Is “Gaytrification” a Real Phenomenon?
Because of the sheer diversity and variability among the large number of people inhabiting them, cities have always been havens for difference, reflecting the existence of spaces characterised by a commonality among the members inhabiting them. This is precisely how gay villages, or gay neighbourhoods, which are geographical areas with recognized boundaries frequented by a large number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, developed in some of the world’s largest cities. LGBT people left the suburbs or their rural backgrounds in conservative areas to find acceptance, and other individuals who share the same identity in large cities. Some examples of gay villages are Greenwich Village in New York City, Toronto’s Church and Wellesley neighbourhood and Le Marais in Paris.
Isolated bars and private clubs known for tolerating non–heterosexual communities have existed for quite some time. As laws concerning homosexuality became more relaxed in many countries, these semi formal clusters of LGBT friendly bars and services, located in primarily urban regions, further developed into gay villages centred around an economy based on low rents and a vibrant drinking culture. These gay neighbourhoods played a role fundamental during the initial phases of the LGBTQIA+ movement; having members of the same community live in close proximity to each other lead to better collectivisation and development of the social movement. It allowed them to organise radical rallies and protests, and lead the way for better organisation.
In recent times, there have been changes to the financial models underpinning gay villages. Factors like the increasing purchasing power of some members of the LGBT community, and gentrification, which is a consequence of that, have transformed gay neighbourhoods. We shall look into these factors in greater detail.
Recent studies have indicated that there has been a significant increase in the purchasing power of certain segments of the LGBT community, such as same-sex couples. In 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department revealed that male same-sex couples in the U.S. have an average household income of $176,000, approximately $63,000 more than that of opposite-sex couples, while lesbian couples earn around $11,000 more. The causes for the relative affluence of same-sex couples are immense. One cause is higher levels of education. Around 46% of people in same-sex couples have college degrees, compared to around 30% in opposite-sex couples. Higher levels of education yield higher incomes.
Another cause is the relative absence of children in gay households. Less than a fifth of same-sex couples have children, compared to nearly 44% of heterosexual couples. Raising a child costs a good amount of money. The affluence of such same-sex couples is comparable to that of heterosexual couples with no children. They are informally referred to as DINK – an acronym standing for “double income, no kids”. In most cases, both partners in these couples receive an income.
However, not all of these statistics hold true for people of colour within the LGBTQIA+ community. A Harvard study recently found that POC members of the LGBTQIA+ community suffer twice the amount of discrimination in terms of employment and police interactions than their white peers. They face higher rates of unemployment as well; fifteen percent of African American adults are unemployed, compared to an eight percent unemployment rate for the general population. Black and Latino men also make up around sixty-three percent of newly diagonosed cases of HIV/AIDS. Additional expenditure on healthcare further reduces their income, and their incomes are lower than a white individual’s as a result of the systemic and sociocultural barriers that make it harder for them to complete their education or find employment.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines gentrification as “the process by which a place, especially part of a city, changes from being a poorer area to a richer one, where people from a higher social class live”. As some members of the LGBT community have become better off (particularly the white ones), gay neighbourhoods have increasingly been renovated and gentrified to reflect changes in the lifestyle and social status of their inhabitants. Property values in these areas have increased. In Williamsburg, the most gentrified neighbourhood in New York City, rents rose nearly 80% between 1990 and 2014. The rising value of real estate has aided in pushing out the more marginal user of urban spaces in favour of those with higher incomes. The push in real estate values has also come, to some extent, from tech companies. Cities that house tech companies, such as San Francisco, also tend to be hubs for gentrification.
This has lead to a concentration of white LGBTQIA+ members in gentrified neighbourhoods. By virtue of these neighbourhoods being occupied by economically well-off, white members of the community, these neighbourhoods have also become the standard representation of what a gay neighbourhood essentially looks like; fancy bars and safe places. This perception has further increased prices in these neighbourhoods and made them increasingly inaccessible to POC members of the community.
White gaybourhoods also mark a departure from the radical movements that initially orginated out of these areas. White gayness has become increasingly associated with capitalism, as a result of an increase in the purchasing power of these members of the community, which has given rise to pink capitalism. This assimilation continues to elude the POC members of the community, as they lack the same kind of purchasing power than has forced corporates and multinationals to start catering to the LGBTQIA+ community. White spaces, due to their proximity to capitalistic structures, also tend to have far more positive representation in popular culture, which simply increases their acceptability, and therefore, access to more and more capitalistic institutions. This allows them to consolidate their wealth and further increases their purchasing power, creating a cycle.
Gentrification has had a disproportionate impact on different members of the LGBTQIA+ community. People of colour (POC) within the LGBTQIA+ community have not seen the same level of increase in their purchasing power during the last decade, and have therefore been targeted by gentrification more deeply than white members of the community. POC members continue to be kept out of these safe neighbourhoods because their purchasing power remains below their white counterparts.
Neighbourhoods that have had a strong POC presence also have been found to have a more hostile relationship with the police forces as they have higher rates of arrest and abuse by the police than other communities. This further contributes to the unsafe perceotion that these members of the LGBTQIA+ community are associated with.
Gentrification by white LGBTQIA+ members has not spared non-LGBTQIA individuals either. Middle class couples, especially with children find gentrified areas unaffordable in cities. Gentrification, does however, remain largely inevitable as different groups gain or lose purchasing power. While displacement is a consequence that will continue to follow gentrification, it is possible for governments and policy makers to ensure that it doesn’t effect one group disproportionately by ensuring that structures that bar certain groups from economic emancipation cease to exist.