'Gayborhoods' gaining buzz in SLC
Salt Lake City's mayoral race is over - with Ralph Becker's landslide triumph. But the buzz of a "gayborhood" unfolding in the Marmalade area west of Capitol Hill is still ringing.
It was likely the only new vocabulary word tossed at Becker and his opponent, Dave Buhler, during their slew of debates. For many Utahns, it also may have been the first revelation that the reddest of red states has "gayborhoods."
Some people point to the 9th and 9th area as a prime example. Q Salt Lake Editor Michael Aaron, whose article in the gay and lesbian magazine primed the debate question, argues that Marmalade has eclipsed the Avenues to become the capital's "gayest" gayborhood. He says you can even find gay enclaves in South Salt Lake and West Valley City.
So what is a gayborhood?
In big cities, a gayborhood might center on a business district with bars, stores and restaurants catering to or owned by members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community, but in Salt Lake City it has come to mean simply a neighborhood with a higher concentration of GLBT residents.
Marina Gomberg, director of membership and outreach at the Utah Pride Center, which is located in Marmalade, emphasizes that a "gayborhood" is not an exclusive thing.
"We've worked so hard to feel like we belong, we wouldn't want anyone else to feel that feeling of not having anywhere to go," she says. "The GLBT community embraces diversity as do many other communities."
It's not a new term, either. Philadelphia's entrenched gay district is known simply as "The Gayborhood."
But the debut of "gayborhood" into mainstream political debate here could be another indicator of Utah's growing - and increasingly "out" - GLBT population.
From 1990 to 2006, Utah's per-capita households headed by same-sex couples sprang from 38th in the nation to 14th, according to a study released this month by the Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles.
The author, Gary Gates, a senior research fellow at the institute, also ranked the nation's 50 largest cities by same-sex couples per thousand households, using 2000 Census counts and an average of 2004-2006 data from the American Community Survey.
Salt Lake City isn't one of the top 50, but if it had been included, Gates says, it would have hit No. 13 in 2000 and vaulted to No. 8 in 2006, knocking Washington, D.C., down to No. 9 for density of households headed by same-sex couples.
Surprisingly, Gates found that conservative areas such as Utah, which passed a voter-approved constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in 2004, experienced the greatest gains in the number of same-sex couples. He attributes that leap to a general migration trend among the entire U.S. population to the West and the South, but also to a growing number of GLBT people who are "out."
And the public debate about Utah's Amendment No. 3 may have pushed more GLBT people to be open about their sexuality, Gates says, in hopes of raising awareness.
"Despite that vote, perhaps [GLBT] people in smaller social circles are experiencing higher levels of acceptance - even in Utah," Gates says, "[and especially] in certain areas like Salt Lake City that don't necessarily vote the same" as the rest of the state.
Many of the nation's best-known gay districts are experiencing identity crises as gay residents move to other neighborhoods, no longer needing to live in so-called gayborhoods to experience social acceptance, according to a recent report in The New York Times.
But in conservative Utah, GLBT residents likely still gravitate to more liberal urban neighborhoods - and Salt Lake City is becoming increasingly progressive as evidenced by Becker's blowout of Buhler, continuing the capital's three-decade-plus streak of electing Democratic mayors.
"This downtown area has always been so diverse," says real estate broker and Salt Lake City Planning Commissioner Babs De Lay, who prefers the term "more diverse neighborhood" to "gayborhood."
"I sell a lot of downtown condominiums. We have a higher percentage of gay buyers than maybe out in the suburbs," she notes. "Instead of 10 percent of the population being gay, we might have 20 percent" downtown.
Take Marmalade, so named for its historic orchards and street names such as Apricot. The popular and historically diverse neighborhood is nearly synonymous with West Capitol Hill, running from 300 North to 800 North and 300 West to the Capitol's west side.
Q Salt Lake's Aaron, who is gay and has lived in Marmalade since 1991, estimates up to a third of the neighborhood is GLBT. The Utah Pride Center is a natural gathering spot for the community and, in July, it began hosting Café Marmalade, a coffeehouse/GLBT library on the street level of the center's office building.
Aaron was drawn to the area because of its multifaceted diversity and proximity to downtown. He also was able to buy, in 1990, a boarded-up, 1918 bungalow for $29,900 and renovate it for another $20,000.
"Gayborhoods just kind of happen," says Aaron, who credits the gay community with leading home makeovers in the Avenues and West Capitol Hill in the '80s and beyond.
"Gay people tend to gravitate toward where their community is, where the arts center is, where the better restaurants are," he says. They "tend to flee places like Bountiful and Sandy to go to places where more progressive people will surround them."
And Marmalade is about to get even hipper - and perhaps more gay - with the construction of Rick Howa's mixed-use project along 300 West from 500 North to 600 North, Aaron noted in Q Salt Lake last year, precipitating the gayborhood debate question.
The $50 million project, also called "Marmalade," will feature 90 high-end condos and 50,000 square feet of shops, service-oriented businesses and eateries. Preference is being given to locally owned businesses, says De Lay, who is handling the condo sales.
It could mean another influx of gay home buyers or gay-owned businesses, but De Lay and Vasilios Priskos, The Marmalade's commercial broker, say they aren't marketing specifically to the GLBT community.
But "does the gay population in the area have an influence on our [commercial] tenants? Absolutely," says Priskos, broker at Internet Properties. Same-sex couples "usually have two incomes and they spend money. They're a demographic that's interesting in the area."
He adds, "It's just a great, great diverse neighborhood."