Features

Gay Town, USA?

Culture | Homosexual activists seek district, acceptance outside the big city

Issue: "Francis Schaeffer's legacy," March 26, 2005

A propagandistic theory may soon be changing life in a city near you, and maybe your own.

Gay activists are insisting that openly pro-homosexual environments can help the economies of cities by attracting the type of "creative class" that can foster economic growth. Carnegie Mellon professor Richard Florida's 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, contends that workers in creative industries will run tomorrow's economy and suggests that gay-friendly cities are most likely to attract "creative people." His work has encouraged cities like Philadelphia, Orlando, Kansas City, Las Vegas, and Chicago to embrace gay districts-and now the push is extending to smaller cities like Spokane.

Mr. Florida visited that city two years ago, and since then eastern Washington gays have pushed for official designation of a portion of Spokane's downtown as a haven for homosexual culture. The gay district would pattern itself after similar neighborhoods in Seattle and San Francisco, where housing, businesses, and entertainment cater to homosexuals.

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One critic of the plan is former Spokane Mayor John Talbott, 71, who yearns for the quaint city of his childhood and believes an influx of gays would further erode family-oriented values and institutions in Spokane's 418,000-resident greater metropolitan area. He fears nothing can be done to stop it: "There's a very determined group of people interested in making this happen. The elected people aren't fighting back. The welcome sign is out."

Legally, of course, that's appropriate. Mr. Talbott admits that government has no authority to block the plans of law-abiding citizens to congregate in particular zones. Groups of all stripes, whether religious, ethnic, or economic, have long cornered the cultural market within sections of American cities. Peggy Lancaster, director of Community Impact Spokane, an association of evangelical churches, agrees: "If people want to open businesses and advertise as gay-friendly, then that's the way it is."

But the idea that gay neighborhoods have a special economic value appears to be unfounded. Many critics have rejected Mr. Florida's thesis, noting that it is based on old evidence about the now-deflated dot-com industry. In a recent City Journal article, Steve Malanga points out that the cities Mr. Florida lists as least "creative" have outperformed the national economy in job growth over the past decade. Conversely, Mr. Florida's "most creative" cities have fallen behind the national job-growth rate over that same span.

And the new gay neighborhoods are developing in a different way than old religious or ethnic neighborhoods did. Those communities generally developed organically over time, but supporters of Spokane's proposed gay district have created the website letsgetvisible.com and are challenging businesses to display gay-friendly window stickers or suffer the economic consequences.

Numerous leaders of the push for a gay district did not return WORLD's phone calls, but Marvin Reguindin, a local business owner and member of Spokane's pro-gay Inland Northwest Business Alliance, told the Associated Press, "It would help youth struggling with their sexuality to realize they don't have to go away to a big city to be gay. You can be gay right here in Spokane."

Organizers have yet to name a site for the gay district, but plan to do so before the U.S. Figure Skating Championships visit Spokane in 2007. One likely area is the downtown's west side, where an art community already exists. Business owners there, struggling to stay afloat in Spokane's fledgling economy, would have no choice but to take political sides and alienate groups of customers.

Former mayor Talbott argues that the promise of citywide benefits is merely a public-relations tool. He identifies the true impetus as "part of a nationwide full-court press to say 'Here we are.' . . . They're trying to rally support to be more visible and outspoken. They see that as power and influence." Ms. Lancaster of Community Impact Spokane, though, hopes to maintain "the reputation of our community as family based and upholding traditional values. Our concern is for businesses in the neighborhood that might feel pressure to go along."

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