De-gayed gayborhood. Homo homogenization. Post-gay world. What now?
By Mike Fleming
As some of the chatter goes, Midtown is being ruined by monied yuppies reversing the suburban flight of several decades ago, and gay Atlanta is suffering for it.
We fixed up the place, and rich people moved in. Then we spread out to make our mark on in-town places like East Atlanta Village and Old Fourth Ward, and every suburb within driving distance.
Whether that’s a bad thing or not, and the opinions vary widely with each gay person you ask, the de-gaying of the gayborhood is long over. It isn’t happening; it already happened – a while ago.
Gone are the male prostitutes for male clients hanging out along Piedmont and West Peachtree north of 10th Street. There are not a majority gay men in every grocery store and restaurant from north from Ponce to Cheshire, and east from the Connector to Highland. The most famous 24-hour gay bar, Backstreet, and its infamous neighbor The Armory, closed more than a decade ago.
Straight bars far outnumber gay ones in the area, gay-dominant adult venues are being replaced with pricey condos, and the last vestiges of the Red Light District along Cheshire Bridge Road are being razed while you read this.
We can debate the legislation of morality and mourn the loss of some aspects of gay culture, but the battle for Midtown is essentially over. Midtown is Post-Gay, and in the view of at least some of the city’s gay residents, everybody won.
While many of us enjoyed those gone-but-not-forgotten sides of gay life and celebrated the freedoms of what some might call the more subversive parts of gay culture, others of us are part of the Midtown fabric that helped usher in the change, including Midtown’s gay Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan.
“There’s obviously a demand in the market for [the changes]” Wan said as far back as 2012, when adult-oriented businesses were enjoying a grandfather clause to the frustration of neighbors in the Cheshire area at Piedmont Avenue.
“The neighborhoods have been trying to find a way to sunset the grandfather,” he told gay blog Project Q at the time. “There is going to be continued pressure from everybody to not be there anymore.”
He told local LGBT paper the GA Voice back then, “I just don’t think that the gay agenda is only 24-hour bars and sex clubs.”
Wan, who recently launched a citywide campaign to become the next City Council President, proposed and successfully lobbied to put a time limit and moratorium on adult businesses. Despite a very public battle with some gay residents and the businesses, he easily won re-election of the so-called “gay district” in a landslide sweep, collecting a majority votes from a wide swath of residents in the area, including many of the gay ones who remain.
Where We Are
The U.S. Census of 2010 was the first to ask about same-sex heads of household, and it gave us the first real numbers about where gay people live across the country, including pinpointing the “gayest” parts of each state and metropolitan area.
To show how gay life in Atlanta has already changed from some people’s perception as the decades pass, the 2010 Census also shows that one in four same-sex households are raising kids in Atlanta. That’s more than the nationwide average for any city with more than 100,000 people. None of the top five areas for gay people in Atlanta are in Midtown.
Within the city, self-identified gay households are most prevalent in Avondale Estates, Decatur, North Druid Hills, Scottdale and North Decatur, with up to 50 gay-run homes per 1,000 households.
And when it comes to gay African-Americans, you’ll find the highest concentration of residents in the country – yes that’s nationwide – in Clayton County south of I-20 and in pockets just east and south of Downtown Atlanta. Again, not Midtown.
For a full breakdown of the numbers, see our Where We Are Going sidebar at the end of this article.
Signs of the Times
Were gay people slighted in some way, or does life, culture and society just evolve? It’s natural as time passes to romanticize our past and view our younger days through rose colored glasses, but what is it, exactly, that we’re missing?
As acceptance, visibility and equality for gay people grew across the country, times were going to change for gay Atlantans whether Midtown changed with them or not. Now gay people are only one of the many flavors you can enjoy as you hold hands through Piedmont Park, grab a meal with your man near Colony Square, or party at one of the Cheshire Bridge, 10th Street or Ansley-area venues.
Wan represents Midtown District 6 seat on City Council, a seat that’s been held by a gay person for some 20 years. Since taking office in 2010, he led the charge on the council backing marriage equality and officially opposing anti-gay bills at the state level. He stood with the full council and the mayor when the fire chief was fired for anti-gay rhetoric, and he helped get Sunday alcohol sales to the polls. In his role, Wan also got the council to add gender identity protections to city policy.
With all that specifically LGBT accomplishment, he vacates his role without worrying about keeping the district – or his council seat – gay. In fact, he doesn’t think the District 6 council rep being gay is crucial any more to the area’s success or for LGBT inclusion in its day-to-day life.
“In this day and age in Atlanta, especially with my experience in the district seat, people want to see the work get done and they want the person in there to do it,” Wan told Project Q last month. “They don’t care if you are green or purple or Alex. Thanks to folks like [former District 6 reps] Cathy [Woolard, who became City Council President herself and is running for mayor next year] and Anne Fauver, [being LGBT] has become a non-issue.”
While some gay residents may feel forced out of formerly gay spaces, all of us also feel a little freer and more comfortable to venture further to beautify and enrich every area of town as close as Cabbagetown and Castleberry Hill, and as far as Marietta and Milton and beyond.
We spread our acceptance by being who we are openly among our neighbors, new and old.
The older we get and no matter who you are, it’s human nature to mourn how things once were. We can also celebrate the fact that our safety allows us to live anywhere in the city to suit our own lives without huddling in fear of reprisal for being who we are.
To be sure, gay rights still have a ways to go, and concerns remain under the current federal administration and an as-yet-decided Atlanta change in leadership come Election Day. While the glory days of all-night bars and dancing are gone, a whole new acceptance and safer world appears to have opened its doors.
There’s lots of room for hope to continue making our mark – in more places in Atlanta than ever.
Where We Are Going
Georgia leads the South with a whopping 8.3 same-sex-led homes for every 1,000 households. Dekalb and Fulton unsurprisingly lead the counties, but mountain burghs in Fannin, Gilmer and Rabun Counties round out the top five. Some guys even call Blue Ridge Midtown Mountain. We’re on the move.
The numbers skyrocket when looking at parts of Atlanta. Atlanta is fifth in the country for same-sex-run homes after San Francisco, Seattle, Oakland, and Minneapolis, respectively.
Within the city, gay households are most prevalent in Avondale Estates, Decatur, North Druid Hills, Scottdale and North Decatur, with up to 50 gay-run homes per 1,000 households.
Gay-Run Homes in Metro Atlanta
(per 1,000 Households)
Avondale Estates … 49.3
Decatur … 39.37
North Druid Hills … 36.87
Scottdale … 32.36
North Decatur …. 30
Notice something? None of those neighborhoods are in Midtown, and that was seven years ago.
Sources: Project Q Atlanta, United States Census, Williams Institute, Emory University, the GA Voice