Article: Small City Gay Bars, Big City Urbanism

N.B. This piece became a peer-reviewed journal article in 2020, available here); it was City & Community’s fourth most downloaded article of 2021.

Just presented at the Eastern Sociological Society in the Small Cities miniconference. The slides for my presentation are here. They detail the 9 ways that small city gay bars are different from big city gay bars, and what small city gay bars teach us about urbanism and how it is studied.

The abstract is here:

Despite the widely hailed importance of gay bars, almost everything we know about them in the U.S. comes from the context of 4 big city gay neighborhoods. These are outliers, containing vibrant gay neighborhoods but only 15% of the U.S. population. There are gay neighborhoods in Oklahoma City and Fresno, however, and more gay bars in cities under 250k people than there are in San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles combined. This presentation explores the similarities of small-city gay bars to each other, and their differences from big-city gayborhood bars. My data come from a longitudinal quantitative census of gay bar listings, in-depth interviews with small-city gay bar owners, and site visits to 29 bars in 24 states that are more than one-hour’s drive from another.

Small-city gay bars are surprising in many respects: integrated into their red-state communities; more racially diverse than the counties in which they reside; and comfortably integrated with straight people. I present novel policy solutions they have devised to survive amidst widespread bar closures, and present anecdotal evidence that they are positive untapped resources for chambers of commerce and tourist boards concerned with regional brain drain, tourism, and investment. I conclude with a discussion of urbanism generally, and the ways in which defining it in terms of commercial diversity overlooks the realities that many families depend on carework of kin, many people do not prefer the big city, and most big city pleasures can be found everywhere.

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