How gay is Southie?

By ERICA CORSANO  |  October 19, 2009

If this picture isn’t absolutely blowing your mind — gay men congregating openly in Southie — consider that, 30 years ago, the town best known for the crimes of Whitey Bulger was considered one of the assholes of the world for its insensitivity toward newcomers, racial tensions, and fiercely parochial nature. Now, South Boston has become a diverse community, home to a fast-growing, gay social-networking scene that seems to be embraced by the community at large. How the hell did that happen?

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The rainbow economy
Socially ubiquitous scenester and Southie real-estate agent Ricardo Rodriguez is a gay man who predominately sells properties in the South End, Beacon Hill, Downtown, and South Boston. He has noticed an influx of young professionals to South Boston.

“When it comes to budding gay communities,” he says,” South Boston is the most promising. It’s youthful and its price points on real estate are great. Culturally, the area’s proximity to the South End has created an interesting synergy between the neighborhoods.”

But proximity to the South End clearly isn’t its only draw. Southie’s housing market offers affordable rent for many who can’t afford to live in Boston’s more well-to-do sections. South Boston also boasts its own uber-trendy Seaport District — home to a plethora of luxury apartments, artists’ lofts, and upscale restaurants and bars like Drink and Sportello (opened by Southie native Barbara Lynch). And businesses are steadily opening up in and around the more traditional heart of Southie, on and just off Broadway, its main artery.

Rodriguez, in fact, thinks there’s been a mass exodus in the homosexual community from the South End to South Boston. Despite Southie’s once loathsome reputation, he says, it no longer carries a menacing vibe toward outsiders trying to muscle in. “It’s actually very cool,” he explains. “There are a lot of young people and edgy stuff happening there. I’m not surprised that you are seeing a viable, vibrant, identifiable gay community in South Boston. I am surprised that there isn’t a gay bar already there, [though] it seems like it is moving in that direction — it just makes sense.”

Keith Orr, marketing manager for the Aids Action Committee and co-host of One in Ten, a weekly LGBT radio show on WFNX 101.7 FM (which is owned by the Phoenix Media/Communications Group), has also witnessed gays flock to neighborhoods like Jamaica Plain, Dorchester, and South Boston. “With regards to Southie, the casual observer might be surprised by the migration,” he says, “but anyone who spends time there would feel differently. South Boston gets a bad rep. . . . There’s a notion that South Boston is not welcoming, when in fact I think it’s a very welcoming part of Boston, and more and more members of the gay community are moving there and being embraced.”

Of course, the more cynical among us might cry “gentrification,” or say that South Boston isn’t welcoming the gay community as much as it’s welcoming its money. To some, this new tolerance is directly tied to the ruinous aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the impact it had on local businesses. Let’s face it: in this economy, what bar is going to turn away dozens of people who are ready and willing to spend their disposable income on beer and cosmos?

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