Queer gentrification & the gentrification of queerness
Gentrification is a process in which previously working-class neighborhoods are replaced with wealthier areas, excluding its former, poorer residents. Taken in its literal sense and focused on LGBTIQ+ populations, gentrification takes particularly subtle forms, with queer (particularly white) people experiencing a double-edged sword of blame. But gentrification can also be of the mind: a concept developed by Sarah Schulman, it is a mechanism where queer history and culture are being polished, straightened, and devoided of their diversity. In both cities and spirits, queerness is being weaponized to push projects and representations going against its very essence. In the midst of economic difficulties and LGBTIQ+ rights regression, let’s dig into the paradoxical nature of queerness and gentrification.
Gaytrification at plays
Historically, queer neighborhoods have been existing through necessity, because of the importance of density in creating safe queer spaces within the city. However, as social acceptance grew, white lesbian and particularly gay couples became inducers of gentrification processes. With shared characteristics of higher incomes and absence of children, white upper-middle-class gay individuals became unintentional actors of gentrification, later coined as “gaytrification”. Investing in poorer and marginalized areas, they led the way for larger-scale real estate strategies, their gayness turned into a cosmopolitan selling point. In this process, working-class, people of color (including queer people of color) were evicted, a situation well portrayed in Linda Goode Bryant’s movie “Flag wars”.
The weaponization of queerness in urban development projects
Thusly, LGBTIQ+ individuals -and white gay men in particular-, have been actors in gentrification, while simultaneously suffering from it. Indeed, queer spaces have been disappearing, with the same reasons always listed: lease renegotiations and urban development projects. In the span of 10 years, London saw a 58% decrease in its number of LGBTIQ+ venues, and this terrible drop is in no way imputable to a reduction in demand. In a case study, Olimpia Burchiellaro takes the example of the LGBT pub “The Joiners Arms” in London to showcase the ambivalency of queer places in neoliberal urban strategies and the disappearance of authentic queer spaces. The pub was doomed to disappear in an urban redevelopment plan but promised to be replaced by an LGBTIQ+ venue by the local council and property developers. The double standard when it comes to queer venues was made clear, drawing a line of acceptability between a marketable white and middle-class queer venue and an undesirable lower-class and/or POC one.
The gentrification of the mind and the homogenization of queer representation
A parallel can be drawn with the gentrification of the mind: it erases the plurality of LGBTIQ+ stories, histories, and identities to select only what is considered to be acceptable and worthy to be told and seen in novels, music, movies, or exhibits. Both processes are mirroring domination dynamics within queer communities while adapting to external acceptance. They both ostracize lower-class individuals and people of color, homogenize queer culture, and ultimately doom queer movements. Thus, it’s always important to keep in mind the processes at play both in housing plans and cultural projects and not to fall for rainbow capitalism. Inclusivity shouldn't be a buzzword. It is more than time to make it mean something again.
- Doan, Petra & Higgins, Harrison. (2011). The Demise of Queer Space? Resurgent Gentrification and the Assimilation of LGBT Neighborhoods. Journal of Planning Education and Research.
- Burchiellaro, O. (2020). ‘There’s nowhere wonky left to go’: Gentrification, queerness and class politics of inclusion in (East) London.
- Campkin, B., & Marshall, L. (2017). LGBTQ+ cultural infrastructure in London: Night venues 2006–present.
- Campkin, B., & Marshall, L. (2018). London’s nocturnal queer geographies: Why have London’s LGBTQ+ nightlife venues been closing and what is at stake when they are lost? Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture.