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'Gayborhoods' are changing, researcher finds

Two men watch from the window of an apartment as Jennifer Hudson performs at Chicago Pride Fest in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, Ill., on Saturday, June 21, 2014. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
Two men watch from the window of an apartment as Jennifer Hudson performs at Chicago Pride Fest in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, Ill., on Saturday, June 21, 2014. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

The number of gay enclaves in Chicago and other large cities is on the increase but a deconcentrated population, while good from a societal standpoint, could lead to a more fragmented lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, a suburban Chicago native and sociologist says in his new book.

That's among the concerns raised by Amin Ghaziani, an associate professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia who spent six years researching the changes underway in LGBT enclaves in major cities, Chicago in particular.

The result is "There Goes the Gayborhood?" to be published this month by Princeton University Press.

"Existing visible gay neighborhoods like Boystown (in Chicago) or The Castro (in San Francisco) are in fact deconcentrating," Ghaziani said in an interview. "Fewer same-sex households lived in them in 2010 than in 2000. If we stop the conversation there, we might be tempted to conclude that gayborhoods are in danger of disappearing. If people move out, where do they go next?"

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  • They're moving and establishing new LGBT clusters in city neighborhoods and suburbs. They are moving for some of the same reasons that anyone leaves one neighborhood for another: They grow older, mature and possibly have children, all of which change what they want in a community, Ghaziani said.

    Through his research, Ghaziani said, he heard repeatedly during interviews with 125 straight and gay Chicagoans and neighborhood business owners that changing public opinion has meant LGBT residents in Chicago, for instance, no longer feel confined to "ghettos" of like-minded individuals. He also found that gays have become more welcoming of straight residents into the neighborhood.

    "Things are very different today than when these neighborhoods formed," he said. "As gay people feel safe in more parts of the city, they no longer feel limited. I call this an expansion of the residential imagination."

    Census data showed that in 2010 half of Illinois' estimated 25,710 unmarried partner households lived in Cook County, and 40 percent of them lived in four Chicago neighborhoods.

    But the decentralization of the LGBT community also worries Ghaziani because it could weaken its strength as a unified community and as a voting block. Ghaziani said he believes housing discrimination still exists and cities need areas where the LGBT community feels safe and comfortable.

    The idea for the book resulted from casual observations made by Ghaziani while he worked on a graduate degree and lived in Chicago's Boystown neighborhood for almost a decade, starting in 1999.

    "My friends and I began to notice changes in the character and composition of the neighborhood," he said. "We'd notice more straight couples holding hands and more baby strollers. That became a symbol. Oftentimes a sex store would close and a nail salon would open in its place.

    "Some people feel territorial about Boystown: 'Why do straight people have to come and take over one spot we have?'

    "Other people said this is great; isn't this what we've been fighting for?"

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    Mary Ellen Podmolik Chicago Tribune (MCT)