Recently, the question was posed to me: “What happened to Denver’s gay ‘ghettos?’” Indeed: Where do gays and lesbians feel safe, like a welcome part of the community?
Once upon a time in a big, small town called Denver there were distinct “gay ghettos” characterized by intense populations of gays, lesbians, and subculture types — punks, experimental creatives, non-conformists, etc. Gays and lesbians owned and operated (and populated) restaurants, coffee houses, bars, shops, galleries, and salons fashioned with them in mind. Major gay-inhabited residential and business centers of the 1970s–80s formed around Capitol Hill, Broadway Terrace, and Highlands.
When I worked for my first gay/lesbian news-mag in the early 1990s, there were 22 gay/lesbian bars and six newspapers. But by the end of the century, as my late friend Tom Oberbroeckling (then proprietor of the Snake Pit and former manager of Tracks, Fox Hole, Stars, and the Ogden Theater) observed, “The days when you could open a bar, pronounce it ‘gay,’ and have gays and lesbians rush inside are just about over; young gays and lesbians go everywhere they want.”’
In the example of a bar, we saw the liberation of its clientele and the demise of a segmented demographic.
The Snake Pit (previously Pegasus, a popular eatery with gays and lesbians and presently home to Beauty Bar) was originally opened with a gay crowd in mind, but the groups who claimed it were alternative music types with plenty of gays, but by no means the majority. The clientele identified by taste, not sexuality.
So, “Where have all the flowers gone?”
I asked Jeff Hammerberg, founder and CEO of GayRealEstate.com, if gay and lesbian homebuyers were seeking specific areas. He pointed out that recent clients moving into the state sought homes based on their needs for family, career, property, and neighborhood amenities. His two recent examples were male couples, one with children who settled in Park Hill; and another that selected Highlands Ranch.
While Stapleton has a highly visible gay/lesbian population and Capitol Hill remains a champion for concentration of gay residents, homebuyers are snapping up dwellings throughout the metro area and suburbs.
Gay and lesbian renters are shopping for job-adjacent locations and affordability. A recent article that populated blogs across the internet pointed out that Denver’s market rents have reached comparable status with popular coastal destinations. In California and New York, the hourly wage (based on a 40-hour week) required to rent an entry-level, two-bedroom apartment is $29. In Colorado, that hourly wage is $24.
So where are gays and lesbians finding gathering places in the new economy and social scene? Outside of bars, the “ghetto” has gone virtual. Social forums, activism, and retail have graduated to the internet.
As far as facetime/real-time interaction, there are community choruses, volunteer organizations such as Project Angel Heart, Colorado AIDS Project, Rainbow Alley, and The Center. Videotique at 9th & Downing, and its neighboring caffeine club — presently Dazbog — remain a steadfast hub in the Denver community.
Which brings us to PrideFest. Jeff Hammerberg pointed out that at one time, you couldn’t swing a designer dog in Cheesman Park without striking a tanning queen, frolicking lesbian, or such. Now that hub of homosexual leisure is greatly a province of straight young singles and families. Nevertheless, Cheesman remains the staging grounds for PrideFest floats and marchers before they take to East Colfax for the trek to the State Capitol and festival grounds.
For multitudes who form the local LGBT diaspora, PrideFest offers an opportunity to see, be seen, and rekindle ties that are more powerful than the WWW affords. Although it’s been about 20 years since I was on staff at OUT FRONT, this publication helps me to keep in touch with the community through its printed page, online presence, and email updates.