Gay Villages Today

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The Castro district in San Francisco; Shinjuku Ni-chome in Japan; Schöneberg in Berlin, and De Waterkant in Cape Town. These are all examples of famous gay neighbourhoods or villages.

by CIARAN R MAIDWELL

The Castro district in San Francisco; Shinjuku Ni-chome in Japan; Schöneberg in Berlin, and De Waterkant in Cape Town. These are all examples of famous gay neighbourhoods or villages. Besides the obvious, they all have something very distinct and very new in common: they’re expensive, commercialised and a little too straight. So, what’s happening in our gaybourhoods, and why should we care?

The historical importance of gay villages cannot be overstated. Beginning in the early 20th century, gay villages formed in response to social oppression. They were necessary in order to provide people with a place of mutual support, protection and socialisation.
Research into the creation of gay villages has shown that queer people have often “gaytrified” parts of the city which were previously run down. The first gay neighbourhoods were established in marginal or neglected urban areas. This allowed marginalised, socially neglected queer people to find affordable housing, start businesses and form communities. In a sea of heterosexual hostilities, gay villages were, and continue to be, beacons of tolerance. 

De Waterkant, Cape Town’s gay village, was itself declared a slum in the early 20th Century. Now, it’s one of the city’s most desirable locations. Ian McMahon, a prominent gay village business owner and resident in De Waterkant notes that when previously run-down areas become gay villages, “old loft apartments become fashionable apartments, panel beaters become chic furniture stores, cafés open” and gay bars and nightclubs appear. These become the sites for the community, and community is the foundation upon which every gay rights movement has been built. Our ability to overcome injustice stemmed from our inability to move freely around the city. By being forced together, we were able to understand that our goals were the same: visibility, acceptance, integration. But things are always changing…

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