There is a deep, hermetic lore known only to cultural insiders, a small circle of academics, and a handful of social rogues — namely, the lore of the often-tense relationships between white gays and blacks in those urban neighborhoods that exist in the liminal realm between “ghetto” and “gentrified.”
I first noticed this as a child going to work with my dad in the early 1990s. Several neighborhoods in Columbus, Ohio were undergoing a sort of transformation. It was a trend all over the country at that time, before corporate America, the United States government, and the general population had adopted homosexuality as a core value. Back then gay community landmarks, such as bars, were often found in less desirable parts of town — often meaning where blacks were. Thus, it was no surprise when white gay men started buying distressed houses in the run-down parts of town that were populated almost entirely by blacks. Often these houses had historic or architectural value. The gay couples, who generally had two incomes and no children, had considerable money to spend on fixing up these homes, often to a state better than when they were new, and in some cases becoming coveted real estate.
The construction work on these homes is where my dad and I entered the story. My father was a talented builder and carpenter, with broad residential and light commercial construction expertise. This, combined with a willingness to work in the rougher parts of town, kept him busy on these large restoration projects, and he was often hired as a general contractor to manage an entire job or else to finish particular aspects.
During the summers, when I was off from school, I did not babysit or go to day care; I went to work with my dad. The gay homeowners were not around often, since they were also going to work. We would occasionally see them late in the afternoon or on weekends — or when, of course, the jobs were being bid on, materials were being picked up, or when the project was finished.
I recall a bizarre combination of racial conflict and neighborhoods in flux. As flophouses morphed back into mansions, corner stores with bars on their windows disappeared and chic coffee shops replaced them. This process is commonly called “gentrification,” which connotes the “displacement” of the current residents, who are often non-white and poor, as well as increasing rents and more commercial activity. But much of the conflict occurred between two wings of the progressive coalition, for all over America, the vanguard of the gentrification process consisted disproportionately of white gay men.
One of the few “jobs” I had on these project sites, other than cleaning up and not injuring myself, was to make sure that all my dad’s tools were in the truck at the end of each work day. If anything of value was left behind overnight, there was a significant chance it would be stolen. Indeed, homes under renovation were subject to near-constant theft and vandalism. When the gay homeowners finally moved into the finished homes, their cars were often broken into, while the houses themselves were often vandalized — and worse. And although it didn’t occur as frequently, there were also incidents of these people being beaten and mugged.
Sometimes the people my dad was working for were attacked — always by blacks — but they rarely wanted to say much about it. It was simply seen as part of the cost associated with being on the cutting edge of remaking a neighborhood. As these neighborhoods became fully “gentrified,” their former black residents would become a memory, as they could no longer afford to stay and felt unwelcome for several reasons — the increased police presence being one.
I had not thought much about those days for many years, but then the topic of gentrification came up in a city planning class I took as an undergrad at the Knowlton School of Architecture. A woman with mocha-colored skin and dark, frizzy hair referred to white homosexuals with a scornful tone as “the shock troops of gentrification.” I nearly spit out my coffee and sprained my neck in turning to see who had likened a generally refined population to stormtroopers.
To my amusement, the Professor asked her to elaborate. She referred to the white gay gentrifiers as racist colonialists, and accused them of intentionally displacing “black bodies through financial terrorism.” She had lived in a part of town that had been transformed from a ghetto to some of the highest-valued real estate in the city, causing her and her mother to move when their landlord sold the house they were renting to what must have been a gay couple.
This was by no means the first time I had heard disparaging comments about white men at my university or elsewhere. But it was the first — and perhaps only — time I heard anybody in academia openly refer to gays as victimizers. “They don’t even have families,” the woman said to me when we spoke more about gentrification a week later. I asked if black gays or any other group participate in gentrification as well. She said it is not common, or at least it wasn’t there. I could never figure out if she was more upset that it was whites or gays displacing her and her racial group. It was yet another example of the “intersectionality” that the sociology majors were always on about.
I saw white gay men described as “shock troops” again when reading Sarah Shulman’s book, The Gentrification of the Mind. Just as most academic publications on the topic, the book struggles to reconcile the view that white gay men are victims in society with the idea that they are also perpetrators of a particular type of racism: gentrification.
It turned out that the Professor in my city planning class knew of a documentary that had been filmed only a few miles from campus called Flag Wars (2003), which discussed the topic of gays and gentrification in great detail. We watched it as a class and discussed the themes, which remains one of the most memorable class discussions I have ever been a part of. I hate to admit that I took a certain joy in watching the Professor and my classmates squirm as they claimed that they sided more with the blacks against the gays or the white gays against the blacks.
Flag Wars opens by showing blacks watching white men work on a home next door, then cuts to a realtor setting up a showing of a house that is for sale that is currently being rented. Much of it focuses on the neighborhood going from total neglect to being considered historical, bringing with it a new interest in zoning and code enforcement. With this enforcement comes the city issuing citations against black residents for failing to keep their homes and yards in proper order.
A black man in the community who was subject to zoning and code enforcement describes the entire process as an ethnic cleansing of the neighborhood. The black residents felt that they were suddenly and aggressively being targeted with citations and fines, despite the fact that their homes were in the same condition as they had been for many years. Collapsing porches, trash strewn about, and broken-down cars sitting in yards and alleyways had been a familiar sight for years. They also claim that before white gays started moving into the area, they were never bothered with these types of “nuisances.” An elderly black lady at a council meeting opines that “we didn’t have a problem until they got here,” gesturing at the white gays in the room.
While the blacks were dealing with code violations, the white gays were very concerned with the amount of street crime directed at them, including several drive-by shootings and violent muggings.
The constant pressure on the often-impoverished black residents at the hands of white gays serves several purposes: protecting the property value of the homes the latter had recently purchased and repaired, but also to force those of the former who cannot or will not comply with the new enforcement out of the neighborhood – thus causing their homes to be sold.
This touches on one of the negative aspects of gentrification. When blacks are clustered in a particular part of town, it is easy enough to avoid them. But after gentrification, black residents are displaced, and often end up all over town. Thus, when one neighborhood becomes less black, five other neighborhoods will become more black.
A clip from a local Columbus news station’s report is included in the film, where 500 city residents were asked if the gay pride flag should be allowed to fly at the state house. 67% said no.
During a meeting in which the white and primarily gay and lesbian citizens discussed the crime they are facing, one asks if anybody thinks that the crime is related to them being gay. The resounding response from the white gays was that it wasn’t about being gay at all; their black attackers never called them any slurs, and had no way to know about their sexuality. This suggests it has more to do with being white and moving into what blacks consider to be “their neighborhood,” as well as them seeing the former as soft targets.
“You don’t try to take somebody’s history away from them,” says Ms. Mitchell, an older black woman with chronic health problems, on the prospect of being forced out of her home because she could not afford to bring it into compliance with the city. Ms. Mitchell passed away before the documentary was completed. Her house has now been sitting empty for nearly two decades; I recently drove past it.
Flag Wars is in essence a film about racial conflict between white gays and blacks in a small neighborhood. Nobody in the gay community or academia seemed to see it as such, however. Liberals do not see such a conflict as a racial matter; they see it through either a socioeconomic or a queer lens: the poor blacks are attacking wealthy whites.
For most of the gays involved, it is apparent that their homosexual identity is far more salient for them than their white identity. They see themselves as being attacked for being gay, or perhaps for having money, but not due to their whiteness. And although the gay community’s typical voting patterns, the results of opinion polls among them, and their activism do not generally cause me to feel sympathetic towards them, there is something positive to be said about a group of people who take flophouses and slums and turn them into some of the most aesthetic and historic districts across the country.
I soon learned that the intersection of homosexuality and gentrification was a topic dealt with in a great deal of academic literature going back decades. In my survey of it, there was a recurring theme of racial conflict and the writer’s ever-present difficulty in dealing with the subject matter. Academia has no way of describing a conflict between two groups of people where it sees both of them primarily as victims. Their struggle to frame a discussion of how a group that is part of the Left-wing coalition can be so callous and exacting in their quest to make nice places to live causes tremendous dissonance for them.
Several differing views have emerged in academia’s examination of homosexual urbanism to explain why gay men, and particularly white gay men out of all the types of people united under the rainbow flag banner, are the ones who restore entire neighborhoods and are at the center of cultural projects. A Passion to Preserve: Gay Men as Keepers of Culture by Will Fellows, published in 2005 (and reviewed here by James O’Meara), is a book that discusses architecture, historic preservationism, and homosexuality, and it provided many unexpected insights. One explanation it offers for this issue is that there are inherent qualities in gay men that enable them to become so prominent in preservation efforts. This work does not discuss race at all, however — but many others do.
“Why Are Gay Ghettoes White?” by Charles I. Nero address the racial element of this conflict directly. Nero believes that systemic issues prohibited blacks from fully participating in housing development, such as the Federal Housing Authority and redlining policies that “disadvantaged” black homebuyers. Nero also suggests that the depiction of gay black men in the media further harmed their ability to participate in forming gay neighborhoods. I do not find these explanations compelling, because although there may or may not be legitimate barriers to black homeownership, they always live somewhere, often with other blacks — and the neighborhoods are rarely ever nice.
Fellows, for his part, sees being a preservationist as being intertwined with being a gay man. He anecdotally notes that at many events dedicated to these endeavors, gay men drastically outnumber gay women – as well as all other groups. But Nero and Shulman see things largely through a racial lens, and I believe this is likely due to an interaction effect. Nero is a black man, and Shulman is Jewish. I agree that whiteness plays an integral role in the story of gay gentrification and preservation, but we disagree as to why this is the case. Where they see whiteness as a malign force, I view it as what distinguishes a nice, clean, highly-valued neighborhood from a ghetto. And just as the real reason that white gays have successfully formed enclaves was not due to their gayness alone, but also largely to their whiteness, the reason black gays did not participate in the process to the same extent is not due to their gayness, but rather their blackness.
A more recent book is The Life and Afterlife of Gay Neighborhoods, edited by Alex Bitterman and Daniel Baldwin, and it contains many noteworthy insights. One is that, just as many distinct groups of people, various studies of homosexuals found that they wanted to live in gay neighborhoods in order to be around other gay people. Although there are aspects of white gay culture that I find to be fundamentally Right-wing, it must be noted that in all the US presidential elections between 2008 and 2020, gays voted about in favor of Democrat candidates by a ratio of three to one. Even more paradoxical, perhaps, is that there is overlapping support between gays and Black Lives Matter. From a distance, it seems obvious that they should be allies who provide mutual support, given that they are two groups that see themselves as historically marginalized by mainstream or white society, respectively, and who retain a strong victim mentality and status despite heavy pandering from nearly every facet of society. Yet, when white gays and blacks live near each other, white gays experience criminality at the hands of their black neighbors.
In A Passion to Preserve, Fellows looks deeply into the phenomenon of gay men who are acting as cultural guardians. Fellows posits — and I agree — that gay men are not simply straight men who differ in their sexuality, but rather that gay men are intrinsically different at a deep-rooted level. What some people view as “stereotypes” about gay men, such as their propensity to work as hair stylists, fashion designers, interior designers, and house restorers, Fellows views as archetypical. There is something essential in their being as gay men that draws them to these professions and hobbies. In a passage that I did not expect to read in a contemporary book about gay culture, Fellows writes, “Gay men are a prominent and highly talented presence in many female-dominated fields that revolve around creating, restoring, and preserving beauty, order, and continuity.” One might have expected to find such a statement in a twentieth-century text extolling the virtues of nationalism, but less so in a book about the intersection of architecture, historic preservation, and queer theory. It sounds almost Nietzschean.
A few pages later, Fellows writes:
My driving need has always been to preserve things, not for myself, but for posterity, to establish a continuity, not a senseless ending. I am inspired by that idea. Whatever you can accomplish with your two hands, I thought, you must do. . . . I am not concerned with dead stones or lifeless furniture. They are embodiments that mirror the history of the men who built them, who lived in them. Senseless destruction does away with a former way of life, the foundation of our spiritual and aesthetic culture, and irretrievable impoverishes our daily lives.
I again found this striking. These are all themes I have written about, representing what I consider to be the deepest and most fundamental characteristics of proper Right-wing philosophy.
Later, Fellows remarks that after the Second World War, there was a strong trend against preservationism that swept across the country. “Tearing down the old and erecting the new became something of a national obsession,” he notes. The view that the Second World War marked a boundary between the old world and the new order, which is replete with iconoclasm and spiritual decline, is a very important idea to me. Fellows recognizes this, too, albeit for different reasons. I could not help but feel kinship with Fellows and others like him in some ways. They, too, are fighting against the same forces of decay and ugliness, and despite our differences, we also have much in common. There is a type of romanticism present in these virtues and ways of being. The white homosexual is concerned with preserving the past and proclaiming the supremacy of the established order in opposition to the actions of the vulgarians.
Fellows identifies five common traits among gay men who work in preservation: gender atypicality, hemophilia (the love of houses), romanticism, aestheticism, and connection — i.e., continuity-mindedness. Fellows remarks that “[t]he historic preservation movement is said to have begun with people who walked among ruins.” He then quotes an Art Deco enthusiast who decries the low quality of today’s mass-produced architecture and remarks, “I was born out of time.” Finally, Fellows notes that the men who restore homes and neighborhoods, and curate art and heirlooms are men who “cherish tradition, family, community, a feeling for place, a sense of flowing history.” Born out of time, walking among ruins, a sense of flowing history — there are occasions when this book sounds like Savitri Devi, Oswald Spengler, or Julius Evola.
White gay men have a quality about them that draws them into preserving architecture and creating beauty where others have dismissed the possibility. No other group has so consistently and readily gone into neighborhoods in ruins and restored them to their bygone eminence. It is a behavior not often seen among most straight couples, or even in other segments of the gay community. It is something unique that manifests in white gay men. They are not without faults as a cohort, and have done their fair share of aiding in the decline of a once-great society. All the same, they have walked in the ruins of our cities and become determined not to let them lie in decay forever. They then set about rescuing them, house by house, in the hopes that they might be enjoyed by posterity. Thus, the story of white gay men may serve as an essential lesson and an undeniable part of our shared culture as whites who wish to keep our culture safe from senseless destruction while we work to restore a sense of beauty, order, and continuity.
I am thankful that I can tell the story of gays and urbanism from a perspective that is no longer accepted in academia. And I am grateful for the white gay friends I have who understand the importance of aesthetics more than most. Thank you for reading, and have a happy conclusion to Pride Month.
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 This story of racial conflict and urbanism has been on my mind for nearly a decade. I have wanted to share it, adding an illiberal perspective on a topic that I have witnessed firsthand. But due to homosexuality being something that causes tremendous derision among the Right, especially in an era of extreme LGBTQ+ proliferation in entertainment and the schools, I initially avoided the subject. This story combines urbanism, real estate, and racial strife, which has never been discussed by somebody with my particular worldview.
 Sarah Schulman, The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013); Emily Douglas, “Intellectual Property: Sarah Shulman’s The Gentrification of the Mind,” Los Angeles Review of Books, June 8, 2012.
 Thomas Philip Lick. “The Paradoxical Nature of Gentrification in Long Beach’s Gayborhood,” KCET, September 27, 2017; Peter Moskowitz, “When It Comes to Gentrification, LGBTQ People are Both Victim and Perpetrator,” Vice, March 16, 2017; and Feargus O’Sullivan, “The ‘gaytrification’ effect: why gay neighborhoods are being priced out,” The Guardian, January 13, 2016.
 Linda Good Bryant & Laura Poitras, Flag Wars, 2003. “Shot over a four-year period, Linda Goode Bryant and Laura Poitras’ Flag Wars is a poignant and very personal look at a community in Columbus, Ohio, undergoing gentrification. What happens when gay white homebuyers move into a working-class black neighborhood? As the new residents restore the beautiful but rundown homes, black homeowners must fight to hold onto their community and heritage. The inevitable clashes expose prejudice and self-interest on both sides, as well as the common dream to have a home to call your own. Winner of the Jury Award at the South by Southwest Film Festival, Flag Wars is a candid, unvarnished portrait of privilege, poverty and local politics taking place across America. An Independent Television Service (ITVS) and National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC) co-presentation. A Diverse Voices Project (DVP) Selection.”
 Charles I. Nero, “Why are Gay Ghettoes White?” Black Queer Studies, Duke University Press, October 2005.
 Alex Bitterman & Daniel Baldwin Hess, eds., The Life and Afterlife of Gay Neighborhoods (New York: Springer Publishing, 2021), 94.
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