Steve Ralls

Livin' in the 305

Filed By Steve Ralls | July 22, 2007 2:32 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Miami, steve ralls

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.

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.”

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You know, I live in a very, very, very straight neighborhood. Very straight, let me tell you. Maybe some of the straight couples have had kids who are gay, but besides those theoretical gay kids and me, it's all straight people. And I'm moving out soon.

And yet, I never hear any of my neighbors worry that they're being exclusive. Or telling each other to embrace the idea of living in a gay neighborhood. Just sayin', a neighborhood that's overwhelmingly straight doesn't make it "inclusive", and maybe there's more to this whole thing than a gay/straight territory divide.

I live here, and I know that my neighbors are still voting for the most conservative Rep in the Indiana General Assembly, who happens to be one of the most anti-gay. So so much for changing hearts and minds. I wouldn't mind living in a gay ghetto, so to speak, for a while. It might be a little more fun than a straight one.

Lynn David | July 23, 2007 3:56 AM

Hmmm..... there are perhaps ten million gay people in the US, but not all are adults so let's cut that down to say six million. If we moved 50,000 into each of one congressional districts, we could probably control those districts. Then with the six million we could control 120 congressional districts.

Hmmm.... ok! We've gotta target the most overtly conservative districts..... so, who's up for moving to North Dakota!? Bismark must be beautiful in winter... no? How about South Dakota then, you could even get them to quit mispronouncing Pierre as "pier."

I have to admit, I'd love to live in a gay ghetto. The closest you can get to that in Indiana is to go shopping at Pier One. *sigh*

Our neighborhood is pretty diverse though. We didn't realize when we moved in, but the other side of the street from our house is 50% gay. Literally every other house has gay folks living in it for half the block. Little did we know we were messing up the pattern by buying a house on the opposite side of the street. Maybe we'll start a trend for the odd numbered side now! *grins*

Having grown up here in Central Indiana, I opted to stick around in my early 20's and live in Indy....but after 8 years, I decided I needed to experience life in a very gay ghetto - San Francisco's Castro neighborhood. I have to admit that the contrast was significant -- and I reveled in being surrounded by all queer folks. Unfortunately, after 7 years, it all got a bit much -- and I longed to have a more inclusive mix of friends (straight and gay)...a year of living in Atlanta (in Midtown) didn't quite provide the mix I was looking for, and so I returned to Indy. I have to say, that for all the times I miss being around mostly gay folks, I do feel that I enjoy having straight friends and children in my life now.....

Buster Smith | July 27, 2007 6:03 PM

My suggestion- dig a little deeper, I think you have the wrong impression.

Yes, in many neighborhoods LGBT people live happily throughout many neighborhoods. And no, there's really not a "gay ghetto" here. But take a closer look...

Many LGBT people/families live in neighborhoods where the average cost of living is well above the upper-middle class mark. Miami is currently experiencing an affordable housing crisis. Many of the areas that gave Miami its infamy in the 80's are now over-run with mega construction projects and excessively expensive boutique condos.

I live just north of the hip and growing Design District. When I look out the front door of my apartment I can see over 20 cranes building developments that I couldn't afford even if I jumped three tax brackets. This has created a thickly ominous class tension about the city.

In terms of the LGBT community as a body, I encourage you to take a closer look. The majority of the community is comprised of white middle aged gay men who use the city as a playground. Many are not year-round residents. Others have come here to retire. This translates into a live and let live political philosophy. For a county that was at the forefront of the movement and successful in beating back Anita Bryant our local ordinances are something to scoff at.

The county HRO includes sexual orientation, but there has been no local effort to include gender identity/expression. For the last 3 years local groups like the Unity Coalition and SAVE Dade have lobbied to pass DP without any substantial movement. The city of Miami Beach has all of these wonderful things, but generally I would say that Miami Beach would classify as a "gay ghetto" within the terms you define.

Miami is a place without a pride. The 20yr old youth center, Pridelines is poorly funded at best. And there is a lot of unchallenged homophobia because of the serious racial divides. The LGBT community is very much white or white hispanic and the majority of Miami is not.

As someone who was born here and lives here, I have a difficult love-concern-upset relationship with the city. It's unbelievably complex and I would say more difficult to live in than any other metro-area in the US.

Having said all of that, I do love this place. We do have muhc to celebrate, but I am in the habit of issuing stern warnings towards any romanticizing about the place.