A new Canadian study finds a common misunderstanding between straight and gay people living in predominantly gay neighborhoods. While gay and lesbian residents see “gayborhoods” as a safe place to retreat from discrimination, straight residents may see them as a novel place to live and are surprised when they sometimes feel unwelcome.
In addition, the researchers found that, despite claiming to support gay rights, many straight people who live in gayborhoods still practice subtle forms of discrimination when interacting with their gay and lesbian neighbors.
“There is a mistaken belief that marriage equality means the struggle for gay rights is over,” said Dr. Amin Ghaziani, the study’s senior author and associate professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia (UBC). “But it is far from over. Prejudice and discrimination still exist — it’s just more subtle and difficult to detect.”
“The people we interviewed say their desire is for everyone to ‘just get along,’ but that desire implies that gaybourhoods are utopias where everyone can live, rather than places where minorities can find relief from discrimination and social isolation,” he said.
For the study, the researchers interviewed 53 straight people who live in two Chicago gayborhoods: Boystown and Andersonville.
While the majority of residents said they supported gay people, the researchers found their progressive attitudes didn’t appear to correlate with their actions. For example, many residents said they don’t care if people are gay or straight, but some indicated that they don’t like gay people who are “in your face.”
When asked about resistance from LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, queer) communities to the widespread trend of straight people moving into gayborhoods, some of the people interviewed responded with accusations of reverse discrimination and described gay people who challenged them as “segregationist” and “heterophobic.”
Some said they believed they should have open access to cultural gay spaces, and were surprised that they felt “unwelcome” there.
“If a group of straight women hosted a bachelorette party in a gay bar, for example, they were surprised that they felt ‘unwelcome,'” said Ghaziani. “That feeling of surprise, however, exemplifies a misguided belief that gay districts are trendy commodities when they are actually safe spaces for sexual minorities.”
In addition, when asked if they had done anything to show their support of gay rights, such as marching in the pride parade, donating to an LGBTQ organization, or writing a letter in support of marriage equality to a politician, the majority of straight residents said they had not.
Many also expected their gay and lesbian neighbors to be happy and welcoming of straight people moving into gayborhoods, expressing sentiments like, “you wanted equality— this is what equality looks like.”
Ghaziani said this argument portrays the fundamental misunderstanding of the inequality and discrimination that creates the need for gayborhoods in the first place.
“I hope that our research motivates people against becoming politically complacent or apathetic,” said Adriana Brodyn, the study’s lead author and a Ph.D. student in the UBC department of sociology. “If we do not motivate ourselves to be aware of this subtle form of prejudice, then it will just continue to perpetuate.”
The findings are published in the journal City and Community.
Source: University of British Columbia