Philadelphia Metropolis


The Sleazy Side of the Gayborhood

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By Luke Cavanaugh

I live in the Gayborhood.

I'm a married guy, mid-30s, and my wife and I live in the area of Philadelphia where the street signs are marked with rainbows, and giant a mural of an androgenous ballet dancer dominates the visual scenery.  Whatever, I don't really care. My adjustment period to living in an area that's "gay" has long since passed and everything is quite fine on that front.  People is people, so to speak.

The part I can't get adjusted to, though, after nearly three years here, is the horrible underbelly of the neighborhood that is allowed to so brazenly operate out in the public.  In a slice of about four blocks sandwiched between one of the nation's finest hospitals and some of the nation's finest theater and cultural centers, someone offers me methweedcoke nearly every time I walk down the street after 3 pm.  Prostitutes (androgenous, to say the least) openly proposition drivers on the corners of Locust and Spruce Streets.  And men pick them up, and they drive around the neighborhood, presumably getting/receiving blowjobs, I guess.  And then the prostitutes get dropped off and get after it again.I see this happening with regularity. 

The stairwells down into the 12-13th Street Patco Station are used openly for drug deals.  It's absurdly obvious.  And scary. 

Why is this accepted?  Where are you on this issue, gay community?  You've staked this area as your own; the street signs have rainbows on them. And that's fine. I have no gayborhood.jpgproblem with the rainbows.  I bought a house here.  But it must have required some civic effort to get those rainbows put in place.  Where is the same effort in trying to flush out the lowlifes and create a better neighborhood?  Does this not matter?

To be clear, I'm not trying to say that this is only the problem of the gay community, or that the entire gay community at large is responsible for creating this problem.  But for the gay community at large to ignore the problem is ridiculous.  I'm sure this type of activity goes on in other places in Center City, if you really want to look for it.  But not so openly and so unchecked.  And if you travel one block outside the Gayborhood, to like, 10th and Locust Streets, for example, this kind of thing doesn't seem to be going on.  It's happening inside the gay community.

The street drugs, the prostitution, and the element of soulless humanity that those two things attract are as much an ever-present hallmark of the Gayborhood as the rainbow flags and the tolerance they so properly and bravely encourage. 

The presence of a methadone clinic, a block of Section 8 housing, and the Parker Hotel all in a one-block stretch does not help.  But businesses can start by taking a stand.  In front of the bar Bump on 13th and Spruce, there are routinely 2 or 3 drug dealers stationed in front of the bar offering goods to passersby, literally so close to the bar's front door that they could be mistaken for bouncers. Does the bar do anything about it?  Maybe they do and they're just as overwhelmed by the element as everyone else.  Maybe they've given up trying out of fear, exhaustion, or just because if you leave it alone long enough you forget about it.  Or maybe they don't give a shit.  Or maybe they and their patrons encourage it.

I don't know.

But it all just seems so oddly accepted within this small radius of urban blocks.  Any police officer I've spoken with about it is resigned to the notion that anyone who gets locked up (and there are many) is right back within hours and there's little else that can be done.  I don't really blame the police for feeling like that.  It shouldn't all be on their shoulders.

The LGBT community is the most influential identifiable population in this area.  The street signs and storefronts advertise their presence with pride.  Are they taking steps I don't know about?  Is it truly impossible to change, given the factors at play and the availability of law enforcement?  Does anyone care?  Is it just a fact of life.?
I really hope it isn't just a fact of life, because it doesn't need to be.



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