Over the past several years, as I've chronicled the vanishing city, many of the places we've lost to hyper-gentrification have been queer spaces. Bookstores, bars, cafes, shops. Even entire neighborhoods. Along the way, I've heard again and again that queer spaces don't matter anymore, that they're not necessary in an age of supposed LGBTQ acceptance and assimilation.
But as we saw in the horrifying and heartbreaking news from Florida, queer spaces do matter. They matter in small towns and cities, and they matter in major metropolises.
At the Stonewall vigil. Photo: Charles Eckart, AMNY
Writing on gay bars, Richard Kim put it eloquently yesterday in The Nation online when he said: "Gay bars are therapy for people who can’t afford therapy; temples for people who lost their religion, or whose religion lost them; vacations for people who can’t go on vacation; homes for folk without families; sanctuaries against aggression."
The same can be said for other queer spaces--bookstores like the the Oscar Wilde, restaurants like Fedora, shops like Rainbows & Triangles. They were all sanctuaries.
Queer spaces are also vulnerable. Historically, they've been the targets
of violence. In the city today they are most often the targets of
economic displacement, another kind of violence. As state-sanctioned rezonings, eminent domain grabs, and luxury
developments encroach into every urban space, we're losing our sanctuaries.
photo: Pat Morgan
Gun violence and economic violence share a common thread. In our neoliberal age of unfettered cowboy capitalism, the pro-gun lobby (NRA) holds the power, with its anti-regulation, anti-"big government" stance and its greed for money. In our neoliberal age, the real estate development lobby (REBNY) has the power, with its anti-regulation, anti-"big government" stance and its greed for money.
As George Monbiot pointed out recently in The Guardian, neoliberalism is "the ideology at the root of all our problems."
It fuels the conflicts in the Middle East, the rise of domestic gun violence, and the hyper-gentrification of our cities. It assimilates gays and lesbians away from radical queerness and into homonormativity, breaking bonds with the poor and working class, with immigrants, many people of color, and other queers who cannot or will not assimilate into the mainstream.
In his book Warped: Gay Normality and Queer Anti-Capitalism,
Peter Drucker calls for queers to protest the neoliberal order. He
writes, "We need to give overturning neoliberalism and its gender and
sexual dimensions pride of place in our conception of sexual freedom."
That's a big job, but its time has come.
photo: Pat Morgan
When we look at the faces and biographical sketches of the people
murdered in Orlando, we see mostly young people of color, the children
and grandchildren of immigrants, working class people who found a sanctuary in Pulse nightclub--until that sanctuary was shattered.
We might honor them by honoring our own local queer spaces. They are a vital part of our emotional ecosystem, a web that unites us not only across the city, but across the country and the globe.
Queer spaces matter.
They are also rebel spaces, where dissident ideas and acts are formed and performed. They make up a vast alternative network--as we saw in last night's coast-to-coast vigils for the people of Pulse--and networks are powerful. Acting together within that network, we can create great change.