Â Gay villages part 1 There Goes the Gaybourhood
Itâ€™s ironic that the gay “village”, sounding like that most rural of settlements, is actually a purely urban beast. Most major cities now boast a gay village, from Londonâ€™s Soho and Vauxhall, to Manchesterâ€™s Canal Street or Brightonâ€™s St James Street.
Some cities have even tried to create a gay village, but most have grown organically from a small cluster of gay businesses (normally bars and clubs) to become a mecca for LGBT people to live, work and party.
â€œIâ€™ve seen gay villages appear and disperse,â€ says Josh Rafter, Managing Director of Outlet Property Services, a property agency based in Sohoâ€™s Old Compton Street. â€œWhen I first started in property, 16 years ago, Earl’s Court was the main gay enclave in London, then people seemed to head to Islington, then Soho came up around the same time and the latest gay village to arrive in London is Vauxhall, although throughout that time thereâ€™s also been a big lesbian community living in Hackney.
â€œWhatâ€™s interesting, though, is that Soho is no longer really a gay village as itâ€™s just a destination for going out, not for living. Itâ€™s only really gay at weekends these days.â€
The success of any gay village, Rafter thinks, is dependent on a mix of residential and business usage.
â€œThere has to be a mix of residential and commercial property for a gay village to establish and thrive. Youâ€™re looking for a pub or club, maybe a sauna and specialist shops, to drive a community. For example, Vauxhallâ€™s success was driven by the cluster of clubs and retail outlets and now the property developers have moved in.â€
Can you create a gay village or does it form, develop and grow organically? Rafter says it has to be organic as LGBT and the gay community people are too savvy to be cajoled into believing in a gay village. â€œWe know what we want and weâ€™ll follow the trends. Weâ€™ve got to want to move there.â€
One city is in the process of creating a gay village for a more gay friendly image and to bring in revenue is Liverpool City Council. They made a decision in 2011 to designate an area of the city as a gay friendly area or gay village, known as the Stanley Street Quarter. Andi Herring is the council project officer with responsibility for the area.
â€œThe community had always been visible in the Stanley Street Quarter. Before 2011 the venues were already there, so in many ways weâ€™re giving official recognition rather than creating it, and weâ€™re looking to see how it can be developed further.
â€œIn consultation with the local LGBT and gay community weâ€™re setting out a plan, a direction for the Stanley Street Quarter. Weâ€™re setting out our vision of the brand, with street signs with the rainbow insignia on, so if youâ€™re in the Quarter, youâ€™ll know itâ€™s the gay friendly area .
â€œYou need those types of visual things â€“ venues, flags, street signs etc., to make it clear this is an LGBT and gay community safe space. The area has very much a nighttime economy but we wanted it to be seen as somewhere for everyone â€” but with an LGBT and gay community identity. A â€œgay quarterâ€ gay friendly area isnâ€™t just about gay and LGBT people, so weâ€™re creating a destination for people, no matter who they are.â€
Is there a danger that this isnâ€™t actually about creating a gay village or gay friendly area gay friendly area but just some sort of branding or marketing exercise for a council looking to rebuild a gay-friendly reputation after high-profile homophobic attacks such as the 2008 murder of 18-year-old Michael Causer? Herring disagrees strongly.
â€œItâ€™s not fair to say itâ€™s just a marketing exercise and itâ€™s certainly not being done for that reason, and itâ€™s not about the council ticking a box. The council wanted to recognise that LGBT and the gay community live, work and socialise across the city but that gay life is concentrated in the Quarter.â€