My best friend, who lives in the suburb of Hollywood (Florida, not California) recently announced that it is time to move. At first, she debated the idea of relocating to the very gay neighborhood of Wilton Manors, in Fort Lauderdale, but recently announced that it’s time to “live in the 305,” a reference to the area code for Miami and, in particular, South Beach. She wants to be in an inclusive neighborhood, but what’s the difference between Wilton and SoBe when it comes to gay acceptance? Her announcement made me think about the difference between an inclusive neighborhood and a “gay ghetto,” and why, politically, the former may be better news for gays.
Livin' in the 305
I love Miami, and not just because of the men. There’s a rhythm in the city that is infectious and a culture that blends together gay acceptance, Cuban influence and a laidback, beachfront attitude. And while there’s no doubt that the city is gay-friendly, it doesn’t always get included on the list of “gay ghettos” like New York’s Chelsea, the West Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles, San Francisco’s Castro District or Washington’s Dupont Circle. That’s because Miami has excelled at welcoming everyone and not slicing out a corner of the city for one particular group or ethnicity. In doing so, the city has fostered an environment where gays are visible to their straight neighbors and where visibility & fairness go hand-in-hand. By being visible, but not exclusive, residents of a major city, Miami’s gays are teaching through living and changing hearts and minds.
We have long known that, when we ‘come out’ and share our lives with our neighbors, we can effect change. Poll after poll shows that, when someone knows a gay friend, relative or co-worker, they are more likely to support LGBT rights. But if we choose to sequester ourselves in predominantly gay neighborhoods, are we minimizing the chance for change?
In Miami, the results of more gay visibility – without the “gay ghetto” – have been noticeable. Part of the city is represented by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American, Republican lawmaker who often breaks with her party’s leadership on LGBT rights. Ros-Lehtinen voted against the anti-marriage amendment, for hate crimes legislation and ENDA, and has taken a leadership role among Republicans in the fight to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But would she even be in Congress, setting a strong example for her party, if the dynamic of her district didn’t include LGBT constituents? And wouldn’t her party be worse off without a lawmaker challenging the Republican status quo on gay issues?
Admittedly, I live in a very gay neighborhood – the aforementioned Dupont Circle. But all of us should be encouraged by cities, like Miami, where a melding of cultures is creating a new political dynamic wherein straights are helping elect pro-gay candidates and where we are accepted, but not exclusive. And those are cities and towns where small change at the local level is helping to influence national politics, proving that one small act of visibility has significant pay-offs for us all.
Today, my friend’s house is up for sale and she’s anxiously looking forward to her move. More than just a change of scenery, though, the trek south to Miami may also be much more. And maybe that’s why more of us should embrace the idea of “livin’ in the 305.”