Gentrification Has Changed Urban Gay Culture

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Gentrification Has Changed Urban Gay Culture

A lot has been talked about gentrification over the years on how it’s changed cities.  Poor residents got priced out, nice new amenities come in, crime goes down, and real estate goes up.  Gentrification is really the result of various economic forces that occur at global  levels.  Major cities like New York are simply not the working class  cities that they used to be.  Factories and other industrial jobs have fled, while there has been expansion in creative jobs like software, it, film, television, design, architecture, etc.  There’s also been big expansions in social services, mental health, and education. These changes are having big effects on the cities traditional gay neighborhoods such as the West Village, Chelsea, Hells Kitchen,
Bedstuy, Astoria, and Jackson Heights.

In the 1970s, NYC was hit hard by the loss of industrial jobs, urban  disinvestment, and white flight.  In that era, gays out of high school could come to NYC and easily find work in restaurants, retail, or  other low level unskilled jobs.  These men were easily able to rent  apartments in the West Village or Chelsea.  Bedstuy eventually had a  big gay Black presence, while Jackson Heights had a huge Latin gay presence.  The same was true of the gays in the neighborhoods of color, in a high crime city rents were cheap.  As there were a lot of empty factories and warehouses, commercial rents were cheap too.  This lead to a huge expansion of the club scene.  But by the 1990s, the city was in economic recovery mode.   It became more desirable.  White  flight began reversing.  Corporate investment was returning to the city.  As the value of real estate increased, all those empty spaces which were super clubs were now sitting on valuable real estate.  The  residents of these neighborhoods increasingly spoke out against the behavior of people coming out of places like Limelight, Twilo, and Roxy.  The Giuliani administration shut down a number of clubs.Bloomberg continued this work.  But during the Bloomberg era, a number
of clubs didn’t close due  the government.  As Bloomberg rezoned much of the city for development, real estate prices went so high that a number of places couldn’t afford to pay the rent and went out of business.  Other gay bars were forced to raise the price of their drinks.  Higher prices in many cases led to less business and more bars closed as well.  Gay social media like Adam4Adam and Grindr as well as sites like Craigslist provided competition as well.  There was no need to go out for a hook up when one could go online.  Or if one did like social events with drinks, the gay sex parties advertised on Craigslist and Adam4Adam were a much more convenient and cheaper way to obtain a hook up.  Entrance fees to said parties are typically only $20.  $20 dollars in a bar in Manhattan will not buy you many drinks, at an expensive place it might buy you only one or two.  Even Splash, which was once the crown jewel of NYC gay bars has closed.  Chelsea has few remaining gay bars, as the majority of gay bars left in
Manhattan are in Hells Kitchen.  In terms of gay bars, both the West and East Village are largely wiped out compared to what they were in the 1990s.  Also, as gays have become a lot less marginalized, many gay men go out to straight bars with their straight friends and colleagues.

In the past 20 years certain sectors of the cities economy grow considerable.  As previously mentioned the creative sector, social services, and education have all grown in the city.  While there have always been some gays in creative type jobs, as that part of the economy has grown so has the participation of gays.  Today, one would not find large numbers of gay transplants working as waiter in many of the above mentioned neighborhoods.  Those wanting to do that would have to live much further out.   The cool gay Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Astoria neighborhoods have a large number of gays working in the creative sectors.  Many of these guys are architects, work in advertising, film, tv, theatre, design, software, and other creative type jobs.  Jackson Heights now has a higher percentage of gay men working in education, mental health, or social services.  There’s been an expansion of mental health services offered to low income people around the city, making therapy accessible to those with no insurance or those who are on medicaid or medicare.  Gentrification has not only changed were gay men socialize, but it has also changed the professions they work in.  As gays have become a lot more mainstream, gay culture has lost much of the campy feel.  The obsession with outdated show tunes and washed up divas died with Splash.  Gay club goers spoke with their wallets, no one is willing to pay to see 70s theatre divas on a tv in a bar (that was Splash).  Increased spending on social services and mental health has led to more awareness that substance abuse is a problem to be dealt with.  Also, gentrification  has lead to an expansion of professional networking groups.  As gays have more mainstream jobs, gay men have greater diversity in the
different ways that they meet with and interact with people.

By Justin Samuels 

Justin Samuels graduated from Cornell University with a BA in History. He worked in financial services for three years. After then he decided to pursue more creative endeavors. He has written articles for Yahoo! and the WGAe blog. He also writes screenplays. Justin can be contacted at screenwriter97@gmail.com

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