LGBTQ in a Gentrifying Central Brooklyn

LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) communities have a long history with gentrification narratives. Developers and privileged millennials are the typical faces of gentrification in a historically low- and moderate-income area like Central Brooklyn, but there are many who also see the presence a certain type of white, able-bodied LGBTQ person as an indicator of displacement. But these narratives do not begin to tell the story of Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPoC) residents, who are rarely anything but a side note in the mainstream conversation. ZBell

“In the past, for me, getting put into the conversation means getting called a gentrifier in a lot of circles,” says Z Bell, a Black, Genderqueer community organizer based in Central Brooklyn who uses the pronouns they/them. “It’s hard to actively and willingly call myself a gentrifier when I know that Black people have made entire identities off of migration, and transition, and moving from one place to the other,” Bell says. Explaining that although they are not a native Brooklynite, Bell came to Crown Heights because it’s similar to the neighborhood they grew up in.

Violence is a prominent but often times hidden feature of QTPoC life. With the deadly shootings in Orlando last month, some news outlets still managed to overlook the fact that the lives lost on June 11th were QTPoC lives. The State responded by increasing police presence at Pride events, which has been met with protest. Many feel that QTPoC lives are actually more in danger when there is increased policing. The Audre Lorde Project, a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two-Spirit, Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People of Color support center and activist group, made an official statement after Orlando highlighting police suspicion:

“Our allies are pledging to keep us safe as we assemble for Pride this month. But we ask: safety for whom? They call for increased policing, but never for affordable housing. Hate crime legislation has been shown to fuel mass incarceration and disproportionately criminalize Black and People of Color survivors of violence.”

“Gentrification increases the quality of life policing specifically for the people who are gentrifying which are generally white, light, [and] able-bodied,” says Tasha Amezcua, Safe Outside the System Coordinator at the Audre Lorde Project. “Increased policing disrupts our safety [and] also increases our contact with the criminal justice system,” she says. Rachelle Erica Faroul, a Black Queer East Flatbush/Crown Heights native, who now lives in Philadelphia, experienced this first hand. During a recent visit to Central Brooklyn, Faroul had a run-in with new Brooklynites who threatened to call the police on her and her friends who were in the local public basketball court at Fulton St and Classon Ave in Clinton Hill, a neighborhood where the white population more than doubled from 2000 to 2010, according to a study done by the Center for Urban Research.

The new neighbors, who were moms with strollers, had a clear message, “move or we’ll call the police.” Rachelle and her friends spoke to the mothers, explaining that calling police would put them in danger. The mothers eventually moved along, but their impact was made. “[The women who asked us to move were] convinced that the police are paid to, and actually do protect citizens,” Faroul says. Faroul, however, experiences it differently. “I think the police are there to protect property,” she said.

Ryann Holmes joined us on BK Live to discuss gentrification + the LGBTQ community of color. Click to watch.

Ryann Holmes, co-founder of Bklyn Boihood, a Brooklyn-based collective that works to build community and healthy masculinity in the queer community, has been living in Brooklyn for a decade, ever since graduating college. Like Bell, Holmes moved into a black neighborhood because it’s reminiscent of the neighborhood where she’s from. But eventually, Holmes was priced out of her Bed- Stuy home. Holmes is seeing her queer community being broken apart and displaced. “As I moved, quite literally I’m watching white folks come in right behind me,” she says. Real estate is always at the heart of gentrification, but losing neighborhood space has had a particularly profound effect on LGBTQ cultural cohesion. In a recent Brooklyn Deep podcast, Ejeris Dixon, a social justice consultant, spoke about the Starlight Lounge, a black-owned queer bar in Crown Heights, a casualty of gentrification. Dixon sites the space as a rare site of intergenerational dialogue for the LGBTPQPoC community.

“It was a place where you could meet and hang out with people people and actually hear about the history,” says Dixon on the podcast. “What we have left is trying to be in solidarity with everybody else in the neighborhood while also trying to create safe [QTPoC] spaces in new ways,” she says. “It’s important that queerness or queer and trans identities, LGBTQ identities, get written into gentrifying stories,” said Tasha Amezcua. “We’re not gentrifiers and I think one thing that we often forget [is]that these systems are really good at is pitting us against each other,” she says.

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