AP Mourns: There Goes The Gay Neighborhood

Liberal media outlets aren't usually sympathetic to the story of people growing upset at the changing shape of their neighborhoods, often at the arrival of new Hispanic or Asian immigrants. But AP reporter Lisa Leff reports sensitively from San Francisco that the distraught natives who dislike the invaders are gay men are upset at the arrival of -- gasp -- people with baby strollers:

SAN FRANCISCO -- Even on a weekday in winter, the Castro district vibrates with energy, most of it male. Men holding hands, walking dogs and lounging at cafes have long been the main attraction in a neighborhood known as a gay mecca the world over.

Yet where visitors see a living monument to gay pride, longtime community leader Brian Basinger sees a cultural enclave at risk of becoming a faded museum piece - or worse, a place where men who love men may one day feel like they don't belong.

"When I see a stroller now, I see it as someone who evicted a person with AIDS, right or wrong," said Basinger, president of the Harvey Milk Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transexual Democratic Club.

This is an interesting sound for people who used terms like "born-again bigots" to describe those who disagree with their "sexual orientation." But the problem, apparently, is growing acceptance: "as gays and lesbians win legal rights and greater social acceptance, community activists worry these so-called 'gayborhoods' are losing their relevance."  

Lisa Leff (Lisa Left?) simply relays their anxiety that the neighborhood is becoming "Disneyfied" -- that it's losing its bohemian, sex-drenched flavor. Notice the threatening language embraced by the reporter that the "wild abandon" and sexual liberation is not the dominant culture: 

Don Reuter, a New York writer who is researching a book on the rise and fall of a dozen gay neighborhoods in the U.S., has observed the same trend in cities as far-flung as New Orleans, Philadelphia and Seattle. He found "Disneyfied" places boasting chain stores, restaurants catering to a diverse clientele and "cleared of any reference to sex."

"What makes these neighborhoods gay? Not much," concluded Reuter, who predicts that outside New York, San Francisco and a handful of other cities, neighborhoods with a significant gay presence will not survive.

In the early 1970s, an atmosphere of wild abandon prevailed in districts often referred to as "gay ghettos." Men who had kept their sexual orientations hidden reveled in the freedom of leading openly gay lives for the first time. The nonstop party dragged to a painful halt in the 1980s with the onset of AIDS, Reuter said, but the crisis also solidified gay communities even as it decimated them.

Now, as the fear of AIDS has abated, the neighborhoods have become attractive to developers and investors trying to encourage families and empty-nesters to return to city centers, said Reuter.

Besides the brigades of baby strollers in the Castro, ominous signs include the security gates installed last year by a local hotel to discourage "cruising," and the recent closings of two longtime stores, one that sold leather goods and the other bath products. National retail chains like Pottery Barn and Diesel now occupy prominent Castro locations.

Several nonprofit agencies serving the gay community have also moved out due to rising rents. Meanwhile, 500 new apartments and condominiums are planned for the area, half of which have been designated as "family housing."

But no one is suggesting that the Castro has been overrun by heterosexuals just yet.

Whether Leff's being sincere or sardonic, her tone is unquestionably in favor of the natives. Unsurprisingly, no one critical of homosexuality is interviewed for the piece. There is one Castro resident who's not so panicked at the arrival of straight outsiders, but that's just a brief interruption of otherwise consistent mourning that the straights are ruining the place, that they're "colonizing" the Castro all the way to the story's end.

"We have Chinatown and Japantown and so forth, and that's important for minority communities in this country, to have a place where they can get a sense of being the majority," said Joe Curtin, an architect who serves as president of Castro Area Planning Action. "But if you took those away, you would still have China and Japan. If the Castro goes away as a gay neighborhood, there is nowhere else."

...Basinger, Curtin and other San Francisco activists agree it's a good thing that gay people no longer feel restricted to the Castro, but fear younger generations will overlook the struggles that went into building the neighborhood.

"When you are a minority, you have to be the wedge, and the Castro is it," he said. "The people who are coming in here and colonizing the Castro, they are exercising their priorities. Whether they are heterosexual priorities or economic priorities, they are not our priorities."

This is an interesting trend, and certainly a news story. But if the roles were reversed and gay activists were "colonizing" a formerly straight neighborhood, the AP's tone probably wouldn't sound like the reporters and editors were blowing their nose into a hanky with the natives.

AP may have been inspired by this story, which interviewed the same experts.

Sexuality California Associated Press
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