LGBT URBANIZATION – Was is a shoe or a bottle that Silvia Rivera brandished to start a riot against the nth New York Police raid at the gay bar Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village? That night, June 28 1969, the Stonewall Riots began, that night triggered the LGBT+ global campaign for equal rights and self-determination. 50 years later many battles have been won, many are still in the fight, especially with homophobic far right populisms in the rise across the globe. Still, LGBT communities have been contributing to the development of cities worldwide. From Greenwich in NYC to SoHo in London and Castro in San Francisco, but also Berlin and Amsterdam… Gay villages and gay bars did not only change the urban-scape but transformed islands of tolerance into international destinations of open-mindedness. But with two major side-effects that have been running all along: hate-crime and gentrification.
HATE CRIME – Gay districts were born at the beginning f the XX century when gay city dwellers settled in big cities to escape un-acceptance and hate-crime in rural areas. The first gay village was Schöneberg in Berlin in the 1920s. Within few years the district fell under the the Nazi regime which deported Jew, gipsy, disable people and homosexuals as well to concentration camps to be killed.
Today, while industrialised countries have become more accepting, new far right movements are promoting ultra conservative programs. Brazil’s president Bolsonaro – for example – is known for his blatant homophobic comments. At Venice Art Biennale 2019, Brazil pavilion responds to the government’s racist and divisive ideology with a dance bringing together people together. No matter if you are a black, gay or a woman.
According to an FBI report recently published by the New York Times, “LGBT identity is today more likely to provoke hate crimes than Jewish, Muslim, Latino, or black identity“. Terrorism is a peak of LGBT hate-crime but also the tip of an iceberg. Orlando shooting follows London bombing in 1999, New Orleans arsoning in 1973 and Tel Aviv shooting in 2009. Beside these tragedies, a recent report by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics highlights also that “most crimes are not reported to the police, and those that are reported are frequently not classified as hate crimes by local jurisdictions“.
GENTRIFICATION – Today iconic Gay villages are being swept out by a Gentrification process switched on by LGBT communities themselves. Gentrification is an urban phenomenon which sees new and trendier residents driving up rents and, eventually, pushing out long-term, lower-income residents and businesses. Have gay people “gentrified” themselves out?
Artists platform Daata Edition and Zuecca Projects showcase the @Gaybar video art-project by Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings at the BBAR Hotel Breuer (San Marco 1459). Set by the hotel’s ground floor foyer, the exhibition features six videos of empty typical gaybars and soundscapes from the ‘80s.
The project points out at the rapid gentrification of gay villages and the subsequent closure of many LGBTQI community venues. “We believe that documenting these disappearing spaces is an important historical gesture and a strategy for resisting assimilation” say Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings.
In a recent article on The Guardian, Feargus O’ Sullivan points out how gay city-dwellers contributed to “gentrify” districts like SoHo in London as well as in Manhattan Greenwich or Schöneberg in Berlin. “LGBT bars and clubs have been said to have had a catalytic effect in encouraging a wealthier public back to neglected areas” writes O’ Sullivan.
WHY ARE GAY BARS AND DISTRITCS DISAPPEARING? One of the main reason is that gay villages became fancy touristic places, and that led to sky-rocketing real estate prices. One key example is Greenwich village in Manhattan. In 1969 the LGBT community at the Stonewall Inn started a historical riot against police that became one of the major key-moments of gay people emancipation. Now the district is one of the most expensive places in the U.S. with no-deal below $ 2.000 per square foot ($22,000/m2).
Another reason is that civil rights campaigns and governments regulations determined a broader integration and acceptance. Recently, even Catholic Italy voted yes to a same-sex civil unions. Even-though hate crime is still clearly an issue, gay people feel less threatened and don’t need dedicated venues as before.
On top of that, “gay people don’t need to go to the bar to meet new people they can encounter on line” suggests Andre Sullivan in his essay The End of Gay Culture. Long story short: now, any young average income gay couple can’t afford to live in almost any of the world’s LGBT villages where they won’t probably feel much closure anyway.
Jean-Marie Wawruszczak, owner Europe oldest gay bar, once said in an interview: “Gay world is very versatile, not loyal to institutions. It is all sham. It is all superficial“. His club, Le Zanzibar, opened in 1885 in Cannes but was replaced by an ice-cream shop in 2010.
Even though there are many reasons at stake, closing gay-bars have become the more evident symptom of the gentrification process. But gay people are moving outside the historical gay districts that do not even feel close to. And they are actually relocating in new soon-to-be-gentrified places outside the big cities. See you in Brighton?