Are the salad days of gay gentrification over?

The urban middle-class typically does not invade new neighborhoods in one fell swoop. In many cases, more economically marginal subgroups of “trend-setters”—often referred to in popular literature as “urban pioneers” although that term carries with it racist aspersions—are the first to arrive in gentrifying areas. Although these groups may not have high incomes, their high educational or occupational status (i.e., high cultural capital) qualify them as marginally bourgeois. In many cases, these individuals are young and live in non-family households, and thus have a higher tolerance for perceived urban ills (such as crime, poor-quality schools, lack of amenities like shops and parks, and the presence of disadvantaged racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic groups) that may dissuade middle-class families.

As the number of “trend-setters” grows, they create amenities valued by the bourgeoisie, particularly service establishments such as new bars, restaurants, and art galleries that serve the gentrifying group’s demographic, residents with a similar outlook and greater amounts of capital may follow. This group, in turn, further adds amenities and investment to the area, increases local property values, and paves the way for more risk-averse investors and residents. The first newcomers, priced out of their newly fashionable neighborhood, move on to adjacent areas, where the process often begins anew. In this theory, the classic sector model of urban residential succession—essentially that neighborhoods “trickle down” from one socioeconomic group to another, with the wealthiest residents moving linearly outward from the Central Business District—works in reverse, but the “invasion-succession” process proceeds in a remarkably similar fashion.

Gentrification” (from

We’re doing this all wrong in our neighborhood. Boring, white families like mine are supposed to wait for the gays and artists/hipsters to move in, attract the coffee bars and restaurants, and make the ‘hood suitable for the family with 1.5 children, 2 dogs and cat.

The gays made their mark in Dupont, did quick work in Logan Circle, and now, I assume, are focusing on the Shaw area. We could have been next, but maybe our massive federal buildings, mixed-used commercial developments, and sights of white folks—especially females—walking their dogs at night do not present the blighted, forsaken neighborhood for which they are looking.


More accurately, developing transitional areas will require new forces due to the evolution of social attitudes. “Gay ghettos” were not formed from the migration of gays into inner city districts just looking for affordable property. These areas, abandoned by white heterosexuals during “white flight”, often were more likely to allow a community of social minorities to grow and develop a safety net of resources and businesses. Moreover, prevailing attitudes also oppressed gays regardless of economic or racial class.

As acceptance, even embracement among some strata, spreads across all generations, is the gay community no longer the central, congruous force that drives beneficial gentrification in once-forsaken areas?

“In the context of the gay community, gentrification not only represents a change in neighborhoods, but a change in the movement itself. As gays and lesbians become more concerned about upscale social outlets than social justice, many people left behind will be wondering what happened.

The same is true in the gay racial context. As members of the white gay community become more integrated into the hierarchy of the privileged, LGBT people of color will become increasingly disconnected and disaffected. The same people who were supposed to be allies in the struggle may soon become enemies. Are we ready for that change to happen?”

I am curious as to the differences of “gay gentrification” in the Shaw neighborhood as compared to Dupont and Shaw. Are there less gay, white males? Are incomes lower; occupations less corporate? Is there a larger proportion of lesbians?

As tolerance grows, does sexual persuasion become less of a defining marker in terms of urban neighborhood demographics (giving way to the old standard-bearers: race and household income)? This raises some pretty important issues—many of which the gay community will have to address on its own.


But, selfishly….

…when our corner liquor store, and its prime, urban location, becomes an Austin Grill or Fuddruckers, I am going to direct the finger of blame at the effects of an open-minded Generation X that has allowed the gayborhood to dissolve. The days of us heteros ostentatiously remarking at the 18th Street Lounge about how moved we were by Brokeback Mountain are so passé. Future generations will be amazed at how long we allowed the discrimination of such a large segment of the white population. It’s a Chuck and Larry world, now.


13 thoughts on “Are the salad days of gay gentrification over?

  1. Just wanted to let you know that “the gays” are moving in. My partner and I just moved here 3 months ago and are looking to open a Italian pizza place on north capital with pizza and subs and maybe some pasta, with about 10 tables or so inside within 2 yrs. I am doing research now on small business loans and that kind of stuff. Any advice would be great.

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  3. there are tons of gays in trucxton circle, eckington and bloomingdale, male and female, black and white, and of different social classes.

    this is NOT a new thing. when my partner and i moved to TC four years ago, we soon became aware of no fewer than five gay and lesbian households within a one block radius.

    as you point out, identity politics have changed. many of us simply don’t find gay activism to be a neighborhood priority.

  4. I think one of the reasons eckington is slower to transition/develop is the limited amout of public greenspace we have. Both dupont and logan circles serve as the nexus of their communities. driving by both yesterday afternoon, they were teeming with people of all backgrounds reposing on a lazy sunday… we just don’t have that open, safe, clean type of space anywhere… at least, anywhere i can think of readily… the lil triangular patch near Big Bear Cafe is nice on the weekends when the BBC patio is too congested, but why is the mammoth truck parked there now? i keep hearing they’ll tear down the fence by the adjacent park (1st & FL Ave NW) to make it more open, but I’m not sure if this is just a long-lived rumor…
    I guess I’m off topic some, to the point of your posting, I’m all for gay gentrification if a cultural movement can transition/improve the neighborhood without depriving it of its diversity. So, bring it on.
    But, maybe we can all creatively invest in the need for additional greenspaces as well. I’m open for ideas.

  5. As for public greenspace, what about the open, safe, clean, and beautiful Cooper Circle in LeDroit Park at 3rd & T NW a couple of blocks up from Big Bear? That area is great for a lazy Sunday and it could definitely have the same vibe and sense of centralized community as Dupont and Logan Circles.

  6. ade,

    i have to contend a couple things here:

    1) anna cooper circle has lots of shrubs and flowers planted in it. it is beautiful! but there isn’t a ton of room for tons of people to lounge, like dupont or logan circles. there are the benches, but i don’t think a big crowd would do wonders for the flora in the circle.

    2) it’s not completely safe. i’m not badmouthing the circle or being alarmist. people who tell me they’re scared to go east of 16th street (still) are never going to find a safe area in our neighborhoods, because they expect suburbia here in the city. but people were attacked there last month in broad daylight. again, i have no problem with the circle. i walk through it after midnight often, but it’s no utopia.

    3) it’s not in eckington (or even bloomingdale). this is just me and my neighborhood nerdiness. ‘la femme eckington’ above wrote about green space in eckington, and mentions green space on the TC/bloomingdale line, but cooper circle is all the way up in ledroit (like you said, of course). still, i understand why you included it, all 4 of these neighborhoods are in the same boat these days, i believe…..i’m just being picky for no good reason! :)

  7. “mentions green space on the TC/bloomingdale line”

    Alright, IMGoph, I think we need to have some sort of battle royal to settle this “South Bloomingdale”-“West Eckington” debate. I’m thinking football (no “flag football” junk) at McKinley. I don’t know who you’ll have on your squad, but I doubt you’ll find an answer to Big J.T. up the middle.

  8. yeah, if i’m involved in ANY kind of football game, my side loses. period. there just ain’t much that a 145 lb. weakling can do other than BE the football himself… :)

  9. Funny you should mention it–I played a little football in college. Played for an 0-10 team that had 23 players (Fenty knows this college very well), but our opponents were big and real. At that point, I was 145 lb weakling myself and was a possession receiver. But in my modern shape, I’m happy to play for the West Eckington Namegrabbers in the I Formation, going up the middle or short patterns into the flat in the name of conquering more territory for our proper British name. Shaw East, watch out!

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