Men are from
Women are from
How “gayborhoods” in 15 major American cities are divided by gender.
Cities have long been havens for queer individuals. Decades before the “We’re here! We’re queer!” activism of the 1960s and 1970s, cities were a refuge for those society had kicked out. And today, they still serve as the North Star for many LGBTQ youth across the country.
Over time, this queer city migration helped form distinct enclaves, or “gayborhoods.” Today, they are often marked by rainbow crosswalks and strips of businesses flying Pride flags, but beyond the obvious markers, how do we measure these queer spaces? And more importantly, who gets included?
Currently, there’s no comprehensive way to quantitatively measure gayborhoods, or even where LGBTQ Americans live. Most of the existing data sticks to a narrow view (i.e. traditional marriage, the male/female gender binary) of the queer spectrum and “rainbow-washes” any intersectionality of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality. This project aims to paint a slightly more complete picture, combining several metrics to create a gayborhood index, but even then it admittedly underweights and undercounts areas with non-binary and minority populations. Still, this is some of the most complete data that we have. (More about the limitations in the methodology section.)
Here’s how the gayborhood index works in New York City:
The Pride march route is mapped as a starting point. In many cities, the routes pass through historic gayborhoods. New York’s Pride march snakes through the West Village, past Stonewall Inn, the site of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising and a major flashpoint for the LGBTQ rights movement.
Businesses tagged “gay bar” by Yelp are added to help define a queer commercial corridor. A majority of New York’s gay bars overlap the march route and are clustered on the west side of Manhattan in the West Village, Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen.
The last piece includes data on where same-sex unmarried partner households and same-sex married joint tax filers live. The index measures the certainty of an area being a gayborhood. After combining these metrics, it’s no surprise that the west side of Manhattan emerges as a dense gayborhood, but there are also darker areas that stretch into Brooklyn.
Let’s look at how these areas differ by gender. The map for same-sex male couples is nearly identical to the overall gayborhood map. Men dominate the west side, with the highest concentration in Chelsea.
When we look at same-sex female couples, we see a different pattern. Although there is some overlap, female couples are overall much less concentrated. The strongest cluster appears in Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York’s “lesbian capital.”
Men like the nightlife, they like to boogie
Two overarching trends emerge in the index: same-sex male couples are more likely to be concentrated where there is also a visible queer presence (parades, marches, and bars), and they are overall much more concentrated than same-sex female couples. A 2015 study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Population Studies Center had similar findings, stating “lesbians are less spatially concentrated than gay men.”
Researchers point to two likely explanations for these gender differences. The gender wage gap hits same-sex female households hard—they have less household income than both same-sex male and different-sex households. Same-sex females couples are also more likely to have children than their male counterparts.
Distribution of index scores by gender
The index measures the certainty of an area being a gayborhood. Overall, same-sex female households have lower index scores, suggesting that they are less likely to live in a neighborhood surrounded by other same-sex female households. Males, on the other hand, drive gayborhoods.
How gayborhoods shape cities
Cities have undergone monumental shifts in the past two decades: “white flight” has reversed, pushing longtime city residents out; housing prices have skyrocketed, creating an affordable housing crisis; and shrinking wages have driven an expanding income gap. Gayborhoods aren’t immune to these changes, but it’s important to consider that they might have contributed to some of it too.
Although the queer community cuts across race, ethnicity, and class lines, certain gayborhoods can be non-inclusive. Urban historian Gabrielle Esperdy terms this “lavender-lining,” the combination of the celebratory marking of Pride parade routes with redlining, the discriminatory and systematic disinvestment in neighborhoods based on race. “In their often-trying search for safety, community, and opportunity over the course of the second half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, queer households have actively participated in—and often even spearheaded—many of the now familiar patterns of urban ‘regeneration’ in cities across the country.”
In a 2010 interview with the Observer, Sharon Zukin, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College, suggested that same-sex female households could be “canaries in the urban coal mine,” signaling neighborhood change or gentrification. Same-sex male households often follow, priced out of previous gayborhoods. The earlier study from UPenn found that Census tracts that started the decade with more gay men experience significantly greater growth in household income and population.
But the LGBTQ community can be both “victim and perpetrator.” The cycle of “regeneration” hasn’t slowed, and now gayborhoods are becoming too expensive for many in the queer community.
Here are the current gayborhoods by gender in 15 major American cities, how they’ve evolved, and the pressures they are facing today:
Data and Methods
The 15 cities included in this project were chosen because they appeared across lists of America’s most populous cities, cities with the highest rate of same-sex married couples, cities with LGBTQ-friendly laws, and cities that included ZIP Codes with high shares of same-sex unmarried partner households and people looking for same-sex partners on OkCupid. Better, more inclusive data is needed to understand the intersectionality of the queer community. The National LGBTQ Task Force has a “Queer the Census” campaign that aims to close some of the data gaps. This index combines the following metrics:
- Same-sex married joint tax filers (2015): Because marriages are tracked at the state level, not federally, the US Treasury Department Office of Tax Analysis linked tax returns with social security numbers to give us the best picture of same-sex marriage in the states after two key Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage. In 2013’s Windsor v. United States, the Court invalidated a key provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and ruled that same-sex couples who were legally married in a start that recognized their marriage should be treated as married for all federal tax purposes. In 2015, the Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples had the right to marry in all states.
- Same-sex unmarried partner households (2015): The US Census has never asked questions about sexual orientation and gender identity and the department scrapped proposed questions to do so for the 2020 Census. Same-sex unmarried partner households are often used as a proxy for LGBTQ households, but not without some large caveats. The Census currently reclassifies same-sex married households as unmarried partners. There is also a known miscoding error that researchers have tried to correct for where different-sex partners incorrectly mark themselves as same-sex partners. A small error in the large population (different-sex) creates a large error in the small population (same-sex). This index does not perform this adjustment procedure and instead gives less weight to Census data in the calculations.
- Pride parade and march routes: Pride parade and march routes often touch historic gayborhoods within cities. The routes have been used to help identify culturally significant areas. In some cities, like Houston, the routes have been moved from their traditional homes in gayborhoods to downtown spaces.
- Yelp gay bars: Bar locations can help define a commercial corridor for LGBTQ communities. Businesses tagged “gay bar” within a 10-mile radius were included in the index. It’s important to note that this isn’t an exhaustive measurement and plenty of LGBTQ spaces were not captured in this data. For example, Diva’s, a popular dance bar within the San Francisco trans community was not tagged as a “gay bar” and therefore not included in the data.
- Additional calculations: ZIP Codes with fewer than 250 households were not included in this index. ZIP Codes were also limited to within 10 miles of a city’s boundaries. These thresholds were set to lessen any margin of error within small populations and eliminate ZIP Codes where there was missing same-sex unmarried partner or same-sex married joint tax filer data.
In this project, “gayborhood” is used as an overarching term to describe areas with a visible LGBTQ and queer presence. “LGBTQ” and “queer” are used interchangably throughout the piece to respect the intersections and inclusivity of the community. Words like “gay,” “lesbian,” and “homosexual” were used sparingly and only used for self-identification and to stay true to original quotes or works. This project relies heavily on the work and research of The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, Dr. Gary Gates, Dr. Amin Ghaziani, Dr. Janice Fanning Madden, and Dr. Matthew Ruther.
Thank you also to my urban planner wife, Sarah Serpas, who provided valuable insight, pointed me in the right direction and shot me down when I was wrong. We share an apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn. (Stereotypical, I know).
Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at jadiehm.