Is there still a gayborhood? It’s a question that many folks ask me, whether a visitor or a resident of Washington. There was once a defined gay area in Dupont Circle to call our own, and it seems different now. What happened to it?
For generations now, Dupont Circle has been the hub of gay nightlife; JR.’s, Cobalt, Larry’s Lounge, Duplex Diner, the Fireplace, Dupont Italian Kitchen and other establishments anchored the area as the gayborhood, even while Remingtons, Bachelor’s Mill, Tracks, Nation, Phase One and other hotspots were established in other parts of the city.
In 1974, we got a bookstore: a symbol of our right to exist in the bright sunlight and not just behind closed doors and in private clubs:
“We are proud of the history of gay culture and of the struggle for political and social equality. We want the shop to be a showcase for the wide variety of happy, healthy gay lifestyles found among the quarter of a million gay men and women in Washington Metropolitan area.”
With this announcement, Deacon Maccubbin opened the first LGBT bookstore in Dupont Circle, Lambda Rising. It started as a quaint 300-square-foot space, but the size didn’t matter as much as what it symbolized. It finally gave gays and lesbians in D.C. a visible, positive presence in the nation’s capital.
Whitman-Walker Clinic, named for the famous (assumed gay) poet and Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War-era physician who shattered norms by achieving a medical degree and wearing men’s clothing (along with two pistols by her side in the operating room!), has had a long presence in the gayborhood as well. Its first location at 2335 18th St., N.W., was opened in 1980 and was an indispensable institution, saving lives during the height of the AIDS epidemic. It continues today with a half dozen offices in the region, and while it serves all clients, regardless of identity, it maintains its commitment to LGBT-oriented care.
With the vibrant bar scene, plus these two pillars of the community in Dupont Circle, the neighborhood was clearly a safe haven for the LGBT community in the area. Along with The Castro in San Francisco, Hillcrest in San Diego, Greenwich Village in NYC, Boystown in Chicago, and West Hollywood in Los Angeles, Dupont Circle is viewed as historic in American gay identity.
But these days, gays are branching out all across the city. One sports bar that identifies as gay seems to be predominantly heterosexual (and female) on most nights. There doesn’t seem to be a “gayborhood” the way it used to be. Is that a bad thing, though?
A few years ago, a gay buyer might have been attracted to the convenience and the feeling of comfort and security offered by a gay enclave like Dupont Circle. Conversely, there were probably a good number of straight buyers who might have shied away from the area because of their discomfort with our presence. But these days, it seems just the opposite; many of my clients who are not LGBT want to know where gays are living because they want to live among us. They might appreciate our lively, vibrant culture and fun traditions that can add a little spice to their city life—but they may also be after the bump in property values a neighborhood might experience after it gets a “gay makeover.” In fact, it is that bump in property values, both in rents and sale prices, that are pushing new D.C. residents, most often very young and with lower incomes, to areas that are less developed. Young gay buyers can no longer afford expensive Dupont prices.
Neighborhoods that might have felt unsafe to some a few years ago are now the most competitive neighborhoods to buy in. In some cases, people are fighting over the shell of a home that needs a complete remodel from top to bottom. Home values are skyrocketing in areas such as Shaw, Bloomingdale, Trinidad, Brookland, and even farther east of the city. These areas have blossomed with new apartment buildings, condos, retail space, restaurants, and endless coffee shops to support the gentrification of these neighborhoods.
But what about the neighborhood that once was the only part of town that LGBT lived and played in? Have we forgotten our roots in the city? Have we abandoned the area just because it’s not predominantly LGBT?
The truth is that we will always have Dupont Circle as “our” neighborhood even if it isn’t truly “the” gayborhood anymore. The most honest answer I can give when asked “Where are the gays?” is quite simple: “We are everywhere.” Not just in Dupont, not just in D.C., but all over the country. We are seeing more acceptance, which in turn makes us more comfortable, giving us more freedom to choose where we want to live and not where we have to. It means that while places like Dupont are still in our hearts, they no longer exist in the same reality. Even though D.C. may not have a defined gayborhood, we have certainly have a Gay City.
Stephen Gaich is a Realtor with Bediz Group, LLC at KWCP, winner of Washington Blade’s Best of Gay DC for Real Estate Group in 2015 and 2017. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202 304 9932.