Here’s an interesting article about gay vacation spots … I have seen in several places the statement that “gays and artists” are at the forefront of gentrification. This idea is interesting to me because I did a study in a LGBTQ* community in California to see how the arts were intertwined with the history of the community as well as the national “gay rights” movement. What I found is that historically, where LGBTQ people congregate has a lot to do with where is safest. It’s true that Bohemian artsy places like San Francisco may resonate with LGBTQ groups for cultural reasons — music, the arts, color, symbols, festivals, antique shops and the like. But in the case of the community that I studied, before it was a LGBTQ community it was fairly poor and largely populated by elderly folks. Because of the ideal location of this place and the safety of its streets (assaults were frequent in other parts of town), it provided a sort of safe haven that allowed LGBTQ folks to leave the underground and start buying property, building businesses, and building a largely LGBTQ-oriented community. Demographics steadily shifted from elderly and retired couples and individuals, to young single adults and same-sex households. Around the same time, artists and left-of-center folks started moving in too; now lower-income LGBTQ families and individuals are moving into less expensive outlying areas that border and intersect with other low-income areas.
It’s interesting to me how this article paints a happy picture of these upper-class gay vacation towns, without addressing the larger political and social issues, and even makes the comment that “gays and lesbians can vacation almost anywhere these days”. I beg to differ – as far as I can tell, discrimination is commonplace, and where LGBTQ folks hang out has a lot to do with where they feel safer – in numbers. I think that it’s important to understand that LGBTQ identity is a highly mobile identity, in that many people move or travel to construct that identity among other people who share it. It’s not something that one is born into; if one wants the identity and the culture, one has to find it, and to some extent, create it. People I have talked to have expressed a basic feeling of being deprived in areas where heterosexual couples are allowed to express their affection for one another on streets, in restaurants, at public events, etc. while same-sex couples often face negative scrutiny, comments, and even assault just by holding hands. As a result, many people feel a sense of celebration and pride in areas where people are allowed to express their feelings for another person of the same sex. I have a hunch that the people at the forefront of gentrification are generally already fairly low-income and are looking for a place to land that is cheaper, safer, and offers opportunities to network with others like themselves. These people may often be gay … or artists … I would personally like to see more research about the relationship between gentrification and these populations.
*Please note: I use the acronym LGBTQ because it is a common and inclusive way to speak about lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgendered people, and people who identify as “queer”.