Preserving Gayborhoods To Save Lives? “It’s Really Not About Bars,” Jones Insists.

How is the health of your gayborhood?  Are you worried about its future?  Should you care?

Here in Wilton Manors, we have a very strong gayborhood, but sometimes, things happen that make us wonder about where it will be in ten years.  Recently, Bill's closed and we all went back to the rumor / possible reality that either a boutique hotel or new pricey condos would soon take over the entire block.  Both most likely would not be a detriment to the gayborhood, but it would change the face of The Drive.  The loss of one bar was not worrying us since Matty's just returned to town, Gym Bar opened, and a new martini bar will soon open next to Village Pub.  And Bill's? That has just re-opened as Wolf in the same location.

But is it about the bars and just the bars?  Is that what makes a gayborhood the place to be?

Here are excerpts from a Sfist.com story about Cleve Jones and his thoughts on the demise of gayborhoods called, "Cleve Jones: We Have To Preserve Gayborhoods Because They Save Lives"

Outspoken human rights activist Cleve Jones has been on the front lines of LGBT liberation and equality fights since the early 1970s, when he arrived in San Francisco as a young man and quickly became an acolyte of burgeoning local politician Harvey Milk. Later, he would experience first-hand the horrors of the HIV/AIDS epidemic here, become infected himself, lose virtually all of his friends to the disease, and become a co-founder of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and the creator of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Jones turned 61 in October, and never having imagined he would live this long — he believes he was infected with HIV around the winter of 1978/79, and remarkably lived with the virus for a full 10 years before any treatment options were even available — he's facing another potential battle that's becoming a tragically common one in San Francisco, the fight to stay in a rental apartment near the community to which he played a pivotal role in giving a voice, and which he and friends helped create.

The forces of gentrification weigh heavily on many San Franciscans as a real estate frenzy and a tech-fueled economic boom are causing properties to change hands all over the city, and causing new owners to find ways to oust rent-controlled tenants. But Jones worries specifically about the people who are in his cohort — aging gay men and LGBT seniors — for whom decamping to the suburbs could mean a far more tragic fate than for their heterosexual counterparts. And he's equally worried about the young and often disenfranchised gay and trans people who come to the Castro District knowing it to be a legendary safe haven where they might be able to start their lives.

The problem now is that these gay neighborhoods that were once the only safe places to be openly gay are becoming more like tourist attractions than they are lifelines. And while wealthier gay property owners may still hold a stake in each of these places — whether it's Boys' Town in Chicago, West Hollywood, Chelsea, or Lavender Heights in Sacramento — changes in the broader culture are causing apathy among both LGBT and liberal straight allies alike as parts of the community become, increasingly, dispersed and these neighborhoods increasingly mixed.

Gayborhoods, though, still play a vital role in the lives of people like himself, especially, and the lives of anyone who can't afford to own property and therefore protect their place nearby the institutions that make contemporary life for LGBT people so much better, and easier, than it was two or three decades ago.

"It's really not about bars," Jones insists. "It's about people living in close proximity to each other. When you look at the things we in the LGBT community have created for ourselves — the singing groups, film festivals, health care clinics, social organizations — the gayborhoods of this country, especially the Castro, were incubators for this stuff. We don't have a situation where we're asking where is the scene moving to, we have a situation where people are being dispersed at a really rapid rate. And I'm talking about this issue because it's an issue that hurts people."

Jones gets teary as he says he's lost multiple friends — "too many" — in the last year to suicide, and he's alarmed at the number of people he's heard talking about suicide, and he says this has been directly a result of their losing housing or their longtime homes being potentially threatened.

"I'm a renter, and I'm not a wealthy man," Jones says. "When the inevitable eviction comes, I'll have to leave, and I don't know where I'll go. I'm getting old, and I hear horror stories about seniors ending up in senior facilities where they aren't treated with any dignity and may even suffer special abuse for being LGBT. I know someone who was one of the first people to transition from female to male, and he's being abused in one of these homes. It's awful."

"I got a lot of comments and backlash after that Guardian piece went up," he says. "One of the dumbest responses I heard was 'Cities change, things change.' What a deep response! But let's talk about what those changes mean. What does it mean to the transgender individual, or a single mother, or anyone who relies on the support system they might have in their immediate neighborhood? What about the men in their 60s who have HIV and are being forced not only to leave our friends and support systems, but also the sensitive and knowledgable medical care that they've known. Do you know how hard it is to find HIV specialists out in the suburbs? What about trans people — how are they going to get the medical and emotional support they need if they're living in Benecia? No offense to Benecia."

Jones says that, though perhaps to a lesser extent, the situation facing the Castro and other gay ghettos around the country is not unlike what happened to the African-American community in San Francisco. Due to the forces of "urban renewal" and the actions of San Francisco's redevelopment agency in the 60's and 70's, what was a vibrant and large African-American community in the Fillmore district was systematically destroyed, "dispersing them to the winds, and they never came back."

"This is not part of some natural cycle — it's an upending of the role that cities play in the lives of many, many people," Jones says, acknowledging that more and more wealthier people want to live and work in urban centers, driving up the price of real estate, and acknowledging that social media has completely transformed the way LGBT people find each other and interact.- sfist.com

I believe the points Jones makes are valid. For the entire article, head on over to Sfist.com.  A gayborhood is not just about bars, but instead about a community of buildings, businesses, lodging, people, and coexistence.  If a gayborhood is just defined on how many bars it has, that "hood" and the people living there may be missing the point.

Winton Manors, is very plentiful in the bar category, but there are also many gay owned businesses present along with a plethora of services as well as lodging.  Yes, we may define a gayborhood by its bars since that is the easiest thing to do, but as we watch and count those, we may neglect the other variables that make this type of community a valuable asset for many.

In my opening thoughts, my focus was on Bill's and the future of that space.  What also should have been mentioned was that Bill's was not the only business in that strip mall.  Restaurants, clothing and novelty stores, and other small gay owned businesses would be displaced if the block went the way of a hotel or condos.  Wilton Manors is more than 12 to 15 gay bars and clubs within a mile stretch, but every little storefront between those bars and on those side streets add to and help create a great place to call home.

Do you live in a gayborhood?  Is it a place you never want to leave?

Would you want to live in a gayborhood?  Too gay for you?

Do you see the value in keeping our gayborhoods alive and strong?

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