New research finds that traditionally gay neighbourhoods are becoming increasingly “straight” places, and could be at risk of losing their distinct cultural identity.
Fewer same-sex couples reside in historically gay neighbourhoods compared to 10 years ago, according to one of the largest studies of sexuality in the U.S. Led by University of British Columbia sociologist Amin Ghaziani, the study found the number of gay men who live in gay enclaves has declined eight per cent while the number of lesbians has dropped 13 per cent.
Ghaziani’s research, which is collected in his new book There Goes the Gayborhood, suggests that San Francisco’s Castro district, New York’s Chelsea, Chicago’s Boystown and other “gayborhoods” are changing as growing numbers of heterosexual households join or replace gays and lesbians.
He offers several reasons for the shift, including gentrification, changing attitudes among gays and lesbians, and growing acceptance of same-sex couples.
The study also identifies new demographic trends, including unexpected clusters of same-sex parents around desirable schools in traditionally straight neighbourhoods and the emergence of districts for LGBT people of colour. The findings also show that same-sex households exist in a record-high 93 per cent of U.S. counties.
Ghaziani says the greater desirability of these city districts among heterosexuals and increased same-sex couple mobility mark a crucial advance in the gay rights movement. However, he cautions that further “de-gaying” of these areas could produce a loss of cultural identity and voting power for the LGBT community.
“Gay neighbourhoods have been crucial to the struggle for freedom, and have produced globally important contributions, from politics to poetry to music and fashion,” says Ghaziani. “The growing acceptance of same-sex couples underlying these findings is extremely positive, but it is important that we continue to find meaningful ways to preserve these culturally important spaces.”
The research suggests two main reasons why many gays and lesbians are choosing to leave their neighbourhoods: Assimilation broadens their view of their city beyond the streets of just one district and many say that they feel culturally similar to their heterosexual neighbours.
Video: There Goes the Gayborhood? By Amin Ghaziani