- Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence by Christina B. Hanhardt
Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence makes a major contribution to the histories of urban sexual communities and activism. It also intervenes in long-cherished approaches to LGBT history, arguing that even a radical approach to winning political citizenship can make civil rights a zero-sum game, where gaining power over public space and a voice in governance constricts the rights of others and obscures their voices. Ironically, in the case of LGBT community leaders determined to secure their own physical safety from the 1960s on, a focus on community outsiders who were prone to homophobic violence led not only to the criminalization of perceived outsiders but also to the oppression of other queers who were gender-variant, poor, of color, and homeless.
Hanhardt focuses on the histories of New York and San Francisco, where mostly white and middle-class queers played a crucial role in redefining working-class and postindustrial neighborhoods as cultural and sexual destinations after World War II. This process of migration and gentrification produced claims that linked political citizenship to securing the safety of queer neighborhoods and their residents.
This was both a rhetorical and a political struggle. Safe Space, Hanhardt explains, is “not a history of gay neighborhoods per se, but an urban history of the encounters between gay and neighborhood in U.S. social movements over the past fifty years” (4). Opening up histories of gay liberation to scrutiny, she asks important questions: When neighborhoods become “safe” for LGBT people, how do some queers but not others benefit from policing? How are other long-time residents policed more intensely and endangered in the name of safety? Five chapters focus on each city as a case study in turning points for urban policy: the Great Society, the entry of gays into politics in the 1970s, urban gentrification under the Reagan administration, the creation of hate crime and victims’ rights under the Bush and Clinton administrations, and neoliberal policies that promoted urban development and home ownership in the twenty-first century. [End Page 332]
This book could not be more relevant in the aftermath of the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Missouri, and a renewed greater recognition of militarized policing. Hanhardt takes particular aim at LGBT activisms that, in the name of ending homophobic violence, adopted real estate developers’ narratives of orderly neighborhoods under siege from disorderly, transient residents who seemed to threaten violence. Market-based models of urban progress that emphasized comfort, security, and rising property values also made these economically insecure residents, who live much of their lives in public, into unwelcome interlopers and potential sources of homophobic violence. Long after these neighborhoods were gentrified and ceased to be centers of queer sociability, city governments continued to exploit the safety of gays and lesbians as a rationale for intensive policing, making “LGBT politics and property politics . . . indistinguishable” from one another (7).
Importantly, Hanhardt asks us to revisit the progress narratives that LGBT policy makers reproduce around the axis of liberal, rights-seeking minority achievement. Exaggerated concern for the safety of queer people becomes, through federal and local policymaking apparatuses, an attractive cudgel for preserving profits and class privilege. Business improvement districts (BIDs) became a common way of privatizing city services by the 1990s, one that was eagerly adopted as a self-help strategy in queer urban spaces where businesses, often literally, selected which customers they wished to serve.
Complicit in broader strategies of displacement that were envisioned by financial and political elites, LGBT community activists also embraced “homophobia” as a complete explanation for the violence some members of the community experienced. While hatred of LGBT people could sometimes be the cause of violence, the broader effect of “homophobia” was to rename and reconceptualize legitimate resentment and anger as a psychological disease brought into the community by pathological outsiders. The solution, for many LGBT liberals and radicals, was to reform the police. Beginning in the 1970s...