How gay is Southie?

Once unthinkable, Boston’s most notorious neighborhood now sports a welcoming face. How the hell did that happen?
By ERICA CORSANO  |  October 19, 2009

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It’s just another Thursday night in South Boston.

Local bars like the Boston Beer Garden and the Playwright are overstuffed with hard-drinking twenty- and thirtysomethings, mostly locals and the new crop of Southie transplants looking for a hookup.

The men are knuckling up to the bar, eyeing deals on pitchers of Miller Lite or Budweiser, scoping out prime real estate in front of a flat-screen TV to watch their favorite Boston sports team, and maybe even getting some love from one of the female hotties prancing around in skin-tight denim and low-cut halter tops.

The scene is similar at the Junction, another popular local watering hole. There’s a stench of beer and cologne in the air, pint glasses are being filled by the dozen, and the athletic attire that is the unofficial after-work uniform of the Southie male is everywhere in sight. But something seems off in this prototypical pub in the heart of historically xenophobic South Boston. Maybe it’s this: almost every guy in the Junction tonight is gay.

A Southie girl almost three-years strong, I’ve gotten to know my neighbors in this community well. Though I happen to spend most of my free time in other parts of Boston, I still enjoy occasional voyeuristic adventures in a tavern or pub in my own back yard. On this Thursday in August, my roommate Mickey has convinced me to join him on a local Facebook-formed outing for “the New Southie.” The group with the intentionally vague-sounding name is sort of like a gay flash mob that meets once a month at a different Southie straight bar — except they get the establishment’s permission before sending out invites.

When Mickey first asked me out for the night (full disclosure: we’ve got a total Will and Grace situation going on: he’s a gay lawyer and I like to belt out show tunes), I assumed we were off to Jacque’s, Stella, or Club Café, all South End safe havens for the local gay population. When I found out that Mickey — who prior to discovering this group would rather have cleaned out our fridge than hang out socially in Southie — was now attending “events” in our own ‘hood, I was stunned. Our neighborhood doesn’t exactly have the best reputation for being warm and welcoming to outsiders.

“A bunch of us found out about New Southie and decided to join,” he explained. “Most of my gay male friends that live here don’t ever hang out here — why would we? But this seemed like a fun excuse to get out in our own area and get to know other gays that wanted to do the same. I was all about it.”

New Southie was founded by gay resident Phil Sheats and a few of his friends. Although he insists that it is open to anyone (its official FB mission statement claims that it is a “group designed to help facilitate networking amongst cool people in Southie”), it’s mostly gay, and its male members (there are a handful of women in the group) are joining for the same reasons that Mickey cited.

Initially, the soirées were held in individuals’ homes. But as the group grew larger and more confident, Sheats and the other organizers decided they wanted to socialize in public and swell its membership. So far, they’ve acquired 180 regulars, with crowds of 50 to 60 men showing up every time they meet.

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