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  • Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence by Christina B. Hanhardt
  • Rebecca L. Davis
Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence, by Christina B. Hanhardt. Durham, Duke University Press, 2013. xii, 358 pp. $25.95 US (paper).

Residents of the West Village in New York City held a ‘‘Take Back Our Streets’’ rally in May 2002, near the location of riots that broke out in June 1969 after police raided the Stonewall Inn bar. In the intervening thirty-three years, however, the terms of political struggle had become markedly different. Rather than sexual outcasts fighting back against police abuse, the 2002 gathering featured privileged (mainly white) gay, lesbian, and straight homeowners calling for police to step up enforcement of quality-of-life laws. And whereas the leaders of the Stonewall riots were sex workers and transgender people, many of them people of colour, the 2002 leaders singled out queer youth of colour and trans women of colour as the sources of their problems. The very association between the West Village and lgbt residential concentration provided political cover for the 2002 rally organizers, protecting them from accusations of discrimination. American Studies scholar Christina Hanhardt’s complex and rewarding new book examines the multiple ironies of this turn of events. When did lgbt neighbourhood organizing campaigns shift from safe street patrols, [End Page 398] which sought to protect lgbt people from anti-gay violence, to appeals to the police to enforce curfews that targeted queer youth of colour?

The answer, she finds, lies with the lgbt rights movement’s claims to neighbourhood — space — as a physical location for identity formation and political action. In the second half of the twentieth century, the Castro in San Francisco and Greenwich Village in New York City became centres of lgbt residence and social life. Residential patterns, cultural and social institutions, and commercial establishments defined these areas as ‘‘gay’’ neighbourhoods; association with a gay neighbourhood became intrinsic to gay and lesbian sexual identities. Gay neighbourhood-based identities also became markers of whiteness. Focusing on neighbourhood responses to violence, Hanhardt argues that ‘‘by mooring a dominant understanding of sexual identity to place, the promotion and protection of gay neighborhoods have reinforced the race and class stratification of postwar urban space’’ (9).

The book’s five chapters move chronologically, each focused on neighbourhood-based lgbt activism. A three-way tension pervades Hanhardt’s case studies: liberal attempts to marshal government resources for economic opportunity; neoliberal plans to police personal conduct; and radical-left movements that celebrated alternative modes of free expression and community organizing. Starting with the 1960s, chapter one examines the successful efforts of activists in the Center City neighbourhood of San Francisco to secure Great Society (War on Poverty) grants for job training and economic development programs. Describing Center City as a ‘‘ghetto,’’ activists argued that apparent forms of deviancy, including sex work and drug use, were symptoms of economic deprivation. They also fought to protect their neighbourhoods from ‘‘redevelopment’’ that would benefit corporate interests at the expense of residents and local cultural and social institutions. Hanhardt takes pains to complicate this image at every turn, noting the complexities of residential patterns, the objections of critics, and the reality of intersectional identities. Yet here as elsewhere in the book she is less concerned with the experiences or politics of individuals than she is with the larger effects of activist strategies and rhetoric. What resulted, she argues, was a politically and culturally potent idea of the ‘‘gay’’ neighbourhood as white, respectable, and upwardly mobile, contrasted to the impoverished and disordered black ghetto. Yet the youth-empowerment group Vanguard charted an alternate path. Vanguard organized lgbt youth of colour, sex workers, and others to challenge liberal and neoliberal definitions of neighbourhood and safety.

Antiviolence became more central to lgbt organizing in the 1970s and 1980s. Chapters examine Safe Street patrols in New York City and San Francisco during the 1970s, antiviolence campaigns during the 1980s that also critiqued gay gentrification, and the reformulation of antigay violence [End Page 399] as a hate crime during the 1980s and 1990s. The final chapter turns to fierce, a radical youth organization of the...


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pp. 398-400
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