Gay Main Street

Curator's Note

A year after the 1969 rebellion at the Stonewall Inn, the first gay pride march was named after the street on which the struggle was waged. "Christopher Street Liberation Day" was soon followed by celebrations across and outside the US, many of which adopted the same name. But at the time, there was no need to privilege Christopher Street itself; many towns and cities already had a street that was identified as a kind of "Main Street" for "out and proud" gay life.

By the end of the 1970s, new claims for gay "Main Streets" had appeared. White gay men were buying and renovating depreciated property in neighborhoods home to low-income people of color. Neighbors and activists soon clashed. Many white gay men argued that rising prices plus their status as outsiders from middle-class propriety and family-centered economies left them with nowhere else to go. Anti-displacement activists retorted that white gay men were drawing on racial and economic entitlements in order to pursue real estate speculation and justify it under different terms.

This clip comes from a 1980 NBC show. It is followed by scenes with a white gay developer, displaced African American residents, a white gay self-defense class, and Latino men driving low riders (named "the source of [antigay] attacks") down the main street of the Mission, another gentrifying neighborhood.

So what might be a gay "Main Street"?

This video suggests a tug-of-war between opposing "Main Streets," vying for the same blocks. But that omits too much. For example, where are the LGBT people of color or of low income (for whom there is even no intersection here, to borrow an apt metaphor)?

In the 1970s and 2000s, city boosters named (white) gay populations a solution for declining central cities. Also during the 1970s, a federal "revitalization" program based in historic preservation (a strategy often associated with "gay gentrification") was named "Main Street." Are these a part of Obama's "Main Street"? Or, perhaps, of "Wall Street"?

What are the implications of using the prototypical sign of small town life for the ultimate symbol of what has been called metronormativity?

How do we analyze the idea of a gay "Main Street" alongside that other troubling but much more common phrase: "gay ghetto"?

I have no more space; these are but a few thoughts on the racial and class contours of "Queer Americana" through the concept of a gay "Main Street."


Thanks for this provocative and relevant post. As you infer, Richard Florida (perhaps most notoriously) has made quite a splash talking about the role of "the creative class" in revitalizing cities. Comprised of highly educated, financially stable professionals who are LGBT friendly (if not LGBT themselves), the creative class cultivates a dynamic gay presence, measured by Florida's so-called "gay index" which purports to link (sexual) diversity with high tech prosperity. As your post and the video make clear, however, race and socio-economic status are conveniently ignored or subsumed, issues related to them "cured" and gentrified by overwhelmingly white, upwardly mobile, gay and "straight queer" (Robert Heasley) men. Co-opting LGBT politics, this metronormativity maintains and extends heteronormativity that privileges specifically male, affluent whiteness--certainly more Wall Street than Main Street!--and perhaps the university Faculty Lounge, as well?

Thanks, Elizabeth, for your response.  Indeed, Florida's proposals are exactly what I had in mind, especially since, as you suggest here, he also names "diversity" as a draw factor for high-tech industries even as he notes that "the diversity picture does not include African-Americans and other nonwhites." And, as your last comment points to, what drops out of a comparison of competing "Main Streets" is an analysis of power.  

The clip I included is from 1980, the same year that Ronald Reagan was elected president.  In the years that followed, LGBT and queer activists on the left would take on "Reaganomics" and its free market values (i.e. "Wall Street") delivered through populist rhetoric (i.e. "Main Street").  Gentrification and calls for police protection were common targets of activists.  Reagan had partners in his project for neoliberalism and I've been thinking of one of them this week: Margaret Thatcher.  Considering 1981 in 2011 seems crucial, not only for the reminders of the familiar street scenes of privatization and policing, but also as a way to open up the possibilities of historical and future-focused analyses of resistance and social movements.



Christina, I love this piece (and clip) and I'm inspired by your attention to the Christopher St. rebellion as a reference point for gay community formation not only in NY, but around the country. I'm struck by the way acts of commununal rebellion produce opposite shifts in the relationships between black and LGBT communities and pro-growth regimes from the 1970s onward. In D.C. for example the 1968 rebellion became this ever present specter, casting a shadow over investment prospects in black neighborhoods for decades. As struggles between gay gentrifiers and black residents ratcheted up in DC. in the 2000s, speculative investors justified their actions as evidence that black communities were not making adequate "use" of their neighborhoods (hello internal colonialism).

By contrast, your piece reminds us that the Christopher St. rebellions, and the annual commemoration of those rebellions in gay ghettos around the country, were part of the branding of LGBT residential/commercial space as critical to urban revitalization. But wait, this defies logic doesn't it? The Christopher St. rebellion featured violence against the police at the beginning of the Law and Order era .Political pressure to "protect" the police was about to grant officers sweeping new authority to enter homes without knocking and to use deadly force against "criminal threats."  If we believe conservative explanations for decades of negative job growth within inner cities and capital flight from inner cities, business investment in Greenwich Village (or any neighborhood that dared associate itself with a radical anti-police agenda) should have dried up in the 1970s. For wasn't it the "crime" of "lawlessness" of the city (compared to the tranquility of Sarah Palin's "real America), rather than anti-black and Latino/a racism, that directed the flow of capital out of communities of color in these years.

That this act of communal violence did not doom Greenwich Village to decline and "blight," that these neighborhoods could still be part of any "Main Street" project, forces us to figure out why African American neighborhoods were never quite able to gain such powerful control of the branding of the 125ths, 7th streets and the MLK Jr. boulevards around the country in these years and in the present.

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