by Rev. Irene Monroe
Gentrification of neighborhoods always disrupts existing communities within them.
In the past several years, Harlem’s empty lots and burned-out buildings have sprung up luxury condos, upscale restaurants, boutique shops, hotels, B&Bs, and unimaginable improved services in an area the city had long forgotten.
And the resentment of this shift has targeted both Harlem’s recent and life-long LGBTQ communities.
“Look out black woman. A white homo may take your man” a towering sign hung for months outside of ATLAH World Missionary Church on West 123rd and Lenox.
The pastor of ATLAH, Rev. James David Manning opposes the gentrification going on in Harlem and has implored its residents and his congregants to boycott the new luxury condos, upscale restaurants, boutique shops, and hotels. According to Rev. Manning the boycott would maim the “white homo” where it hurts him the most- his pockets.
And Manning expounded why on the church’s online video.
“He’s usually got money — a white homo usually has an American Express card. He usually has an opportunity at the theater — homos love the theater. They love to go out to dinners, parties, they love that kind of a thing… “
Next month Manning’s church is scheduled for a public foreclosure auction due to over $1 million dollars in debt.
The tragedy here is not in seeing Manning leave but rather the many life-long residents of Harlem and congregants of Manning’s church who are now forced to, resulting in the permanent dislocation not only of a people but also of the inimitable culture, lifestyle and worship space they created.The query raised by many Harlem residents is why is their neighborhood that has been long forgotten and completely disinvested from both public and private real estate interest suddenly a hot land grab?
The prevailing thought today in the area of urban development and city planning is that if you want to revitalize a decaying city and get rid of its urban plight you create gayborhoods. And new studies reveals that these enclaves have overall positive economic and cultural effects.
“Gays have often been at the forefront of gentrification in New York City and elsewhere in the nation, said Charles Kaiser, author of The Gay Metropolis, a History of Gay Life in New York who’s quoted in “Harlem Journal: Gay White Pioneers, on New Ground.”
In February 2014 HuffPo Live did a show “ Why We Still Need Gayborhoods.” On the show was Janice Madden, a Professor of Regional Science, Sociology, Urban Studies, and Real Estate at Penn, to discuss her new book “Gayborhoods: Economic Development and the Concentration of Same-Sex Couples in Neighborhoods Within Large American Cities.” Madden revealed that gay white men on the Northeast and West coasts had significantly greater income to created gayborhoods that are “ lose to or have easy access to the downtown and had older housing.”But white gay men are not the culprits gentrifying Harlem, although the number of whites in Harlem in the last decade has nearly doubled from 9.9 percent to 16.6 percent.
But white gay men are not the culprits gentrifying Harlem, although the number of whites in Harlem in the last decade has nearly doubled from 9.9 percent to 16.6 percent.
Harlem is unquestionably a community in transition—and not only with its new residents.
In June 2010, Harlem saw its first Pride. But Harlem still remains as both a complicated open and closeted queer social hot spot. Harlem’s transgender community wrestles more than any of us LGBQs with Harlem’s homophobia.
With a new black and visible LGBTQ face emerging in Harlem in the last decade so too is a white one.
When rents became prohibitive, especially in Greenwich Village—NYC’s gay mecca— many Manhattan LGBTQs took either a bridge over to Brooklyn or a train up to Harlem.
These new LGBTQ residents in predominately poor communities and communities of color have brought unimaginable improved services to the area the city has long forgotten, like police protection, Starbucks, Wholefoods, and boutique shops, to name a few. But their presence has also created great resentment by those who were forced to relocate from these communities, but also those left to see the uncomfortable changes.
Many life-long residents wonder what will become of Manning’s imposing edifice that’s been in the community since 1957 as one of the revered Harlem churches in its day.
Some of Harlem’s land grab, however, can render not only good outcomes but also redemptive ones.
The last thing Manning would ever fathom for the church space is it becoming NYC’s, largest homeless shelter and resource center for LGBTQ African American youth. And the Ali Forney Center (AFC) has launched a fundraising drive to grab the space.
Ali Forney, who the center is named after, was African American who identified as both gay and transgender and was murdered in December 1997.
Needless to say, Rev. Manning will be outraged should the Ali Forney Center win its bid.
But I’m reminded of the prayer Forney recited – and no black pastor heard – before his death at his favorite event of the year: Talent Night at Safe Space, a program for homeless youth in NYC.
“I believe that one day, the Lord will come back to get me. Hallelujah! All my trials and tribulations, they will all be over. I won’t have to worry about crying and suffering no more, because my God, hallelujah is coming back for me.”
Many black churches, especially in Harlem like Manning’s, continue to both unapologetically and unabashedly closed its doors to its LGBTQ population. And despite the fact these kids looked to the church for help these youth have neither a chance nor a prayer for assistance.
The Ali Forney Center would be their answer.