Centering Provincial Gay Bars

I’m giving this presentation at the Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference. It’s below.

By the way, I don’t mean anything bad by the word provincial. I grew up provincial and I again live in the provinces, and I like it that way!

The abstract is as follows:

Our understandings of changes in gay bars are obscured by a gayborhood bias, a disproportionate focus on LGBTQ life in metropolitan cities like San Francisco, London, or Chicago. The decline in the number of gay bars is frequently blamed on smartphone apps, rising social tolerance, or gentrification. None of these hypotheses have been tested, and they presume that all locales are equally tolerant, that all gay bars are equally affected, or that apps such as Grindr are equally useful in small cities. I examine these hypotheses for the United States using four sets of data: a 15-year longitudinal study of San Francisco’s three gay bar districts, a 40-year census of gay bar listings (N=14,982), 44 interviews with gay bar owners, and 29 site visits to what I call outposts, gay bars that are more than one-hour’s drive from another.

Gay bar decline has been steady in aggregate but uneven by state and region. Closures did accelerate in the past 10 years, but this coincided with the Great Recession, the effects of which were unevenly distributed. Large cosmopolitan cities were spared the brunt of this impact, however, losing about 15% of their gay bars. Bars in secondary, regional cities were hardest hit, as were lone outposts more than an hour’s drive from the nearest gay bar. Bars that have closed the fastest are lesbian bars, cruisy leather bars, and bars in cities without gayborhoods. These call into question the role of social tolerance–these are social groups and regions that have benefitted less from legal and policy changes than in more progressive coastal metropolitan areas. Gentrification is clearly a factor in metropolitan bar closures but have little to no effect on secondary and small city closures. Gay bar professionals largely dismissed any negative effects of apps such as Grindr on their business, and highlighted many positive effects.

Communities with the fewest gay bars to begin with have lost the most, and these are communities where intolerance is still prevalent, the economics of gentrification are little seen, and geolocating smartphone apps are not the public utility that pundits presume. These findings suggest acceptance is most accessible for white gay men in big cities, but also suggest that regional contexts are equally important to correcting the metrocentric gayborhood bias in understanding LGBTQ places.

The presentation:

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