Gentrifi-gay-tion: Does Detroit Need a Gayborhood?

BY EMELL DERRA ADOLPHUS

When it comes to increasing a community's property values, gays add more than curbside appeal, says author Ross Benes in his new book, "The Sex Effect."

Published by Sourcebooks last month, "The Sex Effect" undresses long-standing sex and sexuality myths while cheekily connecting some contemporary issues to our society's inability to comfortably discuss coitus.

In the chapter "There Goes the Gayborhood: An Investigation into the Economic Prowess of LGBT Districts," Benes - among other points about neighborhood migration patterns - makes the case for why an official gay district in Detroit could prove to be a "small step" in a big way for Detroit's revitalization.

"It's more of a signal of that area around them might improve," Benes told me in our phone conversation recently. In the book he writes, "Cities that show tolerance (which can be exhibited through a visible gay community) are able to attract more workplace talent, which stimulates industry growth."

Makes sense to me.

Childless gay couples help increase the tax base of areas that have suffered residential flight because they are considered less family-friendly. In the book, Benes names a few cities like San Francisco, Chicago, D.C. and Boston whose upward economic return began with an influx of LGBT people, according to his research.

"You will find many gayborhoods throughout America that were formerly areas that were decaying," says Benes. "Some time between the '50s and the '80s cities had an influx of gay individuals who came and rebuilt the area and it became a lot more developed."

Full disclosure: Benes isn't gay or a Detroiter. He's white; he's straight; and he grew up in Nebraska. But that doesn't discount his research as a journalist. All of this isn't to say establishing a gayborhood is a panacea for all poverty-stricken communities, but Benes' book brings up a point that is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore as Detroit continues to redevelop at breakneck speed: Does Detroit need a gayborhood?

Depending on whom you ask, Detroit's gay district came and went with Palmer Park. Although it was never officially recognized as an LGBT epicenter by the city like Chicago's Boystown, if you were gay in the '80s and early '90s, you just knew. But in the same vein of same-sex marriage, perhaps it is time we make it official.

If you look closely at Detroit's neighborhoods - Green Acres, West Village, Midtown, East English Village and Boston Edison to name a few that I know of - you'll find various hamlets of homos.

As our needs as a community have evolved, Benes notes in his book that so will the idea of the gayborhood. "Some cities have two or three of them instead of one centralized one," he says. "But research shows there are still a lot of LGBT people who prefer them."

In that regard, there will always be a gayborhood in cities where there are gay people. You will just have to know where to look.

Emell Derra Adolphus' column View From the Bottom examines gay sex, people & politics in metro Detroit. Commiserate and share your stories at EmellDerraAdolphus@gmail.com.
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