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Wonít You Be My Gaybor?

Room For Squares

San Francisco is famous for many things -- for fog and for hills, for the TransAmerica building, the Golden Gate Bridge and Chinatown. Itís a city known for its policy of free love with hippies and flower children. And being the city with the highest population of LGBT inhabitants per capita, it also has the reputation for being the "Gay Mecca". But as more and more gay friendliness pervades other areas of the city, many people are beginning to question whether or not the Castro is still necessary.

For argumentís sake, letís say that the camp is split in two on this topic. On one side are people who still view the Castro district as the gay beacon of the West Coast. These people eat, drink and breathe the Castro, and if they donít already live in it, they want to move there someday. On the other side are folks who donít care about its history, who see it as an antiquated gay-ghetto made obsolete by a modern liberal mentality. Any community is bound to go through some sort of filtering system, and after about 40 years of gay gentrification, weíre starting to see those results. So what is the Castro district today?

Take a stroll down Castro or Market Street on any given Sunday afternoon and what youíll see are outdoor cafes with coffee mugs and patio seating filled to the brim. Boutiques and shops briskly occupied by patrons all after some new kind of wonderful. There might even be a line outside the Castro theatre, but itíll more likely to be for some art house festival than for your latest everyman blockbuster. It is a middle class lifestyle tailor made for the gay dollar, and as such it can seem highly disenfranchising for those in our community not brought up on Pottery Barn and non-fat soy lattes.

Consumerization of this gay-friendly oasis is not without its perks. It is estimated that the buying power of the LGBT community will exceed $835 billion in about 5 years. And because gay consumers remain loyal to high end brands, more gentrification will result in a mass exodus of those who can no longer afford to live "gay". Itíll be like the opposite of "White Flight". In hopes of tapping into this well of wealth, some cities (like Oakland) are beginning to create gay villages in once run-down portions of town.

In the development of all urban areas, different groups create their own communities out of necessity -- not vanity and certainly not greed. At least thatís the history of Chinatown, Japantown, the French Quarter, and even the Castro in a nutshell. But unlike the ethnic enclaves which see their inhabitants branching out to other parts of the city as race-integration proceeds, gayborhoods like the Castro experience the opposite. As the worth of the gay dollar continues to rise, gayborhoods will seem more and more like status symbols. In this future landscape of the gay "haves", what will be left for the ďhave-nots?Ē

Short of a mass departure, there can really one be one result. Those who can afford to live in these ďbetterĒ gayborhoods will, and those who canít will live somewhere else. If you ask me, thatís a good thing. I would love to see more gay people walking around in other parts of the city. When visiting the Castro from out of town, my straight girl friend once said to me, ďIsnít it great that you guys have a place where you can all run free?Ē And because I live in the Richmond District, I thought to myself, "no, not really". We should be able to ďrun freeĒ anywhere we go.

I know many people in various parts of the country who, when consider moving to the West Coast, pinpoint the Castro as their destination. Not West Hollywood, not Capitol Hill. Status symbol or not, the Castro still exists for this reason -- more than a mere dot on a map, it gives San Francisco a face. And even if that face appears increasingly plastic and botox injected, I suppose itís better than no face at all. Still, I wouldnít mind it one bit if more gay people moved into my neighborhood.