IS THERE A PLACE IN THE PROGRESSIVE CITY FOR THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY?
Planners seeking to create progressive cities must recognize that the increasingly visible lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community has deep roots in the most major cities, but also is a group that continues to suffer from an epidemic of intolerance. Although the Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage granted LGBTQ partners who choose to marry the same benefits as heterosexual couples, much work remains to be done. As the horrific massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando made clear, there are a variety of issues related to intolerance and safety for LGBTQ people. This paper examines the nature of this intolerance and then considers ways that progressive planners might seek to incorporate non-normative sexualities and genders into the public domain, reduce inequality that arises due to anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and provide material support to the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community.
Epidemic of Hatred and Intolerance
One measure of the progressive nature of a city is the level of acceptance of minority groups. An alternative approach to is to measure the prevalence of hate crimes which are prejudice-related actions committed against individuals based on their membership in certain minority groups. Hate crimes against people of color or religious minorities (Jews and Muslims for instance) demonstrate that our cities continue to struggle with racial and religious intolerance. However, hate crimes against LGBTQ people also continue unabated and sometimes those crimes occur at the intersection of race and sexuality or gender identity. It is certainly true that trans women of color are the most frequent victims of horrific homicides at a rate that far exceeds any other subgroup.
The intensity of intolerance for difference might be considered as a counter-indication of progressivity. One way to conceptualize intolerance is through the variety of forms which such behaviors can take. Gordon Allport has proposed a Scale of Intolerance which is reproduced below in Figure 1. This scale varies from relatively “harmless” jokes (and other micro-aggressions) and mild verbal harassment to discrimination, physical attack, and attempts to exterminate minority populations. The more intense the intolerance the more dangerous a place must be considered for a given minority group.
Source: Gordon Allport, 1954
There are no definitive sources of data on the occurrence of hate crimes. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) has offices in sixteen major metropolitan areas that are staffed by LGBTQ individuals who collect information about crimes that have occurred in their area. Since these incidents do not require a formal police report, the NCAVP argues that their statistics are more representative of the actual violence experienced by LGBTQ people, some of whom may be reluctant to report crimes to the authorities. Over the four-year period from 2011 to 2014 there were 10,922 hate incidents with an average of 2,731 incidents per year. While the NCAVP does not formally use the Allport Scale, their descriptions of the types of crimes committed bears a striking resemblance to Allport’s scale. Figure 2 presents a listing of the types of hate crimes reported to the NCAVP and experienced by LGBTQ individuals over the years 2011 to 2014. These percentages indicate that discrimination and physical violence were the most prevalent forms of hate violence, followed by verbal harassment, threats, harassment, and bullying.
Source: Table constructed by the author based on National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs Annual Reports, 2011-2014
The second major source of hate crimes data is collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from information that is reported to them by local law enforcement. To be labelled a hate crime, the police must have direct evidence that hatred was a motivating factor. In some cases, certain jurisdictions have never reported a single hate crime, since local law enforcement remain unconvinced that hate crimes ever exist. The FBI reports that over the four year period from 2010 to 2013 there were 4,938 hate crimes committed against LGBTQ people and an average of 1,191 per year. Accordingly these data are likely an underestimate of the actual number of hate crimes, but these statistics do reveal the locations of such crimes. As can be seen in Figure 3 the hate crimes reported to the FBI occur in both private and public spaces. Approximately one third are committed in or around private residences, but the remainder occur in various types of public spaces, many of which should be of interest to planners interested in creating safe spaces in the Progressive City. Of particular interest to planners are the following locations: bus and train terminals, parking lots and garages, alleys and streets which account for roughly 30% of the hate crimes. The remainder of the crimes take place in commercial or retail spaces, bars and clubs, schools and colleges, and other locations. Overall these figures suggest that violence against LGBTQ people happens in a wide variety of settings, suggesting that very few places can be considered safe from such incidents.
Source: Table constructed by the author based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, 2010-2013
Measures to Protect the LGBTQ Population
Non-discrimination ordinances are the most common method of protecting all minority populations, and a critical first step in protecting LGBTQ people is the adoption of such ordinances that are inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity and appearance for housing, employment, and public accommodations. While many cities have taken important steps in these areas, the enforcement mechanisms for such measures vary. The Human Rights Campaign now publishes a Municipal Equality Index that rates over 400 cities in terms of their non-discrimination policies, their employment policies, their municipal services, their police forces, and the overall relationship with the LGBTQ community. While a number of large cities have achieved a rating of 100%, many other cities lag far behind. There is clearly much work to be done.
Recently neo-conservative strategists in the wake of the 2015 Supreme Court decision (Obergefell vs. Hodges) legalizing same sex marriage have taken a two-pronged approach. First they advocate the adoption of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts at the state level that seek to validate religiously based discrimination against LGBTQ persons on the part of individuals and businesses. Twenty two states have already passed these measures, but their full effects on discrimination against LGBTQ people have not yet been assessed fully. Second they advocate for legislation that restricts the use of restrooms by transgender people, by requiring that sex assigned at birth is the only basis for determining which bathrooms should be used. Seven states have proposed such restrictive laws, but only the State of North Carolina (HB 2) has formally signed such a law. This conservative backlash to more open and inclusive policies can also been seen in cities like Houston. These measures are a central component of efforts to criminalize transgender individuals. While these measures are being tested in the court system, transgender people in these localities are subject to arrest and widespread harassment for simply using the restroom.
"The battle over restrooms has long been a marker for civil rights struggles since restricting access to public restrooms is an effective means of restricting access to public spaces and limiting mobility."
The battle over restrooms has long been a marker for civil rights struggles since restricting access to public restrooms is an effective means of restricting access to public spaces and limiting mobility. In the 19th century there were no public restrooms for women, since women were expected to remain in their homes. Jim Crow laws in the late 19th and early 20th centuries restricted access to public bathrooms based on race. These restrictions were not fully dismantled until the 1970s. It wasn’t until the 1990s that full access to restrooms for the disabled was mandated. Access to restrooms for the transgendered is the civil rights struggle of the early 21st century. Progressive cities should ensure equal access to bathrooms for all their citizens so that everyone can access these vital public accommodations. Some municipalities (Philadelphia and Seattle for instance) have begun the process of creating gender neutral bathroom facilities in all new construction, but many cities have not yet addressed this critical issue.
While public support for LGBTQ rights is rising in many areas there is still considerable resistance. A significant issue in many cities is the number of LGBTQ youth who have left their families due to unsupportive parents. Many of these LGBTQ youth flee their families and flock to cities, creating a wave of highly vulnerable young people. Some of these youth do not identify as traditionally gay or lesbian, but adopt their own labels including: queer, gender queer, non-binary, and a range of other inventive terms. Many of these young LGBTQ people have difficulty finding places to live and may end up as homeless and living on the streets because the cost of living in urban areas is rising. The hazards facing these young queer people is often multiplied when they are unable to find adequate work and may end up surviving through sex work or other black market employment. Progressive cities should recognize this vulnerable population and provide drop-in centers and training programs to support such homeless LGBTQ youth. San Francisco’s LYRIC (Lavender Youth Resource and Information Center) is an effective model for providing services to this population that could be usefully emulated elsewhere.
A related aspect of progressive cities should be the recognition of existing queer spaces within them. Most large cities have neighborhoods familiarly known as gayborhoods or gay villages that are urban areas where LGBTQ bars, LGBTQ businesses and residences are in close proximity. Because these businesses and homes were often located initially in run down areas that have been rehabilitated through sweat equity as well as investment capital, many of these neighborhoods have now become so gentrified that younger LGBTQ people can no longer afford to live there and many LGBTQ institutions (bars, businesses, and community organizations) can no longer afford the existing rent and are forced to move elsewhere seeking cheaper accommodations. This trend is exacerbated when city officials adopt planning documents that fail to recognize the LGBTQ community has existed in a specific location for several decades. When those officials then seek to promote redevelopment of the area, often using terms like “family-oriented” that are code words for no longer LGBTQ friendly, this lack of recognition is exacerbated.
Although cities like Chicago and San Francisco have attempted to recognize their gay areas, many other cities have simply ignored the presence of LGBTQ people either because officials are unwilling to discuss sexuality in public documents or because the benefits to encouraging rapid redevelopment are greater than the benefits of preserving community spaces. Atlanta is an example of a city whose plans for the redevelopment of Midtown made no mention of the sizable LGBTQ presence in the neighborhood. The area has become significantly less LGBTQ friendly as large scale condominium developments have replaced gay bars and LGBTQ oriented businesses have closed or moved elsewhere due to rising rents.
"Recognition is only a first step, but unless such areas are recognized as vital components in the urban mosaic, they are not likely to survive."
Planners have a range of tools that might be used to recognize and preserve these unique cultural areas, including cultural overlay districts and/or historic preservation districts, that might provide the same kind of neighborhood recognition that are given to ethnic neighborhoods, often known colloquially as Little Havana, Little Saigon, Koreatown, etc. Recognition is only a first step, but unless such areas are recognized as vital components in the urban mosaic, they are not likely to survive. The National Park Service has recently embarked on a campaign to recognize and preserve LGBTQ properties and landmarks that might provide some useful support to cities interested in protecting LGBTQ neighborhoods. Other more far-reaching measures such as providing more affordable housing, allowing neighborhood associations greater say in land use decisions, and limiting condominium conversions and large scale redevelopment projects might also be considered. Furthermore, since bars are often a central focus of LGBTQ neighborhoods, attempts to close down or squeeze out such establishments often have the effect of undercutting the attractiveness of the area for LGBTQ residents. Similarly, the increased traffic and noise that such establishments generate might serve as a disincentive to gentrification, helping to preserve a community resource.
Affordable housing measures are especially critical for both younger and older LGBTQ residents. LGBTQ youth are often attracted to gayborhoods, but as such places become more developed, rising rents make finding nearby inexpensive lodging nearly impossible. As land values increase, the pressure to convert existing apartments in older housing into single family housing further exacerbates the lack of affordable housing. Efforts to preserve at least some older housing units with apartments for those who are unable to afford sky high rents is an important next step. Similarly, as rents in gayborhoods increase some form of rent stabilization for older LGBTQ individuals should be considered, so they are not forced to sell out once they are living on restricted incomes. Some cities are exploring ways to provide affordable living for LGBTQ seniors such as Philadelphia’s John C. Anderson Apartments and advisory services for LGBTQ elders such as Openhouse in San Francisco and Services and Advocacy for Gay and Lesbian Elders (SAGE) in New York City.
In addition, many gayborhoods are the locus for health services and training tailored to the LGBTQ community, providing HIV treatment, safe sex counselling, gender identity services, and general support for LGBTQ individuals in crisis. Reaching a dispersed LGBTQ population to provide essential services is significantly more difficult than simply locating such services in and around a known LGBTQ neighborhood. This is particularly true for supporting LGBTQ people of color who may be especially hard to reach without a central and visible location. Public support for such critical services can be a vital component of enabling LGBTQ individuals to live healthy and productive lives in the face of widespread discrimination and threats of violence.
While these measures may not be adequate to ensure the preservation of gayborhoods, they make significant steps to signaling to vulnerable LGBTQ populations that they are welcome and valued in the Progressive City. By reducing inequality and empowering this too often neglected population to participate more fully in the life and governance of the city, the Progressive City can be further enabled.