In this issue we’ve looked at the past and the present of the Castro, but what about its future? And how does the Castro now compare to other traditionally LGBT neighborhoods around the country? For the answer to these and other questions, we turned to sociologist Amin Ghaziani. An associate professor at the University of British Columbia, Ghaziani is the author of the best-selling new book, “There Goes the Gayborhood” (Princeton University Press).
SF Bay Times: How does the Castro compare to other traditionally LGBT neighborhoods in the U.S., in terms of size, political influence, culture and other factors?
Amin Ghaziani: The Castro is a legendary gayborhood. It provided crucial mobilizing resources that Harvey Milk needed to win his election to public office in 1977, and it remains to this day a queer mecca, unlike any other, and one that resonates with LGBTQ people around the world.
SF Bay Times: How do you see the Castro changing over the years, particularly in light of other “gayborhood” trends?
Amin Ghaziani: The Castro may be the most fabulous gayborhood today, but it was not the first one in the city—nor will it be the last. LGBTQ people moved from North Beach in the 1950s, to the Tenderloin (Polk Street/Van Ness) in the 1960s, to the Castro in the 1970s (it was a working-class Irish neighborhood before we arrived), and now many of us are moving to the East Bay.
SF Bay Times: Why do you think traditionally LGBT neighborhoods are changing so much now, and do you believe that those changes are ultimately beneficial (or not) to LGBT families and individuals?
Amin Ghaziani: Some LGBTQ people are being priced out, while others are evolving out.
Areas that have a sizable concentration of same-sex households experience greater increases in housing costs (at more than 1.5 times the national average), yet gays and lesbians, who comprise a small proportion of the population (1.6% identify as lesbian or gay and 0.7% identifies as bisexual), earn less than heterosexuals (same-sex families earn, on average, $15K less annually than opposite-sex households). Gayborhoods, therefore, are not residentially sustainable unless LGBTQ people never move out—or if we own our own homes, or if we only sell to others within the community.
But there is more to this story than just economics. Our modern era—one that some people call “post-gay”—is characterized by unprecedented societal acceptance of same-sex relationships. If gayborhoods once provided safe spaces for us, what will happen to them as the world itself becomes safer? The answer: our residential imagination is expanding from gay neighborhoods to gay cities. The phrase “San Francisco is our Castro” captures what I call this “gay city effect.”
SF Bay Times: Where do you think the best places are for LGBT people to live in the U.S. now?
Amin Ghaziani: There are now more places that have a distinct association with same-sex sexuality than we have ever seen before. The diversity of our communities is matched by a diversity of urban options. New Yorkers, for example, talk about Chelsea, on the one hand, and a Chocolate Chelsea on the other to signify a place of particular appeal to African-Americans. Similarly, they trade stories about Hell’s Kitchen, on the one hand, and a Hell’s Cocina for Latino LGBTQ people on the other. There are distinct clusters for lesbians (Northampton, Massachusetts, is “Lesbianville, USA,” and in recent years, many women have been flocking to St. Petersburg, Florida); same-sex families (think about what’s happening in Oakland); and retirement communities for aging gays and lesbians. There are so many great places for us to live in the U.S. now.
SF Bay Times: What are some of your favorite things to do and see in the Castro?
Amin Ghaziani: I am thrilled about the Rainbow Honor Walk, which “seeks to honor the heroines and heroes of LGBT communities through a sidewalk tribute in San Francisco’s historic Castro district.” Other cities are organizing similar commemorative efforts. The Legacy Walk in Chicago, for example, was the world’s first outdoor LGBTQ museum.
SF Bay Times: Please mention anything else that you’d like our readers to know.
Amin Ghaziani: Some people say that we are living in a post-gay moment, one where you don’t have to define yourself primarily by your sexual orientation. Nate Silver’s memorable description as “ethnically straight” is a powerful example of this cultural shift in how we think about our sexuality. The following phrase provides another example: “We are your neighbors next door, not the gay or lesbian couple next door.”
I believe that a truly post-gay society is not one where straight people can pretend that we are not gay, any more than it is one where we feel compelled to define ourselves as ethnically straight. Instead, it is a society in which we recognize that LGBTQ culture is something to celebrate and preserve.
This is also why I think there is so much debate about the future of the gayborhood. American society has not yet articulated a compelling logic in which acts of queer cultural preservation make sense to us as fundamentally life-giving, life-affirming, and the pulse of community-building.
Special thanks to Michele Karlsberg, who encouraged us to reach out to Amin Ghaziani and who facilitated the connection.