got out, businesses that catered to them followed. Eventually, it sparked a huge movement. Similar to the Great Migration, wherein Black Americans moved from rural towns to urban centers, the LGBT2Q+ population also had their own migration — the Great Gay Migration.
As these neighborhoods grew, so too did their political influence. This led to landmark achievements like electing openly gay official, Harvey Milk, to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in 1977. More recently, in 2009, it led to the first openly out mayor of a major U.S. city, Annise Parker of Houston, Texas.
Today’s gayborhoods, while still considered desirable real estate, are not for everybody. Particularly, not for those who are turned off by the idea of living in a popular tourist destination, who identify more with other parts of their identity, or who simply want to focus on their families.
According to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center, only 12% of the LGBT2Q+ population live in a gayborhood. 72% of LGBT2Q+ Americans have never lived in one.
So where do they live?
Female same-sex households are more likely to move to rural areas with a lower median house price per square foot. Same-sex couples with children tend to live in suburbs or more conservative states like Idaho and Mississippi. There, they often develop their own small LGBT2Q+ enclaves. Queer people of color, transgender people, and others who identify more closely with other points in their identity are also opting out of life in the gayborhood. Instead, they’ve developed “mini-enclaves” and “little planets” such as “Chocolate Chelsea” and “Hell’s Cocina” in New York.
As the LGBT2Q+ community continues to gain visibility in the legal system (for example, through the recent Supreme Court ruling, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia), gayborhoods as we know them may become relics of the past.
“When gay bars are a destination as much for (heterosexual) bachelorette parties as for gay men looking to stand and cruise, and when gay men can find their friends online as easily as they can at the coffee shop (obviously a Starbucks) on the corner, do we need a gay ghetto?”—David GudelunasProfessor of Communication, Fairfield University
An Eye for Fashion and Real Estate
In addition to helping the queer community gain political representation, gayborhoods have also had a peculiar effect on housing prices. According to professor at the University of British Columbia, Amin Ghaziani, “We know that areas that have large concentrations of gays and lesbians experience greater increases in housing prices compared to the US national average.”
For instance, places where male same-sex households represented more than 1% of the population experienced a 14% increase in housing prices. Places with the same concentration of female same-sex households had an even greater increase of 16.5%. Why is this?
Thriving queer communities serve as a litmus test for the Creative Class (think Silicon Valley tech workers and other wealth creators). Urban theorist, Richard Florida, suggests that their presence fosters a tolerant dynamic that attracts creative talent. The bedrock of innovation, this open and welcoming environment is what eventually drives business development, urban regeneration, and ultimately, appreciating real estate in these areas.
“Tolerance—the third of my 3Ts of economic development—provides a critical source of economic advantage that works alongside Technology and Talent.”—Richard FloridaUrbanist and Professor, University of Toronto
You Can Take the “Gay” Out of “Gayborhood” . . .
While gayborhoods today don’t hold the same significance, this is not necessarily a bad thing. They have and continue to serve their purpose, acting as a meeting-grounds, workplace, dating scene, and a safe-haven.
They are there as an option for those who seek a tight-knit and vocal community. But they are NOT the only option. Members of the LGBT2Q+ community now live everywhere from Manhattan, New York to Salt Lake City, Utah.
More than anything, they serve as a symbol of a storied past, paving the way for advocacy, activism, and acceptance. However, the more successful they are at promoting tolerance everywhere, the less the need for these neighborhoods. While their streets are no longer the preferred domain of the LGBT2Q+ populations, they remind us of how far a community can go when its members come together in one cause.
From a group of individuals living on the wrong side of town to a political force that wins major elections, gayborhoods encompass the long journey that LGBT2Q+ people have taken to achieve equal rights for all.