Making the Second Gay Ghetto: The Whitening of Queer Chicago from Daley to Daley

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 2:50 PM
Michigan State Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Timothy Stewart-Winter, Rutgers University-Newark
This paper seeks to analyze together two features of the late twentieth century metropolitan landscapes: the rise of new, more visible queer enclaves, and the persistence--in many cities, but perhaps in Chicago more than any other--of an extraordinary degree of racial segregation. Enabled by a rapid decline in police harassment and facilitated by the broader gentrification and redevelopment of urban neighborhoods, gays and lesbians in the 1970s created a new type of enclave where gay people could patronize community-owned businesses and demand recognition from elected officials. This paper argues, however, that this development cannot be understood in isolation from the city’s most striking trait in world-historical terms: extreme and persistent racial segregation. Ethnic-style gay mobilization—a form of politics that relies on residential concentration and community-owned businesses—not only imitiated the political strategies of Chicago’s racial and ethnic groups, but also intervened in racial politics by embedding gay spaces and institutions in the built environment of the city’s North Side. A city-sponsored, $3.2 million gay-themed streetscape renovation project in the East Lakeview district, completed in 1998, epitomized both the neoliberal economic policies of Mayor Richard M. Daley and the ascent of ethnic-style gay politics, rooted in a strategy of residential concentration. In the context of the striking failure of the city government to make meaningful strides to lessen residential racial segregation, this “second gay ghetto” created a tighter cultural linkage between gayness and whiteness, and made African American gays and lesbians, in particular, more marginal than ever.