Gay village

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Toronto's Church and Wellesley district, one of the largest gay villages in North America
Toronto's Church and Wellesley district, one of the largest gay villages in North America
Rainbow flags are displayed in the Castro area of San Francisco as a symbol of gay pride
Rainbow flags are displayed in the Castro area of San Francisco as a symbol of gay pride
The entrance to Chueca metro station in the Plaza de Chueca (Chueca square) in Madrid (Spain), during gay pride week.
The entrance to Chueca metro station in the Plaza de Chueca (Chueca square) in Madrid (Spain), during gay pride week.

A gay village (sometimes called a gay ghetto or gay enclave) is usually an urban geographic location with generally recognized boundaries where a large number of gay and lesbian people, as well as bisexuals and transsexuals live. They usually contain a number of gay-oriented establishments, such as gay bars or pubs, nightclubs, bathhouses, restaurants, bookstores, and other businesses.

Such areas may represent gay-friendly oases in otherwise hostile cities, or may simply have high concentrations of gay residents or businesses. As with many urban ‘groups,’ gay and lesbian spaces or villages are a manifestation both of their necessity for a tolerant space as well as choice. Gays, much as other urbanized groups, have managed to utilize their spaces as a way to reflect gay cultural value and serve the special needs of individual gays in relation to society at large. In cities that have the necessary critical mass to support such a community, the gay ‘ghetto’ provides a normalization of space that is essential to the culture’s ability to be supported and practiced in a safe environment.



Gay villages are often called a variety of names within the gay community, including gayborhood, gay-to (a pun on ghetto), gaytown/gayville and Queer Quarter. Such names are particularly common in the United States and Canada.

The "ghetto"

The term ‘ghetto’ is often used to describe gay communities in urban areas, though it is a term that was employed by sociologists to describe a city housing a segregated cultural community, and using this definition, it is not an entirely inappropriate term. Historically, it was a term applicable only to the Jewish community though it has, throughout the twentieth century, been used to describe a variety of groups that mainstream society deemed to be outside of the norm, including poor blacks, gay men and lesbians, and “moral deviants” (such as hobos, prostitutes, and bohemians).

It is not surprising that these neighbourhoods often arise from zones of discard—that is, crowded, high density, and often deteriorated inner city districts. Indeed, many of these inner city districts were the only spaces where alternatives to identity and community based on the nuclear family could be constructed. These spaces—and the institutions of which they are comprised—are critical sites where gender and sexual identities coincide and where political discourses constructed and disseminated by an often homophobic heterosexual community create places of marginality.

History of the gay village

The gay ghetto is a relatively new invention. Prior to the 1960s and 1970s, spatialized gay communities did not exist as such; bars were usually where gay social networks developed, and they were located in certain urban areas where police zoning would implicitly allow so-called ‘deviant entertainment’ under close surveillance. In New York, for example, the congregation of gay men had not been illegal since 1965; however, no openly gay bar had been granted a license to serve alcohol. The police raid of a private gay club called the Stonewall Inn on June 27, 1969—a raid that supposedly took place due to the illegal serving of alcohol and because of its ostensible connection to the mafia—led to a three day riot involving over 1000 people. Stonewall managed to change, not only the profile of a ‘gay community’ but the dynamic within the community itself. After the civil disobedience which took place at Stonewall, where the most marginalized, ‘out,’ and ‘gender-bending’ had the willingness to question authority and assert their individuality, the diversity of the group was given a public space. This incident—and several other similar ones—which precipitated the appearance of gay ghettos throughout North America, as the spatial organization of gays shifted from bars and street-cruising to specific neighbourhoods. This transition, “from the bars to the streets, from nightlife to daytime, from ‘sexual deviance’ to an alternative lifestyle,” was the critical moment in the development of the gay community (Castells, 1983 p.141).

The term "gay village" derives from New York City's Greenwich Village, where the Stonewall riots took place.

Gays as gentrifiers

One of the aspects of planning history and the issue of urban space in which gays have been actors is the gentrification of numerous urban neighbourhoods and the patterns of gay residential development that are particular to the community. This is linked, in part, to the changing national and global economies which have resulted in the social and spatial restructuring of labour processes. Much of the heavy industry has been leaving North America for developing countries, where labour is significantly cheaper, while the remainder of such industries have moved out to suburban areas where land, labour, and taxes cost significantly less than in the central business districts (CBDs) of large cities. At the same time, the service sector has been steadily expanding, with investment entering high-tech industries, and most importantly, the improvement of corporate-managerial processes. Much of the corporate-managerial and service-sector investment has tended to be, not insignificantly, in the CBDs of large cities, and they have also tended to employ large proportions of low-wage and/or part-time labour, much of it female. The expansion of these jobs in CBDs has, for gays, constituted a significant part of the economic pull-factor to urban areas, complementing the attraction of the cities as centres of gay life. Many of these jobs have, historically, been performed by women (e.g., secretaries, food servers, store clerks) and, among the male minority in these jobs, a disproportionate number has typically been gay. Gay men have an added advantage over women in the service industry, however; they tend to make more money, on average, than women performing the same type of work. Lauria and Knopp, professors at the University of New Orleans and University of Minnesota respectively, tie these processes to the spatial nature of the urban renaissance which was occurring at the time. They also argue that the “first wave” of low-wage gay residences in these urban centres paved the way for other, more affluent gay professionals to move into the neighbourhoods; this particular group, with their higher wages and their large amount of disposable income, played a significant role in the gentrification of many inner city neighbourhoods. They also noted that the presence of gay men in the real estate industry of San Francisco was a major factor facilitating the urban renaissance of the city in the 1970s. In many ways, gay men were in an excellent position to become gentrifiers; they made more money than their female counterparts in every sector of the economy, and they had fewer dependants than heterosexual men, if any.

Gays as consumers

The gentrification of once run-down inner-city areas, coupled with the staging of pride parades in these areas, has resulted in increased visibility of gay communities. Parades such as Sydney's Mardi Gras attract significant investment and tourist revenues, and cities are beginning to realize that, first, the acceptance (or promotion) of lesbian and gay culture is becoming a sign of urban "sophistication," and second, gay-oriented events, such as the pride parades held almost everywhere now, the OUTgames and the Gay Games; can be potentially lucrative events that can bring in lots of gay tourists and their gay dollars. The growing recognition of the economic value of the gay community is not only associated with their wealth, but also with the role that gays have played (and continue to play) in urban regeneration. Many city governments that embrace all sorts of diversity, including sexuality, are more likely to be open to creativity and entrepreneurial activity for the gay community to expand into...

Some cities have taken it upon themselves to artificially create a gay village to capitalize on gay dollars. Oakland, California recently (as of 2004) tried to create a village in a run-down portion of the city, in an attempt to ensure that entertainment and shopping dollars are spent there, rather than in neighbouring San Francisco. The project has achieved mixed results, as that city's gay community is spread out over a wide area, and some critics claim that the level of social acceptance is higher in Oakland than in other cities, which would negate the need for a centralized gay village.

Gay villages as exclusionary

It has been argued that Gay Villages are often exclusionary in nature, even though they would seem, on the surface, not to be. Additionally, it has been argued that those who are not a part of the "mainstream" gay culture (i.e., well-off, gay white men), including lesbians, people of color, bisexuals, and the transgendered community, sometimes find that there is no place for them in gay villages.

Urban transformations that result from gentrification can, at times, seem to only benefit a specific subculture within the gay community, while those without the necessary cultural and economic capital are excluded. Critics argue that only the least threatening and most conspicuously consuming aspects of gay culture are emphasized in the gay villages, while others are pushed out or marginalized. The rhetoric of the so-called "pink economy" - that emphasizes the supposed greater disposable income of gays - obscures poverty amongst the gay and lesbian community.

This is not the case, however, in every city featuring a Gay Village. For example, the community in Denver, Colorado is very well-known for its high representation of people of color as well as transgendered individuals.

List of gay villages

Beaudry metro station in Montreal's Village gai
Beaudry metro station in Montreal's Village gai

The following is an incomplete list of gay villages around the world. It should be noted that gay villages can vary widely from city to city, and country to country. Furthermore, some large cities develop "satellite" gay villages that are essentially "overflow" areas; in such cases, gays become priced-out of gay villages that have become gentrified and move out to other, more affordable areas that, themselves, become known as gay villages. Occasionally, some cities will have a defined gay village in the heart of an area that has a significant gay population (but would not necessarily be considered a gay village). For example, Davie Village is the heart of Vancouver's gay community, but sits within the greater West End area that has a decently-sized gay population, but is not necessarily predominantly gay.

List of gay resort areas

Furthermore, several towns, particularly resorts, are known as primarily gay areas. The resorts differ from gay villages in that gays and lesbians don't necessarily live there all year. For example, Provincetown is only swarmed by gay and lesbian tourists during the summer months and is a fairly ordinary (i.e., not particularly gay) seaside town for the rest of the year. Many such resorts welcome their gay tourists and have many facilities for them. It should be noted that Lesbos, Greece is not a primarily gay resort destination and has not historically welcomed such attention.

See also




Turtle Cove

Port Douglas


  • Castells, Manuel 1983. The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements. Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press.
  • D’Emilio, John 1992. Making Trouble: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and the University. New York, London: Routledge.
  • Escoffier, Jeffrey 1998. American Homo: Community and Perversity. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.
  • Florida, Richard 2002. The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. New York: Perseus Books Group.
  • Forest, Benjamin 1995. “West Hollywood as Symbol: The Significance of Place in the Construction of a Gay Identity” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 13: 133-157.
  • Kenney, Moira Rachel 1998. “Remember, Stonewall was a Riot: Understanding Gay and Lesbian Experience in the City” Chapter 5, pp. 120-132 in: Leoni Sandercock (ed) Making the Invisible Visible. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.
  • Lauria, Mickey and Lawrence Knopp 1985. “Toward an Analysis of the Role of Gay Communities in the Urban Rennaisance” Urban Geography 6(2): 152-169.
  • Levine, Martin P. 1979. “Gay Ghetto” pp. 182-204 in: Martin Levine (ed) Gay Men: The Sociology of Male Homosexuality. New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, London: Harper & Row.
  • Ray, Brian and Damaris Rose 2000. “Cities of the Everyday: Socio-Spatial Perspectives on Gender, Difference, and Diversity” pp. 507-512 in: Trudi Bunting and Pierre Filion (eds). Canadian Cities in Transition: The Twenty-First Century. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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