As a teacher and Gay-Straight Alliance adviser at a high school in Southeastern Los Angeles, I find myself routinely frustrated by the geography of the LGBT support system in this city. In short, to get my students to LGBT spaces and events, we have to go north and west.
It’s pretty much the same process, all the time: (1) Someone tells me about or I find out about an “incredible opportunity for LGBT-identifying students” (for some reason, the opportunity is always “incredible”); (2) I find out it’s being held in Wilshire or Beverly or West Hollywood; (3) I call to see if they provide transport. They are perplexed by the question and say they do not but that it’s a short drive and most attendees are driven by their parents; (4) I decide whether to drive three or four students in my own car, because no one will end up going if I don't. None of my kids’ parents have cars.
In the past, I’ve written about this geographical disparity with regard to public affection and fear of homophobia, largely glossing over the obvious point: the layout of LGBT acceptance and resources,in L.A. and in most other cities, is pretty firmly segregated along racial and socioeconomic lines.
Queer folks, to be clear, are everywhere. They’re to the north of the 10 freeway and they’re to the south of it. They’re right up against the Pacific in Santa Monica, and they’re right up against the 710 in South Gate and Huntington Park. But the spaces that where they commune, where they access health and counseling services, where they access “gay culture,” where they get politically involved — they’re pretty much all where the white rich folks are.
Take, for example, where the 39 largest LGBT centers, health-care providers, political organizations, and social spaces in L.A. are located (self-flagged with Google Maps)-
Or this highly scientific map of gay nightlife courtesy of the statistician-cartographers at nighttours.com:
North of the 10, west of Downtown. That’s where queer happens in L.A., at least when we’re talking about the kind of queerness that comes out into the open air every now and then, rather than just coming out on a Smartphone app or a website (both of which have their own socioeconomic and racial issues).
The problem is that where queer happens is not where queer lives, goes to school, requires health care and counseling services, and experiences homophobia and violence.
Take, for example, where the Gay-Straight Alliance chapters are located in the Los Angeles area:
Or where U.S. Census data shows same-sex couples residing, courtesy of LA Curbed Magazine:
In short, what we’ve got is a geographically, racially, and socioeconomically diverse LGBT population that’s not being reflected in where LGBT spaces and communities are constructed. Basically, if you’re born south of the 10 freeway and east of Downtown L.A., your main option is to move north and west if you want to be out, proud, and engaged in the mainstream of LGBT culture. And the way that you move to those areas is to miraculously become much wealthier. It obviously also helps to be white.
You basically have to go from this to this. It’s the “new normal” because obviously, just like you saw 10 years ago on the documentary Will and Grace, LGBT = filthy, stinking, over-the-top rich, and pale, pale, pale white (unless we’re talking an artificial tan).
That’s what’s so infuriating about so-called “gay enclaves”. Contrary to how we describe them, they're not places of refuge. They’re rich, white, establishment communities in which housing prices and the cost of living are too high even for middle-class LGBT people to afford. And if you don’t live there, you’ve got to travel there, which is awful difficult because the folks on the Westside have been blocking transit extensions for decades.
So, then, why not decentralize the LGBT community? Why not spread it around a bit, perhaps around to the people who need it most? When we talk about how essential it is to address poverty and homelessness in the LGBTQ community, why not say it in Boyle Heights or Watts or Lynwood, rather than from white, rich Westwood? Why not put our money and our presence where they're most needed?
There’s a debate on “Equality” we’ve yet to undertake.