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Will gay and lesbian neighborhoods resurge?

Trump-Pence era underscores importance of LGBT communities

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Dupont Circle (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The election of Donald Trump portends—if not darker days—certainly more gloomy days ahead for America’s LGBT community. President-elect Trump’s proposed policy agenda seems designed to marginalize minority groups, and Vice President-elect Pence has a demonstrated track record of vigorously working to restrict LGBT rights. The tone set by their transition team has already proven to be disappointing news for America’s lesbian and gay community members, many of whom live, socialize and patronize businesses in or near gay neighborhoods in urban centers squarely within progressive “blue” territory.

Gay neighborhoods—Chelsea and Greenwich Village (NYC), South End (Boston), North Halsted (Chicago), West Hollywood (Los Angeles), South Beach (Miami), and Dupont Circle (Washington, D.C.)—along with countless similar neighborhoods in medium- and large-sized urban centers, are vital places in urban America. These neighborhoods emerged after the 1960s sexual revolution and concurrent violence against gay men and lesbian women, including landmark events such as the Stonewall riots in New York and the UpStairs arson in New Orleans, in which more than thirty patrons perished. A desire to live in accepting communities galvanized gay men and lesbian women to become ‘urban pioneers,’ the first group to occupy older and declining central city neighborhoods as affluent residents fled cities for the suburbs. Gay and lesbian residents established communities in these neglected urban areas, where rents were inexpensive, space was plentiful, and safety was strengthened by numbers. Over time, through dedication, hard work and often in the face of adversity, LGBT residents invested in these communities by renovating homes and apartment buildings. New businesses and other investment were soon attracted to these vibrant neighborhoods, and the combined community-building efforts richly enhanced social and cultural life.

The latest trends, however, measured through demographic data, economic activity, and housing market performance, suggested the slow demise of gay urban neighborhoods for three key reasons. First, older gays and lesbians continue to assimilate in urban space and no longer feel a strong desire to live in gay neighborhoods, as fears for physical safety decrease and mainstream acceptance increases. Second, millennial LGBTs, coming of age in a time of greater acceptance, show more interest in integrating rather than segregating and are content trading propinquity for digital connection. Third, long-established gay neighborhoods, in desirable locations  with quality housing and attractive amenities resulting from significant neighborhood investment, became appealing to mainstream buyers and residents. In this sense, gay neighborhoods became victims of their own success.

The outcome of the 2016 presidential election has placed LGBT Americans on edge. Seemingly rational trajectories of mainstreaming LGBT Americans—greater legal protections and equity under federal law, ever-increasing social acceptance, diminishing risk of discrimination and increasing safety—are now seriously threatened as a new and evidently conservative regime takes control of the American government. Many fear that the hard-won social advances of the LGBT community will be rolled back.

When candidate Trump says on the stump that “inner cities are a disaster,” he stokes fears—among rural and suburban Americans—from decades past when cities were dangerous, and crime-ridden. The vibrant, successful cities that drive our American economy today demonstrate that this rhetoric is unacceptable, and propagating empty allusions represents a significant step backward for urban America and especially LGBT neighborhoods. Donald Trump and Mike Pence should visit gay and lesbian neighborhoods to acquire a clearer understanding of the positive impact that LGBT residents, parents, and families have had in fueling our American economy while ensuring prosperity in their communities for everyone to enjoy, regardless of sexual orientation.

Perhaps one of the more disappointing changes to come is the likely death of a quiet effort just getting underway by the Department of the Interior, on behalf of the Obama administration, to identify and designate historically significant LGBT heritage sites across America. This potential loss is significant and should motivate LGBT Americans and community leaders to unite and advocate the continuation of this little-known but important initiative.

Since Nov. 8, there has been an outpouring of togetherness among LGBT community members via social media and public demonstrations. While the LGBT community celebrates many advances against discrimination based on sexual orientation, greater integration into mainstream society, heightened visibility, and increased confidence, fear clouds the present frame of reference. Segregation is a natural human response derived from fear of others, and to imagine a future when urban American becomes more divided—whether people separate themselves into neighborhoods because they choose to or they are forced to—undoes advances our country has  made in creating an open, accepting, and tolerant society. People are again seeking kinship with others who feel similarly marginalized, and this might mean that gay neighborhoods, with their self-protective and sometimes outspoken nature, may again rise, but hopefully not as communities of last resort for America’s LGBT citizens.

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Two young men read the ‘Washington Blade’ at Dupont Circle in 1991. Dupont Circle was once a center of LGBT life in Washington, D.C. (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

Alex Bitterman, Ph.D., is professor and Chair of Architecture and Design at Alfred State College. Daniel Baldwin Hess, Ph.D., is professor of Urban Planning at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York and Visiting Scholar at the Centre for Migration and Urban Studies at the University of Tartu, Estonia.  

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. LesbianTippingHabits

    December 8, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    Those who care about LGBTQ neighborhoods and the overall neighborhood life there need to spend some of their money at LGBTQ-focused businesses. This includes tipping generously for good service. Thank you.

  2. lnm3921

    December 8, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    Gentrification has ruined many gay neighborhoods making them too expensive for people to live in them. Rents are out of control. Without affordable housing, there isn’t enough of a community to support LGBT businesses. Nowadays, I don’t know where to go anymore to find GLBT people hanging out as a community and socializing.

    That was the point of going to a gay bar. To find, being among and meet others like yourself in an environment where everyone feels they are the norm! I’ve never been for being in a ghetto, too much of anything isn’t a good thing, but having it there when you need it, whenever you need it is empowering and uplifting! It energizes you, gives you a renewed sense of pride and strength even when everything else around you looks bad!

    I know I find it impossible to drive into the district anymore with parking made almost impossible. I won’t waste my time taking expensive cabs there or the Metro which closes down to early to make a trip out worth it!

    For all those that think integrating and being invisible is so wonderful, being in the heydays of the gayborhood, with all the bars, bookstores, shops, restaurants, and yes bathhouses that catered to you was a great experience! Knowing that you could meet someone you know like yourself almost anytime of day on the streets around a certain radius gave you a sense of belonging and community! Having to actually go out somewhere to meet people face-to-face can never be replaced by today’s virtual world of body-part-specific photos. You knew what you were getting right off and who you were dealing with! Now people don’t even have to bother with you if they don’t like your pic.

  3. Pdentgrou

    December 9, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    There is something comforting about walking into a gay bar or gay restaurant and knowing that you are not alone. The virtual world is fun and a great way to meet people, but chatting someone up at the bar or at the next table is thrilling. I like gay neighborhoods and have had a lot of fun in them. I would hate to see them disappear.

  4. Glenn Priceless

    December 14, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    With a picture captioning that “once upon a time gay people lived in Dupont Circle”? So the point of this article again was?

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Opinions

The future of lesbian bars

Resolve to support our queer spaces in 2022

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This New Year, I hope you wish for more lesbian bars across the country. The story of lesbian bars in the U.S. has been slightly tragic of late: as of January 2021, there were only 15 clubs or bars dedicated to queer women across the country. 

That’s right—only 15. Across all 50 states. 

In Washington, D.C., my hometown, A League of Her Own stands out as the only lesbian bar in the city, dedicated to queer women. Located in Adams Morgan, A League of Her Own, also known as ALOHO, is a small mecca for queer ladies to pass through, socialize, and flirt. ALOHO is a chic gathering point for all queer folk, with posters of softball players dotting the walls and gender neutral signs lying about. 

Several years ago, another lesbian bar called Phase 1 existed in Southeast, where queer women could slam eight balls in pool games and engage in raunchy yet ever-so-hot jello wrestling competitions. 

Unfortunately, Phase 1 shut its doors in 2016. 

So what explains the closure of so many lesbian bars, while bars for gay men continue to flourish? Perhaps many queer women view gay bars as a space for their own as well, whereas gay men view lesbian bars as less of a place for them to socialize. 

Either way, we need to give support to lesbian bars now more than ever. Tokens of support can take many forms. 

For one, make sure to socialize in spaces dedicated to queer ladies. There are three lesbian bars in New York City: Cubbyhole (281 W. 12th St.), Gingers in Brooklyn (363 5th Ave.), and Henrietta Hudson (438 Hudson St.). Next time you visit the Big Apple, make sure to give these three spots some love. Maybe drag your experimenting bi friend to these locations. Or your pansexual roommate. 

Back in D.C., you can buy unisex shirts in A League of Her Own’s merchandise store, available online. 

Proceeds will go toward funding the bar, and making sure it stays afloat, especially during this COVID economy. 

Most of all, I hope you encourage your queer lady friends to keep on frequenting queer lady destinations. After all, there is only one thing that will keep lesbian bars afloat—and that is attendance. 

I, for one, will be frequenting many lesbian destinations this new year.  

Isaac Amend is a Yale graduate and participated in National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ documentary. He also is a member of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia, and contributes regularly to the Blade. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @isaacamend.

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Breaking barriers as an out trans ‘Jeopardy’ champion

Amy Schneider’s run inspires us all

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Amy Schneider (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Television)

“When was the last time anybody said ‘wow!’” a friend asked me.

I couldn’t remember the last time anyone I know (including me) had any “Wow!” moments. Until I heard about trans woman and software engineering manager Amy Schneider’s 29-game winning streak on “Jeopardy.”

You wouldn’t think anything could dispel our COVID exhaustion and political divisiveness. Yet, news about a champion on “Jeopardy,” a quiz show that has been on TV since 1964, has broken through our gloom.

In our culture, there are few things that everyone loves. But, “Jeopardy” is beloved by many, from theater geeks to 80-year-old sports nuts. A progressive friend was over the moon when his brother was a “Jeopardy” contestant. A buddy, a hetero (non-Trump) Republican, is a “Jeopardy” fanatic and a gay librarian pal is a “Jeopardy” freak.

Many of us daydream about being on “Jeopardy.” But we know that we wouldn’t have a chance on this legendary quiz show with its deceptively simple format: You give the answer to the (often incredibly hard) clues in the form of a question. You have to have a strategic military commander’s and a world-class athlete’s coordination: so you can press the buzzer to answer the clue.

The game’s categories run the gamut from opera to mountain ranges. Most of us, mere mortals, would be lucky to know even one category in the first round of the game. Let alone in the “Double Jeopardy” round or the “Final Jeopardy” clue. I might jump on clues about Katharine Hepburn movies or M&Ms. But that would be it for me.

It’s exciting to watch a “Jeopardy” contestant become a long-running champion. You marvel at the player’s intelligence, endurance, and nerve. It’s thrilling when the contestant on a winning-streak is part of your community.

Many of us LGBTQ “Jeopardy” fans are thrilled by Schneider’s record-setting winning streak. As I write this, Schneider has won more than $1 million in 29 games of “Jeopardy.” She is the fifth millionaire in “Jeopardy” history, and only the fourth player to reach this milestone in the regular season. She has won more than any other female “Jeopardy” contestant.

Schneider, like so many of us, doesn’t want to be defined by her gender identity or sexuality. Schneider’s life is multi-faceted; she has many interests. Schneider lives with her girlfriend Genevieve. They have a cat named Meep.

Yet, Schneider doesn’t want to hide that she’s trans. On “Jeopardy,” Schneider brilliantly dealt with this dilemma. She didn’t make a big deal about being out. She just wore the trans Pride flag pin.

“It was something that I wanted to get out there and to show my pride in while not making it the focus of what I was doing there,” Schneider told the New York Times. “Because I was just there to answer trivia questions and win money.”

As a cisgender lesbian, I can’t speak to how Schneider’s record-setting “Jeopardy” streak feels to transgender people.

But, as a trans ally, I’m cheering for Schneider. Kudos for her bravery! At a time when many states are passing anti-trans laws, it takes guts to be out on TV and the Internet.

Few things are as mainstream as “Jeopardy.” I bet that many “Jeopardy” viewers who are frightened at the idea of trans people, will become more comfortable with transgender people after watching Schneider on the popular quiz show. Because folks on TV come into our living and bedrooms and we feel as if we know them after watching them for a while.

“Amy looks like everybody else,” my neighbor said when I told her Schneider was trans. “She doesn’t act odd. She’s not strange.”

Transgender people encounter violence and discrimination in everything from housing to health care to employment.

I know Schneider’s “Jeopardy” triumph won’t end transphobia. But her winning streak will go a long way toward jumpstarting a change in hearts and minds.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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SCARY: Tucker Carlson now the conscience of GOP

Cruz bows down, kisses ring of Fox host

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Tucker Carlson (Screen capture via Fox on YouTube)

The Republican Party has sunk to a new low, hard to do, when a sleazebag like Tucker Carlson is now their conscience. Seeing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) groveling before him is laughable, disgusting, and frightening all at the same time. 

As reported in Rolling Stone, Cruz said, “We are approaching a solemn anniversary this week. It is an anniversary of a violent terrorist attack on the Capitol where we saw the men and women of law enforcement demonstrate incredible courage, incredible bravery, risk their lives to defend the men and women who serve in this Capitol.” Then “Cruz was lambasted by Tucker Carlson that night, prompting him to hop on Carlson’s show Thursday and beg for forgiveness. “The way I phrased things yesterday, it was sloppy and it was frankly dumb,” Cruz said before Carlson cut him off and said he didn’t believe him. Cruz took it up a notch, stammering through an absurd bit about how he wasn’t talking about the “patriots across the country supporting President Trump,” only those who assaulted police officers, and that he’s always described anyone who assaults a cop as a terrorist.

Carlson has made a career of being a pompous commentator. Interestingly he worked at CNN, PBS, and MSNBC, before finally landing at Fox in 2009. According to his Wikipedia page he went to Trinity College where he earned a bachelor’s degree and Carlson’s Trinity yearbook describes him as a member of the “Dan White Society,” an apparent reference to the American political assassin who murdered San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. After college, Carlson tried to join the CIA, but his application was denied, after which he decided to pursue a career in journalism with the encouragement of his father, who advised him that “they’ll take anybody.” Reading this clearly raised my opinion of the CIA and based on what we see in some media today I agree with Carlson’s father on his view of journalism. 

When you have a moment of silence in the House of Representatives to honor those who lost their lives on Jan. 6 and only two Republicans show up, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and her father Dick Cheney, the former vice president, one understands the influence Carlson has on the GOP. The rest were afraid of being criticized on-air by him or lambasted by Trump. 

Dick Cheney remarked on the GOP, “It’s not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years.” He spoke to ABC News saying, “I’m deeply disappointed we don’t have better leadership in the Republican Party to restore the Constitution.” 

There is a leadership void in the Republican Party today. Their so-called leaders are afraid to say what they think if it differs in any way from Trumpism or Carlson’s view of the world, which requires total fealty to Trump. He found a home on Fox where he can lie with impunity and have millions believe his lies. 

President Biden said, in what many think was the best speech of his presidency so far, these people are “holding a dagger to the neck of democracy.” He went on to say, “For the first time in our history, a president not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol.” 

Tucker Carlson and his ilk have never bothered to answer a question the president threw at them, which is how they can accept all their down ballot victories, governors, and members of Congress, which occurred on the same ballots, cast by the same people, on the same day, as those for president. Of course, Carlson has no need to make sense, tell the truth, or speak rationally because of his platform on Fox, which doesn’t require that.

My question is whether Carlson is as dumb as he makes himself sound or is he brilliant and this is all a big act? Either way the acolytes that follow Trump don’t seem to care and are bowing down to Carlson’s big audience. It’s as if he can tell any Republican senator or congressperson, or Republican candidate for those jobs, to just ‘bend over and take it’ and they do. All we can do is mourn for the GOP of Lincoln and Eisenhower. Non-Trumpers will have to work hard and speak out if they ever want to resurrect a GOP that can be respected.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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