The history of gay neighbourhoods

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Castro Street Fair, 2011 | Aids Legal Referral Panel | 14134

The book “Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence, by Christina B. Hanhardt” is reviewed in Times Higher Education by Marian Dugan.

To a generation that believes gays and lesbians only collect en masse to dance on floats adorned in rainbow flags while in drag or pristine white underpants, the concept of gays rioting never fails to raise an eyebrow or two.

By studying LGBT activism in the US in the latter half of the 20th century, the book shows how contemporary socio-legal gains were made possible by resistance-fuelled, political organising, and how a gay backlash to victimisation became resistance to state violence.

Policing and political strategies to clamp down on deviant behaviour had an effect on neighbourhoods, especially in New York and San Francisco, where those “deviants” gathered.

“Gay space” developed in response to a growth in both visibility and the threat of violence. Safety strategies included community-based patrols to protect gay citizens. However, their focus slowly shifted from state violence to the same social “undesirables” targeted in wider crime-control policies. New forms of multiple marginalisation along gendered, racial and class lines faced those not included in “gay gentrification”.

“The idea that LGBT safety would come through neighborhood-based crime control strategies had become so commonplace that the target of Greenwich Village residents’ neighborhood protection efforts would be the very people who most face the kinds of interpersonal, state-sponsored, and structural violence that the LGBT movement had been founded to fight.”

SP

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