Gay men in urban areas gathered. First at the theaters and single bars in bad neighborhoods. Then one bar became three. As the theaters closed, the shops came in, from the erotic to the mundane, dildonic wares and groceries. Then came the condo renovations, and the sleek nightclubs advertising in mainstream papers. For a decade or two or even three, many cities constructed upscale enclaves like gay retirement communities for men in their 20s and 30s. Every letter in GLBT alphabet streamed in as the activism poured out from these safe, coccooning bases as fortress against an intolerant outside world.
When tolerance spreads outwards from the cultural centers that Dan Savage refers to as the urban archipelago, what happens when future gay generations feel less need for these places and younger heterosexuals feel comfortable enough to begin claiming them as their own? Conflict.
"West Hollywood is having an identity crisis. It doesn't know if it's gay or straight anymore," said Raymond Weddle, a server at Hedley's restaurant, near the Abbey. As crowds flock to the lively bar scene, the town is inevitably confronting the strains of its popularity. Mostly, it's been a subtle shift. Many bar owners and patrons say that straight women have flocked to West Hollywood clubs because they feel safe in crowds of gay men. But on any weekend night, the distinctly gay vibe of the town has given way — in some venues more than others — to a more mixed and some think downright gay-hostile atmosphere.
Even as activists and interested parties debate the merits of gay marriage as the demographic's civil rights issue of our time, it seems the gay community itself has begun fraying along the edges towards a potentially long and slow disintegration in direct correlation to the movement's goals: normalization of varied sexualities in American culture. When a gay teenager finds his friends accepting and open to his or her differences, and the local crowds and clubs become indifferent to his orientation, is there such a burning need for an exclusively gay bubble in his world, and even if so, would he be inclined to defend it as vigorously as the old queer guard?
The entire article is worth reading, for the variety of issues between gays and straights, business issues vs. community loyalty, assimilation vs balkanization of identity, and even the urban gay communities' traditional make up of white middle class males vs. and increasingly mainstream, urbanized black culture.
While the activists press their pet political issues, average gay people are shifting and changing in ways imperceptible to a leadership firmly ensconced in a mindset generated by an older community built in the shadows of the deadliest years of AIDS. Can gay political issues be effectively pressed by a minority demographic whose bonds of solidarity are quietly beginning to loosen as acceptance and tolerance become the norm in the largest population centers of the nation?
It doesn't seem to be a question anyone's asking. Maybe they should.