Gentrification is a concept of the bourgeoisie, a concept that benefits the social means of the few elite, while stripping many of their basic human rights. The queer community is no stranger to gentrification. Historically the queer community has put up some of the strongest fights against gentrification as it overtook their neighborhoods. Now, as Virginia Commonwealth University begins to grow, and Monroe Park is going under “renovations,” it is time for queer people, people of color, working class people, and any other community of people who have historically suffered the negative effects of gentrification to stand up and fight to stop it. The gentrification of Richmond must be viewed as an attack on all marginalized groups, as most have suffered the consequences of it at one point or another, and because of the simple fact that no one oppressed group can be fully liberated until all are.
Queer people are by no means strangers to the face of gentrification. One of the most famous examples of gentrification that directly affected the queer community was of course the gentrification of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. Up until the 1960s the Tenderloin had been a lower middle class district of San Francisco, and the home of many of San Francisco’s trans women of color working as prostitutes. Unable to maintain a typical job due to discrimination, and thus unable to pay the bills in the middle class part of San Francisco, trans women of color were forced to move to the Tenderloin district where they lived in hotels and worked as prostitutes to be able to afford to do so. Then, after World War II, the gentrification began. The government became eager to place military veterans and their families in affordable housing, and being as the Tenderloin district was seen as “a bad part of town,” they thought why not place the housing there in order to gentrify the area, and kill two birds with one stone? So the military housing began to go up, and trans women of color and the other residents of the Tenderloin began to be pushed out of their homes, with nowhere else to go. As Susan Stryker put it when discussing the topic in her book Transgender History: “New residents coming in from adjacent areas began to displace the Tenderloin’s most vulnerable and at-risk residents– transgender women who worked as street prostitutes and lived in the cheapest hotels” (Stryker, 69). Here Stryker addresses what I personally find the most disturbing part of gentrification: not only does gentrification displace millions every year, but it displaces the most vulnerable of the American population. It displaces the queer, the poor, the undocumented, and the people of color. When we gentrify a neighborhood, we are displacing those who need the most help and support.
Another famous example of the gentrification of queer neighborhoods is San Francisco’s Castro district. The Castro district had served as a predominantly queer neighborhood for quite some time before Harvey Milk lived there, but it wasn’t until his murder in the late 1970s that it really hit the map. When it hit the map however, it really hit the map. It became known worldwide, and as a result of that, the cost of living in the Castro district was driven through the roof. As soon as the well to do began to realize that they could potentially make a profit off the Castro district, they took full advantage of it. People from Eureka Valley flooded in to buy up the property and rent it out at much higher costs than before. Rent was driven up from $1,000 to $2,000, and in some cases even $3,000. The gentrification of the Castro district displaced many queer youth, and working class queer people in general. As the bourgeoisie assimilationists of the “GGGG” movement sat in their $3,000 a month apartments, queer youth were forced to sit outside of those very apartments, panhandling for a few dollars to buy themselves a meal. This is what gentrification does. It strips the majority of their human rights to a roof over their heads, while pleasing the minority that can afford one.
Richmond is beginning to go down a similar path to that of the Tenderloin and Castro districts. Gentrification has been underway for years, most notably throughout the neighborhood of Church Hill. The historic neighborhood, which contains the Church in which Patrick Henry spoke his famous words “give me liberty, or give me death,” has been a notoriously poor part of Richmond for years. Now however, the middle class are invading the area, as they search for houses to flip for profit. As middle class white people begin to flow into the neighborhood, gentrification is slowly but surely beginning to push out it’s long term residents. The city of Richmond is of course encouraging the gentrification, even offering tax credits to those who buy a house in the neighborhood for the purpose of flipping. Although this may be benefiting the government, as they begin to collect more in property taxes as the values of the homes go up, and the people flipping the houses as they earn not only profits, but also tax breaks, it is most certainly not benefiting the people who bought homes in the neighborhood at low costs, intending to live there their whole lives. Many of these people are now having to leave the area, due to the large increase in their property taxes, as they do not receive any sort of break when it comes to this tax. The most recent and currently the most obvious example of gentrification in the Richmond area is of course the growing campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. As the university grows, it is seen to be “cleaning up” Richmond. What it is actually doing, is displacing people from their homes. The university’s presence is driving up the cost of food, rent for small businesses, and of course housing, in the area. Not only is it displacing people from their literal houses, it is even displacing the homeless people from the park which they call home. The park which serves as a home to many homeless people in the area, which also happens to be the center of VCU’s Monroe Park campus, is being shut down this month for “renovations.” This renovation of the park is of course an unnecessary method of gentrification. The homeless people will be forced to leave for the year that the renovations will take place, and then I’m sure the university is hoping that they will not return. This sort of gentrification is especially lowly, because not only are you displacing people from their houses, you are then displacing them from the only place in which they have to sleep, eat, and house their belongings. Although the gentrification of Richmond is not directly affecting queer communities, as the gentrification of the Tenderloin and Castro districts did, it is affecting marginalized groups, which thus affects the queer community, as they too are a marginalized group.
When Kwame Nkrumah won independence for Ghana, he famously said something along the lines of “It does not matter if Ghana is free, until all African countries are also free.” Audre Lorde said something similar when she stated, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”These statements can be applied to any marginalized group fighting for liberation, in the bigger context of all the marginalized groups fighting for liberation. So if queer people aren’t truly liberated until all other marginalized groups are, they must join in the fights other liberationist groups are fighting. So they must in the case of Richmond and the other cities whose lower class citizens are suffering the negative effects of gentrification, fight against gentrification. After all, as previously stated, queer people too have suffered the negative effects of gentrification, which gives them even more reason to join in the fight. So in order to defeat gentrification, the queer community, the lower class, the people of color, the undocumented people, and all of the other marginalized people of Richmond must join together to fight it.
Gentrification within Richmond will be by no means an easy problem to solve, but it must, and will be solved. The first step in this difficult process must be the joining together of all, or at least most, of Richmond’s marginalized groups. Without this unity, nothing can be done. In order to gain this unity, those who already understand the negative effects of gentrification must then work to educate those who may not understand them. This will undoubtedly bring many people to join the movement against gentrification. Once a sort of unity is gained, the education must continue. The education can take many forms, including flyers, picket protests, panels, and online information, all addressing the negative effects of gentrification, and why it ultimately must be stopped. The information must contain accurate statistics, but more importantly, tell the stories of those who suffer the consequences of gentrification. It must humanize them in a way that will help people understand why this topic is important. It will eventually reach the privileged minority, who benefit from the effects of gentrification, and hopefully may even sway their opinions. Although swaying the public is a vital part of working to end gentrification, swaying the government is vital as well. Lobbying of local government officials will be necessary. This will include working to have meetings with local legislators, and presenting them with the information they need to understand why gentrification is devastating to the marginalized people of Richmond. This of course, cannot be expected to work immediately. As previously stated, the process of stopping gentrification within Richmond will be just that– a process, but if the marginalized groups of Richmond stand together to work through this process, it can and will be a successful one.
Gentrification not only has a negative direct effect upon the poor whom it is displacing from their homes, but also a negative indirect effect upon all of the other marginalized groups within Richmond, because of their inability to be liberated without the liberation of the poor. For both of these reasons, the liberationists of Richmond must stand together, and work to end gentrification. We must do it for the liberation of the poor, the undocumented, the people of color, the disabled, the uneducated, and of course, the queer.