“The Death of the Gayborhood: A Case Study of Chicago’s Boystown” – Luis Mongalo


Author: Luis Mongalo

Department: Institute for Policy & Civic Engagement, UIC

Faculty: Dr. Joseph K. Hoereth, IPCE

In recent years an emerging branch of queer research has begun to explore the changing dynamics of gay districts across the nation. This research project is a literature review of journal articles published from 2011 through 2018 on the replacement of queer spaces with ones geared to the white middle class. Chicago’s Boystown, one of the oldest gay districts in the country, has played a vital role in the LGBTQ community’s fight for equality and social acceptance. Unfortunately, in recent years, rents and property values have skyrocketed in the neighborhood as more non-LGBTQ individuals and businesses have moved into the area.

Researchers have developed several theories to explain the decentralization of “gayborhoods.” A popular theory suggests that the demand for gay districts has declined as gay and lesbian individuals have earned significantly higher acceptance, while other studies propose that gentrification is the result of neighborhood identity. Despite growing tolerance towards some segments of the LGBTQ community, there is a shared understanding that the benefits of changing attitudes have not been widespread. As gentrifying neighborhoods continue to price out LGBTQ residents, specialized services, political clout, and opportunities will likely be diminished.

The future of Boystown is uncertain; the next few years will be crucial. In recent years, gay bars have followed LGBTQ individuals into Andersonville and other neighborhoods, while nonprofits and social services have not. There is a shared understanding that the decentralization of gay neighborhoods is premature; attitudes towards LGBTQ individuals are changing, but not at the speed that gayborhoods are gentrifying. Alternatively, there may always be a need for LGBTQ-specific services, no matter what the level of social acceptance. In the coming years, it will be crucial to implement policies that subsidize housing and business opportunities for elders, gender minorities, and people of color. Strict anti-discrimination and cultural competence training for existing business owners will also help create a more accessible and equitable Boystown.

Keywords: gayborhoods, LGBTQ, gentrification, decentralization

Read more about Luis' work here