Dissertation Spotlight: Queer Urban Space Beyond the Gayborhood: Sexuality, Gentrification, and Displacement in Atlanta

Through collected data from thirty-five participant interviews, the researcher, Rachael Sarah Cofield, examines the relationship between queer geography and gentrification in Atlanta, Georgia, as well as the transformations of the former gayborhood (or gay neighborhood) of Midtown and its relationship to the broader queer geographies of Atlanta. Cofield intrinsically ties the relationship to issues of urban land valuation, sexuality, race, and the material reality of a sprawling urban area.

The author first establishes the historical context of Midtown from the post-war period and beyond. Due to suburbanization, white flight, and narratives of good and bad families, there is a visible influence on the valuation of the inner-city. Post-war, there was a mass devaluation of the urban core and the families of color that remained. This devaluation of urban land was a key implication for a “back to the city movement” for the gays, which led to the embracement of sexual diversity and fostered life outside of the suburban norm. This new wave of sexual culture and politics helped inaugurate Midtown as Atlanta’s gayborhood. Cofield proceeds to examine a further transformation of Midtown culture that is “coincident with increasing costs of housing, as a particular normative form of gayness—an emergent rich, white, corporatized, and ‘familyfriendly’ homonorm,” (1). The cultural and economic changes pushed out queer residents from the Midtown neighborhood.

The researcher furthers her study by bringing the focus back to the city of Atlanta. Atlanta has the largest queer population in a Black-majority U.S. city, and it presents an important place to study the interrelationships between geographies of race and sexuality. The gentrification of Atlanta in recent years has been reshaping the distribution of different communities within the city. With the duality of their large queer population and growing adjustments from gentrification, Atlanta is the ideal location to study. The researcher uses literature methods to “highlight how the lens of place-making can be productively combined with research on the

creation of queer neighborhoods to understand the quotidian practices that create neighborhood norms and a subjective sense of place,” (4). Qualitative methods that Cofield utilizes include ethnographic field work and semi-structured interviews with members of the LGBTQ community.

The gay community continued to expand, becoming more ‘out.’ As the neighborhood experienced housing disinvestment, leading to an economic downturn and further disrepute as a dirty, crime-riddled area, its position as a gay neighborhood consolidated. “Through these processes of urban change, the new gay and lesbian residents of Midtown would come to be associated with urban property renewal, often in the form of intense gentrification,” (71). Cofield goes on to address queer stories and proceeds to explain the lesbian and trans geographies literature used as groundwork for their own assessment of the queer story discussed by interview participants. In the next section, the researcher establishes the ways mobilities have fit into the queer conversation and explains their own use of mobilities as an extension of these discussions. 

Ultimately, Cofield took up the task of understanding the historical process of gentrification, particularly in thinking about Midtown and how queerness has developed over time. The researcher extends traditional readings of queer gentrification by examining the ways in which value, homonormativity, and dispersal interweave to create distinct placemaking in Atlanta, Georgia. Cofield also highlights new questions about the sexual geographies for displaced more-than-gay queer city residents. They assert a direction for future research with a focus on the ways in which bodies and performance entangle to actively create queer visions.

Dr. Rachael Cofield is a graduate of the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University. This post was based on Rachael’s dissertation, written by COSSPP Blog Intern, Jillian Kaplan.

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