How Gentrification and Mainstreaming Hurt the LGBTQ Community, Part 1
Gentrification is the process where upper and upper-middle income individuals, organizations, and businesses assert upper and upper-middle class values, standards, and expenses on a neighborhood or community, often displacing low income and marginalized individuals, organizations, and businesses.
LGBTQ gentrification benefits from and perpetuates the myth that all LGBTQ people are affluent, cultured in the arts, and unhampered by the costs and responsibilities of raising children. This myth worked well to garner support from corporate America looking for untapped markets of potential customers. While this myth may be true for some, the privilege doesn’t extend to a large number in our community.
This myth mostly focuses on gay, white, cisgender men, often in monogamous dual income relationships. The myth discounts the experiences of Lesbians, People of Color, Transgender folks, and other marginalized people in the LGBTQ community. While there are a disproportionate number of gay men working in higher income arts and culture careers, gay men are also more likely than straight men to work in traditionally female dominated jobs such as teacher, nurse, secretary, administrative assistant, and so on. Female dominated jobs typically pay lower wages than jobs in male dominated fields. Lesbians and other women already know this. Some Lesbians are also single mothers or raise their children with the help and support of another female significant other. LGBTQ people are more likely to experience discrimination in jobs and housing than straight people. Even now, after the legalization of same-sex marriage, discriminating against LGBTQ people isn’t necessarily illegal – depending on where you live and where you work. This discrimination can impact one’s job opportunities and earning potential. LGBTQ People of Color, Transgender people, and others in our community face double and even triple forms of discrimination and inequality. We also have a disproportionate number of homeless in our community including LGBTQ youth who ran away or who were kicked out by their parents, and transgender individuals who are more likely to experience discrimination in jobs, housing, and from mainstream social services and homeless programs.
Despite these realities, LGBTQ folks, businesses, and organizations are often on the leading edge of gentrification. We are often the initial perpetrators of gentrification, but we can also become later victims of this process. LGBTQ folks move to cities because we can find better opportunities including jobs, community, and a concentrated dating pool. There’s also safety and security in numbers. In the city, one is more likely to find LGBTQ bars, community centers, businesses, and organizations. Initially, many LGBTQ neighborhoods started in marginalized and neglected urban areas where LGBTQ folks could find homes and start businesses with little money or opposition to being there. These communities improved and grew. Often the non-LGBTQ and non-white lower income and marginalized communities who were there before us are pushed out. Affluent LGBTQ folks often bring new stores, bars, businesses, coffee shops, and cultural institutions into areas that were previously cheap and run down. They make improvements to their neighborhoods and make them more appealing for real estate developers, larger businesses, and corporate franchises to move in.
In some places, LGBTQ folks are gentrifying themselves out of their own gayborhoods. While many initially moved into a neighborhood because of lower costs, gentrification raises rents and other prices. LGBTQ people, bars, organizations, and businesses can’t always keep up with the rising prices and are eventually pushed out by even more affluent or influential individuals, businesses, and developers. Additionally, less affluent LGBTQ people may never have been able to keep up with rent and other costs in the first place.
The positive side of gentrification is that it beautifies neighborhoods, brings in business, and makes these neighborhoods safer (at least for white, cisgender people).
On the negative side, low income and marginalized straight and LGBTQ people, organizations, and businesses are forced out because of rising prices and the stigma of being other. For example, in one community expensive condos built up around the site of a longstanding LGBTQ bar. The condo community had issues with having an LGBTQ bar in their neighborhood so they eventually closed it down in the name of progress. Gentrified prices also limit the opportunities of individuals, groups, and businesses that have less money or resources to work with. This especially affects the working class and lower middle-class. It prices people, businesses, and organizations out of the market.
While gentrification is often used to talk about physical neighborhoods, its effect can also be experienced in other ways that put profits and an affluent lifestyle over the common community. LGBTQ gentrification can include excessively high ad prices in LGBTQ papers and publications. It also can also include the content some of these publications focus on – such as articles that pertain to the affluent and trendy while excluding topics and issues of interest to the average LGBTQ person or those within our marginalized sub-communities. Gentrification can be seen in high prices for spaces and other representation at Pride events. While it might be fair to charge corporations and businesses higher prices since they would presumably be making money and gaining customers, the same can’t be said of charging high prices to community groups who are only trying to gain new members. Small mom and pop businesses may also have difficulty paying the price for inclusion. Gentrified prices limit the options for these small community groups, small organizations, and small businesses to be represented, to be visible, and to build grassroots community. Gentrification can also be expressed in the types of events that are held and the admission costs involved. Events focusing on affluent sensibilities may appeal to certain segments of the LGBTQ population, but not all. High priced events marginalize those of lower incomes.
To be continued…