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Popular Science: What influences the geography of gay places and how?

Michal Pitoňák, a PhD student from the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development, the Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague is interested in queer geography – the geography of sexuality. Together with his colleague, Koessan Gabiam from Belgium, they try to describe and explain factors that influence the localization and diversification of gay places. Similar studies have been done on the scale of a region or country, most often on a city scale. Michal Pitoňák and Koessan Gabiam, however, analysed all the states of the European Union (EU), Norway and Switzerland.

 

Sexuality started to be a topic for geography science in the 1970s, known as a “cultural turn”. Humans as subjects returned to the geographer´s interest. At the same time, as part of the social changes and social climate in Western civilization in the 1960s, some “gay ghettoes” were established in big American cities and other sexual minorities came to light. Later, since the 1990s, topics for researchers in Western Europe and Australia have come to include “gay villages” (districts with a concentration of gays) and the “pink economy,” businesses like marketing and tourism connected with the activities of sexual minorities.

Authors analysed factors influencing the spatial diversity of gay places via statistical methods. They found out that gay commodification (the creation of an economic niche connected with a “gay designation”, for instance gay restaurants, hotels aiming at non-married and childless gays, utilized their economic potential) and gay (in)visibilities (variable (im)possibilities to exist openly as gay or lesbian) are substantial. These factors are crucial for the localization of gay places and activities. Gay places and activities were divided into 27 categories; the biggest group was bars (22 %). The case study comprised towns and cities from the EU, Norway and Switzerland which have 100,000 inhabitants or more.

The concentration of gay places and activities is connected with the origins of the locality where the gays live. Often there are cosmopolitan districts with gay commodification. In these areas there are many gay restaurants and hotels and they are profiting from tourism. The analysis showed us four groups of cities that correlate with this: capitals (Paris, Berlin, Budapest, Prague, Copenhagen…), diverse cities which have more than 500,000 inhabitants (Zurich, Edinburgh, Florence, Nice…), prominent towns (Montpellier, Bruges…) and some seaside resorts. On the other hand another group of towns have a lack of gay places and activities (Dublin, Lisbon, Helsinki, Riga, Bratislava, Sofia…). The first three are isolated in rich and liberal regions, the second group of towns has shorter experience with capitalism and the cultural determination is also important.

Gay (in)visibility is the second factor, represented by gay bars and gay tourist info. Gay bars are portrayed as sociable places. Generally, the spatial distribution of these factors and places is determined by history, religion, culture, law and the rights of sexual minorities and other circumstances in each region’s society. Italy is an interesting example. In Italy they have limited anti-discriminatory jurisdiction. The role of the Vatican, the seat of the Pope as the head of the conservative Catholic Church and traditional Italian society, is also important. In Italy there is no network of gay places. Gay socializing only takes place at random events, therefore it is not comfortable to be visible in public. The south of Italy with smaller seaside resorts supported by tourism is more open. The economic motivation is greater than the possible intolerance towards gays. There are similar conditions in countries with conservative societies and sexual minorities have to hide and be (in)visible, thus the Internet is important for communication.

Of course there are far more gay places in larger countries. The most places are in Germany. The largest concentration is located in the “blue banana” – the core of the EU – stretching from Southern England to Benelux, western Germany, eastern France, Switzerland and northern Italy. We find a lot of gay places in seaside resorts, as well. The number of gay places and the number of citizens does not match anywhere, however. For instance there is a similar number of gay places in the Czech Republic and in Poland, but there are four times more people living in Poland. Differences between liberal and conservative values in societies influence the absolute numbers of gay places, even their spatial diversity and concentration.

It is possible to divide European cities into the two groups. The first (Bratislava, Sofia, Riga…) are connected with a conservative perception of sexuality, there is inequality between homo-, bi- and heterosexuals (so-called heteronormativity) and gay activities are mostly hidden. The second group (the Scandinavian capital cities, larger towns in Western Europe and Budapest and Prague) are liberal in relation to minorities. There are many gay places, a lot of commercial places, but on the other hand, with increasing liberalization gays shed the necessity of invisibility, which means a decrease of gay places, especially bars in the most developed Scandinavian countries.

GABIAM, K., PITOŇÁK, M. (2014): Economic, cultural and social factors influencing the development of gay businesses and places: Evidence from the European Union. Moravian Geographical Reports, Vol. 22, No. 3, p. 2–17. DOI: 10.2478/mgr-2014-0014.

Tomáš JANÍK

Published: Apr 09, 2015 11:05 AM

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