Gentrification ousting local gay community
By: Emily Holt
Senior Staff Writer
Since June, there have been seven incidents of physical abuse against individuals in Seattle due to their sexual orientation, five of which occurred in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
While this number of attacks is not unusual citywide, and authorities say that it is too soon to determine trends, this physical violence points to the greater issue of social violence against the LGBTQ community in Seattle.
Residents of Capitol Hill and professors at Seattle University have attested to violence expressed not just in physical terms—violence against a culture of open acceptance and against the notion of community.
Fiona Henderson, non-traditional political science student, has lived in the Capitol Hill neighborhood for fourteen years and has noted a significant change in the atmosphere of the neighborhood.
“When we first came here in ’93, [Capitol Hill] was predominantly gay, and there were very few straight people,” said Henderson. “For example, my ex-husband and I were the only straight people on the street.”
Henderson said she now sees a stark difference between the neighborhood she moved into and the one she lives in now.
“[When I moved here] it was the first time that I had seen gay people showing public displays of affection, which I thought was just fantastic,” said Henderson. “In the years that I have lived here, things have completely changed.”
She also attested to the fact that hers was a very safe neighborhood, as well as an inclusive community.
Lately, however, she has noted a change in the population, which she attributes to gentrification—the process of rebuilding that accompanies the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas, a process that often displaces low-income residents.
“I am all for urban density, but the problem is that the way your system is set up here regarding property taxes, it really pushes people out; when property taxes go up, they can no longer afford to live here,” said Henderson.
While Henderson was shocked at how white the Capitol Hill area was after growing up in London, she notices more diversity these days, as well as a reduction in the queer population.
Several notable establishments that once stood as cornerstones of the gay community have also lost their leases in recent years to condominium development. Thumpers, a legendary gay restaurant and bar, closed last year after 21 years in Capitol Hill because the owners could not match the rising rent costs.
Henderson noted an influx of heterosexual upper class business men and women moving into the new building complexes springing up around the area.
According to Henderson’s observations, it is not the new white upper class residents who are perpetrating these violent acts, but rather those who go out to clubs on the Pine-Pike corridor.
“People who lived here just used to go out here,” said Henderson.
Her point about the changing nature of those people utilizing the entertainment offered by Capitol Hill speaks largely to the changing culture of the area, which can best be understood through a look at economic and sociological history.
According to Gary Perry, professor of sociology and long-time resident of Capitol Hill, the area was known as a blighted neighborhood during the 1970s. A series of Boeing layoffs, in conjunction with outsourcing and the rise of high-tech labor, disproportionately affected the inhabitants of Capitol Hill, making it take the form and shape of a ghetto.
Into the 1980s, its population primarily consisted of low income artists promulgating the left counter culture and working class people of color. The 1990s saw an upturn in terms of aesthetics in the area, and is the time period in which Perry noted that gentrification began to enter the picture.
These last decades have seen an influx of what Perry called the “urbanista” class—young adults mfrom suburban areas such as Belltown coming to Seattle to work and study because of the appeal of an urban lifestyle and entertainment.
“These ‘Bellvue Boys’ take advantage of the up and coming new developments providing opportunities to live here,” said Perry. “The danger is that, as developments pop up, property taxes are raised and while many residents may not pay mortgages, they are still paying property taxes, and it is driving people out.”
Perry noted how this trend is often called “voluntary displacement,” which he said problematizes the notion of choice; according to him, choice is not at the crux of the issue. What is at the heart of this issue in his eyes is an insensitivity to the nature of the community these newcomers are entering.
“There is a lack of questioning one’s sense of entitlement,” said Perry.
Mako Fitts, professor of sociology and resident of Capitol Hill, has noted recent incidences of trans-bashing and a negative attitude toward such aspects of LGBTQ culture that she did not note two years ago.
According to Fitts, the trend of increased highway development and underdevelopment of public transportation in the 1950s shifted the spending power outside of the city and placed it in the suburbs.
Today, in the model of neo-liberal cities often seen in Europe, the inner core of cities is no longer the laborers themselves as has been the trend for decades but rather consists of businessmen coming in from the suburbs.
“Queer residents are concerned because they are now dominated by the heterosexual other,” said Fitts. “The definition of a community is a part of survival, and one of the critiques of the urbanistas is that they are not about community.”
Fitts noted how the very architecture of these new condominiums do not have many common spaces, and thus are not naturally conducive to community.
She noted that these urbanistas often respond to these issues of violence against the queer community with “block-watches” and calls for greater policing.
The problem, according to Fitts, lies in thinking these outward expressions in Capitol Hill to be the cause of deviance, rather than being sensitive to the neighborhood’s history.
Both Perry and Fitts see entertainment both as a large draw for newcomers to the city, and an aspect of the city that is changing the most.
George Bayuga, sophomore international studies and history major and co-president of the Seattle U Triangle Club, has noticed these changes in club atmosphere in the greater inclusion of heterosexual individuals in places such as Neighbor’s.
“I would be overjoyed to think that the gay community was simply being integrated and accepted as part of the dominant culture, but I don’t see the demographic changes on Capitol Hill as the consequence of such a process,” said Bayuga. “As demographics change, so do the clientele of particular clubs.”
Bayuga noted that, although he was under the impression that Capitol Hill was supposed to be an LGBTQ safe space, he has heard homophobic comments and ridicule.
According to these sources, gentrification is directly affecting the ability of Seattle residents to live in Capitol Hill and thus the nature of culture being shaped in the area.