The 4 Murderers Killing America’s Gayborhoods

Dupont. Chelsea. West Hollywood. Boystown. The gayborhoods of most American cities aren’t seeing a renaissance, but a complete crumbling. Matt Katz chronicles the decline of these enclaves, proclaiming “the American gayborhoood [is …] already dead.” You could argue even Le Marais in Paris is being de-gayed. But what’s killing them?

The Internet. We used to actually go to a bookstore to buy books; now we go on Amazon. We used to go to bars to meet new people, because that was the only option; now we hit Manhunt and Grindr and Match. The always-on interwebs has changed much about society as a whole, but it’s has a direct effect on how the gay community congregates and socializes. Namely, doing so in the physical sense, around other gay people, is no longer a necessity. Gay-owned and gay-themed bookstores, cafes and yes, even porn and sex shops used to be staples of gayborhoods, but they can’t cut it anymore. They’re ushered out by increasing rents and sliding sales.

Heterosexuals. It’s the typical rags to riches to good riddance story. The gays move in to a derelict neighborhood because nobody else will have them, they spruce it up, create a place where Starbucks and Pottery Barn feel comfortable, help increase the rents, and then the breeders and their families start moving in, snapping up our safe haven while we move on to new pastures.

Ourselves. As we’ve migrated toward mainstreaming gay society into “regular” society, our ideals are increasingly matching up withe everyone else’s. Gay men and women in the 60s might’ve delighted at not having the responsibility of raising children; instead, they got to have a summer home and fly first class. But now marriage and adoption and raising kids is paramount to many of this same set of middle class gays, arguably because it’s finally an option — society will finally accept two gay dads walking their daughter to school.

The man. Well, it’s worked. We’ve finally snuck our way into polite society. Which means the reason so many of us uprooted ourselves from Nebraska and Oklahoma and Virginia and immigrated to Chelsea and West Hollywood is gone. Nothing is perfect yet: You still have parents throwing their gay kids out on the street, and plenty of states won’t let us get married. But gayborhoods doubled as headquarters for activism and community organizing. And while much of that has transitioned to the web (see above), the very success of anti-discrimination ordinances, HIV treatments and education, and Americans all over seeing people like us on TV means we no longer have to congregate in a 10-block radius to feel at home. In effect, all our rabblerousing has worked to many degrees, and made the gayborhood increasingly irrelevant.

And the only thing that’s saving the gayborhood? This guy.

[photo via]

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  • kevinvancouver

    sad… I DO NOT WANT TO BE MAINSTREAM.. who the hell wants to settle for milquetoast middle of the road average boring!!
    Not me they can have it thanks but no thanks ..

  • condenasty

    This really has more to do with the second reason you list. We gentrify and then younger gays coming up cannot afford the gayborhood and live elsewhere. Well heeled straights move right in. I saw the Fire Island docu “Where Earth Meets Sky” and was surprised to see the older queens vexed that younger gays were not buying into FI….are you kidding me. Time stands still for no one…mourn then move on…

  • condenasty

    Correction: When Ocean Meets Sky

  • Michael @ LeonardMatlovich.com

    How appropriate is it for a straight man to be pontificating about the alleged loss of gay neighborhoods? No more than it would be for a white guy pontificating about the alleged loss of “black neighborhoods.”

    He mourns the loss of our “marginalization” as any parasitic slummer would mourning his ability to tiptoe through the wild side, only this time it’s not the privileged white guy who can move with impunity between neighborhoods but the privileged straight guy some of whose best friends are gay.

    F off!

  • Cam

    Wow, people used to live in DuPont in DC for two reasons, one, it wasn’t that safe to be gay elsewhere in the city, and two….it wasn’t that safe to live MOST places in the city at that time. Now Dupont is wealthy, very expensive, and the rest of DC is very safe etc… so why move to DuPont and pay a fortune for a tiny space with no parking when you can move to mose neighborhoods in the city, be just as safe or safer and get a much bigger place with parking. Sure, DuPont on the whole isn’t as gay, but you’ve gone from having one VERY gay neighborhood in DC, to now having the entire city be “Kinda Gay”.

  • Wade MacMorrighan

    Actually, in my state (Iowa) the folks who are killing the once-vibrant Gayborhood of downtown Des Moines are the wealthy realestaters coming in to grab us as much cheap–but lovely–property as hey can so that they can flip them, and then sell them to wealthy out-of-staters! And, what;’s so heartbreakingly ironic is that it was the Gay community, and the Pagans, and other counter-culture individuals who made this area so desirable, and who kept the cheap buildings lovely, yet inexpensive for those who wanted to live there for generations. Now, things have changed, and the wealthy are increasing the rent for EVERYONE which is having the effect of forcing out ALL of the “undesirables”, such as the gay community who made this area what it is!

  • Bob

    THere is a really good analysis of this issue by the commenters today on JoeMyGod.blogspot.com .

  • D'oh, The Magnificent

    Who lived in these neighborhoods prior to gay men showing up, and was there all this concern over a prior culture being pushed aside? My chief problem with this is the self absorption.

  • Steve

    Heh, this guy just doesn’t know where the gay neighborhoods actually are anymore. Does anyone really consider Chelsea to be a gay neighborhood, still? You’re more likely to see a poodle there… Real queers live in Park Slope.

  • PopSnap

    Who honestly thinks meeting other gays on the internet is a good thing! I and most of the gays I talk to have the “talk to me a few times, maybe text, MAYBE hang once or twice then you quit talking to me like a douchebag” experience when it comes to meeting guys online.

    And trust me it was about all I “had” in high school (as well as many other gay kids). My friends would all joke and make fun of me if they caught me on Myspace and ask me if I was talking to any cute guys and if so make sure they aren’t pedos. Sure I had maybe 2-3 good long term bf’s, but that’s about it.

    Bars for me thank you.

    Oh and… I don’t want normal. I don’t want middle class. That makes me think of my rich suburban white parents who were always lukewarm about that fact that…
    I am gay! Sorrys.

  • Erasmus van Rotterdam

    It´s suicide for the gayborhoods, they are killing themselves. Most of gay business owners cater to high-income customers under the assumption that gay couples and individuals are wealthy because they have no kids and this happens not to be completely true. I stopped supporting gay business for several reasons:

    1. Most of the time their goods and services are overpriced.

    2. Customer service is always crappy, lots of attitude, rudeness and arrogance.

    3. The erroneous idea that everybody in the gay community is “fabulous”, so as soon as a gay neighborhood starts to develop it attracts young couples with high income, which at the time pushes real estate prices up, and upscale business star to mushroom and the whole place becomes mainstream.

    Honestly, I don´t want to live in a gay ghetto, my experience living in the South End (Boston) and Dupont Circle was dreadful…to many drug pushers, too many male hustlers walking down the street, too many used needles carpeting the sidewalks…who needs that.

  • WiseUp

    Erasmus : that’s all quite true in the Chelsea area of Manhattan, too, from my experience. Anyway, why would somebody want to move to NYC or Hollywood (in states that don’t even have gay marriage like some other states) just because he’s gay? Other, smaller, cites are so much more interesting.



    Poor ‘Mos. The Gayborhood is all gone poof!

    Story: I lived in a dirt cheap building in Silverlake. Great mix of Gay & Straight, mostly creative types. One day I’m outside and this obnoxious Benz Convertible pulls up. Out jump three Weho types to look at a house across the street. The Real Estate agent driver says (pointing at the house next door with a bunch of Latinos hanging out), “Don’t worry, the traditional types will be priced out of here by next year. This neighborhood is going hip by the day.”

    So. We may weep for what we had, but, who had it before us?

  • D'oh, The Magnificent

    @DEREK WASHINGTON:Exactly. Were the gays weeping for them? I think not.

  • AlwaysGay

    Heterosexuals are the biggest reason gay neighborhoods fall. Wherever haterosexuals live anti-gay bigotry exists. Once a number of haterosexuals move into a gay populated area it becomes hostile.

  • hephaestion

    All this negativity! I’ve lived in gayborhoods in DC and Atlanta for 15 years and have found NONE of the awful things listed by some folks here.

    I have found countless great gay & lesbian people doing wonderful things with their lives in a free environment. If that’s not what you found, perhaps you were looking in the wrong places.

    I have had the pleasure of hosting many newly out people in my gayborhoods, giving them hope that they would one day experience such freedom and joy. And they have.

  • hephaestion

    @D’oh, The Magnificent: Every demographic group has been displaced at some point. EVERY group. I do know gays moving into poorer neighborhoods who have reached out to become part of the community and to help elderly residents keep up their homes. I have also seen gay guys move into poor neighborhoods and act like arrogant schmucks. I don’t think you can lay all blame on any one group, and that includes gays. It must be noted that we gays have FAR fewer safe housing options than any other demographic group.

  • Nickadoo

    I’ve always thought it was a bit of a fallacy that rich, affluent gays move into derelict neighborhoods and spruce them up, raising the property values.

    I think poor young gays, leaving home for the first time, possibly entering college, move to derelict neighborhoods because it’s what they can afford. An influx of suburban and rural young gays will often make what was once a harsh neighborhood more friendly and safe.

    Where young gays go, gay nightlife follows.

    The gay meccas of the Castro, West Hollywood, Greenwich Village, Dupont Circle, etc. were largely founded by bohemian crowds and art schoolers, not wealthy A-list gays.

    It’s only then that the wealthy gays decide they’d rather live where the action is and start buying. One only has to take one look at Silverlake as it continues to morph into “East Weho” to realize that, IMHO.

  • christopher di spirito

    Straights in the Castro were a shocking sight.

    Boys and girls having to ask, “Excuse me” to pass a straight couple with a pram blocking the sidewalk, who moved in to raise their little family. Sounds so PC. So integrated. The ideal.

    Until the straights begin complaining about the noise from a bar or the cocksucking in a park or the attire of the Sunday tea dance queens with their bon-bons hanging out.

    Straights ruined Folsom. They moved in, opened their own clubs, and brought in the fighting and the violence.

  • D'oh, The Magnificent

    @hephaestion: I am not laying blame. I am pointing out reality.

  • D'oh, The Magnificent

    @Nickadoo: No, it is happening throughout brookly right now. Being priced out of Manhattan, many move to brooklyn, and they price the existing residents out of brooklyn.

  • Lee

    The “gayborhoods” were originally safe places for gays, where gay bashing was minimalized, and where gay businesses could exist without getting spray-painted with swastikas or vandalized. Safety was the original concern, being yourself, not the gentrification idea. Eventually, gayborhoods were fixed up by the gays, who invested in their new neighborhoods (because no one else was). Out of the gayborhoods, a sense of community and gay culture grew. There were political and physical strenght in our numbers. It was a gayborhood that allowed Harvey Milk to form his political base in San Francisco. In DC, the gayborhood has produced our gay city council members. THe gayborhoods also produced the organizations that were the FIRST to fight AIDS. No one is forced to live in a gayborhood. I think that it is good for the community that they exist, and that those who wish to continue to advance gay rights find solidarity there. I do not wish to bland in or blend in .

  • D'oh, The Magnificent

    @Lee: but did you wish to push out those before you? I note how you turn all of this into some sort of mythology of grand cultural purpose. I would be less bothered by all of this is you and others would admit that the gayborhoods were places where you pushed others that lived there before you out.

  • CondeNasty

    D’oh, The Magnificent
    I totally agree!! The Marais in Paris used to be a quiet slowly fading Jewish enclave before the gays moved in and Chelsea was the domain of aged working class Irish families. One group ages out and another moves in. It is the way of the world…

  • Nickadoo

    @D’oh, The Magnificent: I’m not saying that that doesn’t happen eventually… I’m just saying that it’s the arsty types and young poor gays that tend to spruce up neighborhoods first. They’re the ones making it a safer and more appealing place to live.

    That’s when the rich gays come in and price everyone out… and bitch, wondering where the “cool neighborhood vibe” went.

  • D'oh, The Magnificent

    @Nickadoo: “Sprucing up” and “safer” often are loaded terms. They can means white and wealthy. Especially when ‘safer’ is not that these neighborhoods are necessarily dangerous or that the buildings are completely run down.

    I know that can be the case in Brooklyn that this is code (often not intentionally so by the speaker) for “I don’t see a lot of white folks here yet.” I doubt some of them, many of them are my friends, even realize what why they think of it as ‘safer.’

    Now, sometimes safer really means safer. But other times, it is code for their discomfort with the residents who live there. Trust me as a black guy, I have white friends who want me to move to their neighborhood because it is “safer” in outer parts of Brooklyn. Safer for them maybe, but less safe for me as a black gay guy in an ethnically white neighborhood.

    I am not saying any of this is easy to decipher. I am just trying to take the romanticism of mythologizing this out to look at the reality versus what we choose to believe we are doing. Even my existence in a lower class working neighgorhood affects things because I am a gay buppie considering my income level.

  • Nickadoo

    @D’oh, The Magnificent: Everything you’ve said is completely true. Race (and racism) play a big factor in people’s perception of the safety of a neighborhood.

    It’s difficult not to use loaded terms when race and racism are clearly at play. I think classism plays an equal part here, though. A poor neighborhood stands a greater chance of being a tougher part of town than a middle class or wealthy neighborhood regardless of race. I’ve been in (and currently live in) very nice minority neighborhoods and I’ve sure as hell found myself in some scary-ass white neighborhoods, as I can guess you have.

    Previous gay ghettos sprouted up in largely European immigrant neighborhoods, often overrun with organized crime. Now it’s traditionally black and Latino neighborhoods (Brooklyn as you cited, and Silverlake as I did) have an influx of white gays moving in.

    I don’t see rich, white (and potentially racist) gay guys packing up and moving to poor minority neighborhoods until there’s a reason to do so. A poor (or poorer), young, white gay guy, on the other hand, likely might out of financial necessity… and he’ll likely be a renter, not a buyer.

    When you have enough young, white gay men living in a minority neighborhood, a cottage industry of the proverbial “stuffwhitepeoplelike” (coffee shops, clubs, organic groceries, etc.) will chase after them.

    Wealthy A-gays aren’t likely gonna buy a fixer-upper in a ghetto without the appeal of a Starbucks, Whole Foods and boy bar nearby.

  • sokablamo

    I think this is a fairly one-sided article. The whole country is reurbanizing and a new generation is finding new ways to integrate into communities in the city. I’m too busy working with straight and gay people for more community arts, more quirky self expression, and more small local businesses in my neighborhood to worry about whether the gay ghetto can support giant Club Megadance anymore.

  • D'oh, The Magnificent

    @Nickadoo: I was using wealth as a relative term rather than saying that the gays moving in are wealthy. It is like when 4 college students combine income to pay more for an apartment. They aren’t really wealthy, but the economic effect is that they are able to be charged more than a family of 4 can pay on the same apartment. That’s the economic impact that I mean by wealth.

    I should be clear that I don’t there is an easy solution or for that matter problem here. I am just trying to take the mythologizing of gay people “discovering” these neighborhoods without prior tenants that they displaced. Now, we are seeing the cycle continue with the early gay adopters being replaced. Not sure what to do about it. Perhaps rent control and stabilization helps some, but it is not perfect either.

  • mark snyder

    My partner and I share a studio apartment downtown. Couldn’t afford the Castro if we tried. And yes, even the Castro and well, all of SF is becoming less gay and more mainstream.

  • Chitown Kev


    Although the Chicago gayborhoods are an exception to this whole trend. Boystoen and Anersonville (aka “Girlstown) have always been pretty gay and quite white (though it was working class). And the displacement is happening among poorer gays (of all races) and has been for sometime; we’ve been talking about this here for years now.

  • Cam

    No. 11 · PopSnap
    Who honestly thinks meeting other gays on the internet is a good thing! I and most of the gays I talk to have the “talk to me a few times, maybe text, MAYBE hang once or twice then you quit talking to me like a douchebag” experience when it comes to meeting guys online.

    Yes, but the internet is also the best thing to help young people come out. Kids that grow up in smaller towns who aren’t near “Gayborhoods” can talk to other people and realize they aren’t “The only gay in the village”. Additionally, churches like the Mormons are having huge problems because they’ve always had a culture of keeping your mouth shut and not complaining, and controlling the local press. Well when people can get their news on the internet, talk to other pissed off Mormons etc… even come to sites like “Queerty” they realize that there are a lot of other Mormons just as annoyed with the church as they are. Their retention rates started dropping right around 1996 when the internet started becoming a factor.

  • Miss Thing

    @Cam: It’s Dupont, not DuPont.

  • schlukitz

    No. 24 · D’oh, The Magnificent

    I can’t speak for all of the gayborhoods mentioned on this blog, but I can speak for the West Village.

    Not looking to sound like Mary, Mary, quite contrary, it should be noted that half of the shops on Christopher Street in the West Village were empty and being used for storage facilities in 1965 before it became the gay ghetto and the “Runway” to the docks.

    No one got “pushed” out of the neighborhood. It had deteriorated so badly that no one wanted to be there anymore until, that is, the gays came along and breathed life back into it.

    Small shops of less than 600 sq. ft. that rented for the hundreds in privately owned buildings were gobbled up by large uptown real estate companies who pushed those rents into the tens of thousands and thus effective driving gay-owned business out of the area and into Chelsea, which had also become run-down and seedy looking until the gays came along.

    Now, the same thing is happening there as well. Life is all about change. ;P

  • Drake

    The gayborhoods served not only those who lived there, but also the huge numbers of gays from surrounding metro areas. Unique gay businesses really can not exist unless there is a critical mass of potential walk-by patrons in an urban area. Examples: a gay book store will not survive in your suburban shopping mall. Also, gay bars in many instances serve to protect gays from gay bashing. If you have nothing but mixed bars, and a gay guy stars hitting on a fellow who turns out to be straight, well, the scene could get ugly.

    Above commenters who are trashing the concept of the gayborhood are also conceding some sort of privilege to other groups that they are entitled to “their” neighborhoods if they want them, but not gays. Why? There are references to jews and blacks or others who preceded the gayborhoods. Most gayborhoods which I have seen, although with a high gay presence, are nothing as saturated with gays as The Castro was. The gayborhoods of America tend to be some of the best integrated urban areas in America, whether speaking racially, sexually, or religiously. The difference with a gayborhood is that gays and gay businesses are fully open. If a gay couple wishes to embrace or to hold hands in public, it is not a scene of stares ( or worse) as happens out of the gayborhood, no matter what city or suburb you are talking about.

    Cities with gayborhoods tend to have more gay social organizations, support systems, and gay political clout than cities without gayborhoods. Very few places without gayborhoods have elected openly gay politicians. This has been a huge factor in political successes for gays, that eventually trickle down to areas without openly gay politicians or gayborhoods.

    I have lived in gayborhoods and in predominately straight areas, now in a straight neighborhood. The gayborhoods have unconditional acceptance of just about everyone. The straight neighborhoods have some of that, but more often people who are polite to you, people who tolerate you, and people who will invite you for the neighborhood 4th of July picnic (when everyone is invited), but not as often for smaller neighborhood get togethers, where they are often couples with kids in schools, etc. Frankly, lots of those would be boring anyway. The point is that the gayborhood always provided lots of impromptu invitations and many opportunities to meet people. I live in a gayborhood originally because it was easy walking to graduate school. However, I found that the gayborhood was great for coming out of the closet when I could not count on a fully supportive family and friends.

    I think that the gayborhoods are great for gay political clout and gay culture ( you really need a gayborhood to have a thriving gay historical society and other such clubs), as well as the traditional gay groups, whether leather-levi, gay clinics, gay community centers, gay AA groups, gay book clubs, gay garden clubs, gay sports teams of all sorts, etc.

    I ask this to the young guys who are arguing against the gayborhood concept: Name gay organizations that have been FOUNDED by guys currently in their 20’s and 30’s, and that are successfully raising money for their activities. I can not think of any. Every gay organization that is worth anything has grown out of the gayborhoods, started by guys currently in their upper 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, or some of the many who would be that age but for AIDS. The groups were usually started when the guys were in their 20’s and 30’s, and in the gayborhoods. The gay political agenda will be much harder to see fulfilled without each generation’s own successful organizations focusing on gay issues. Those who argue that they only want to “assimilate” have no chance in getting their non-gay organizations to devote much interest, money, or effort in our causes. I am not at all arguing for gay separatism. However, the gayborhood is a unique social support for all gays, and constantly acts as an incubator for the development of gay thought and action in all areas of life. The internet is really no substitute.

  • Cam

    @No. 35 · Drake

    I get what you’re saying but they were still somewhat a form of ghettoization. Sure, everybody loves going down to little Italy now, or Chinatown now, but remember, a lot of those neighborhoods formed because people couldn’t live in other areas at the time.

    DC used to have an amazingly thriving neighborhood in the circle, most gays lived there.

    Now, that neighborhood isn’t as gay, the city as a whole is gay, and DC just legalized gay marriage. You have to see that gay people spreading across the city were part of this progress. If we continued to only live in one small section of the city, other people never would come in contact with us, learn about us, vote with us etc…

  • Drake

    I never suggested that all gays must live in the gaqyborhood. I am saying that a gayborhood seems to be an essential element of gay political and cultural progress. A gayborhood is true gay visibility. I think that gays should be able to live everywhere. One of the big political statements of the ’70’s, ’80’s, and ’90s was gay visibility. Lots of gays flew the gay flag, where ever they lived. In the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, one can think that there are no gays since there is NO gay visibility, and LOTS of Oppression toward gays, formalized in the legal system, social attitudes, and even the state constitution. Man, do they ever need a gayborhood to help. Living in the ‘burbs is great, but there really is not much visibility in doing that. When gays are not visible, that is a form of being in the closet, which is right where the fundamentalists and gay haters want us to be.

  • Xerxes

    Most DC are gays NEVER lived in the Dupont Circle area, een htough Dupont Circle is/was the gayborhood. Metropolitan DC has about 3.5 MILLION peoples, roughly 5% of whom are gay/lesbian. Yes, there were many OUT gays and lesbians in the Dupont area, and still are. Howeer, most gays do live in rather anonymous visibility in areeas that are not gayborhoods. Many thousands of the gays who do not reside in the gayborhoods do visit there, patronize the businesses there, and cruise there. The gayborhood has been THE vital element in DC Gay political power. The gayborhood has elected 2 open gay city council members, and the gay agenda has thrived, with gay marriage now in effect. The agenda is much slower to progress when there are not gayborhoods and gay elected officials.

  • Rose W.

    Uhm. Sorry, you failed the moment you said “breeder.” Thanks for disregarding and offending all the GLB people who intend to breed. Like me.

  • DeAnimator

    This article is only relevant to white, middle-upper class gay men. Most minority queers HAVE to come to ‘gayborhoods’ in order to feel even remotely safe.

    By the way- Boystown. Good fucking riddance. I hope all the stupid crap here completely crumbles and the whole place turns into Wrigleyville-south. Because it’s already a shit-hole. Just a rainbow colored one.

  • Ivan

    In larger cities in Canada, the gay neighbourhoods are changing – and in most cases dying.

    But for those lamenting, this loss, isn’t it much better to bump into gays all over the cities. No longer are we relegated to a certain street/block.

    Plus it finally breaks the myth that we are all the same or want the same things. We’ve always been as diverse as the rest of society (if not more so). These neighbourhoods, although safe bastions, gave a pretty limited view of who we are.

    Also, if you didn’t fit into this image, you never felt comfortable there anyway.

    I think in 100 years, people will look back at this as the exciting time that it is.

  • ron

    i lived in West Hollywood for all of the 90’s and a good chunk of the 2000’s — the biggest factor in the decline of that neighborhood was, in my humble etc., the increase in crystal meth use. it created a world where shambling zombies roamed around at all hours of the day and night, hollow eyed and strung out, and basically decimated an entire generation of gay boys. Nobody wants to live near drug addicted fuck ups. And as the gays left, the straight folk moved in….

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