Boundary Maintenance, Leisure Spaces, and "Respectable Segregation": The Case of an Urban LGBTQ Neighborhood

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 09:30
Oral Presentation
Eric KNEE, Indiana University, School of Public Health, Bloomington, USA
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) leisure spaces have historically provided an important opportunity for marginalized sexual and gender identities to cultivate a safe space of open expression, identity negotiation, and political activity (Ghaziani, 2014). This is particularly the case for “gayborhoods,” or neighborhoods that feature a large LGBTQ population, numerous LGBTQ businesses, community centers, cultural attractions, and leisure opportunities. Such neighborhoods have long attracted a “gay migration” of individuals with marginalized identities searching for safe spaces (Weston, 1995). This is the case for Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood, the world’s first official gayborhood. However, recent perspectives of LGBTQ spaces demonstrate the ways in which these spaces are in fact dominated by white, upper-class, normative values to the detriment of those who are gender nonconforming, of lower socioeconomic status, and racial minorities. This neoliberal process of gay assimilation based on heteronormative hierarchies of power has been coined “homonormativity” (Duggan, 2002). Such dynamics have led Orne (2016) to describe Boystown as a “gay Disneyland” that is focused on marketing itself based on normative, heterosexual respectability. Further examples of this normative processes have been found in other LGBTQ spaces through the processes of hegemonic masculinity (Johnson, 2008), misogyny (Johnson & Samdahl, 2005), racial preferences (Green, 2008), social class (Berube, 1996), and respectability (Ahlm, 2017; Ward, 2008).

Using ethnographic observations and semi-structured interviews, this study demonstrates the ways in which Boystown creates and maintains boundaries of exclusion based on hegemonic norms. The neighborhood actively “defends” itself (Kefalas, 2003) from the perceived dangers of neighborhood change, thus sustaining a segregated white, upper-class, LGBT neighborhood. This is accomplished through (1) the symbolic boundary of respectability, (2) policing, and (3) nonprofit practices. The outcome of this negatively influences both access to and experiences in leisure spaces for individuals who do not conform to the neighborhood’s respectable identity.