Mapping Commonplaces: Dupont Circle and the Disappearance of the “Gayborhood”

During the 1960’s and 70’s, Dupont Circle emerged as DC’s gay neighborhood, one of the first of its kind in the United States. This emergence, however, was only possible due to the “white flight” phenomenon in which whites, who feared the cities, fled to the suburban areas. In doing so, they left Dupont Circle a very affordable place to live that was quickly claimed by “out” members of the LGBTQ+ community. As a result, Dupont Circle quickly became a safe haven for this community.

However in recent years, there has been a lot of conversation online about the disappearance of DC’s “gayborhood.” This conversation was sparked in large part by the closure of many iconic LGBTQ+ establishments that helped mark the Dupont Circle as a “gay hub,” a phenomenon that is beautifully represented in this map. Sadly, I could not embed the map within my own post, and so I had to settle for screenshots of the two periods I am most interested in: the 90’s (before the onslaught of closures of these establishments) and the 2000’s to the present (when these closures were most frequent).

A map of all the LGBTQ+-affiliated businesses in the 90’s.
A map of all the LGBTQ+-affiliated businesses from the 2000’s to the fairly-recent present.

The displacement of members of the LGBTQ+ community due to the rising prices of Dupont Circle has also added fuel to this conversation. But interestingly enough, while some may attribute these high prices solely to a shortage of supply (as can be seen in the last paragraph here), several studies, such as the one summarized here, have shown that the presence of gays in liberal areas increase property values. Thus, it is the LGBTQ+ community that has helped make Dupont Circle more attractive to outsiders, and yet it is this same group of people that are being gentrified as a result.

Additionally, some have also attributed the disappearance of this mecca for the LGBTQ+ community in part to the lack of a need for one. With the pervasiveness of digital culture, it is no longer as much of a necessity as before to have physical space to interact with fellow members of the community.

This conversation was particularly intriguing to me because the built environment that I have been studying all semester— The Dupont Circle Club — has clearly been influenced by the historical presence of the LGBTQ+ community in Dupont Circle: it not only emphasizes that “all are welcome at DCC” both on its website and in its lobby, but it also has addiction recovery literature specifically for gays and lesbians. Furthermore, one of the iconic LGBTQ+ establishments, Lambda Rising, used to be located in the building right next to the Dupont Circle Club before it closed.

Thus, I decided to focus on this for my final mapping commonplaces project. Below, I have included gifs that I made from Google Maps images comparing various locations around Dupont Circle in 2018 to the earliest image of it I could find. However, all of them came out to be from approximately ten years prior. I focused specifically on those with some sort of pride flag out at one point or another.

In the space where Lambda Rising, the first LGBTQ+ bookstore in Dupont Circle, once stood is now a Comfort One Shoe that does not display a pride outside as Lambda Rising did.
Above one can see that the Church of the Pilgrim has continued to proudly hang an “All are welcome” pride flag above its entrance over the past ten years.
Although it is hard to see, if you look closely at the small board in front of this church (the Foundry United Methodist Church), you will notice a small rainbow design at the bottom of it in the 2018 picture that is not there in the 2009 photo.
While Larry’s Lounge has always been a gay bar, it is only within the last decade or so that any sort of pride flag or rainbow design was incorporated into the storefront. Before, there was none, making the business more discrete or call less attention to itself.

I was slightly surprised to see that, while some locations no longer fly pride flags and and others continue to fly them, there were other locations that have begun to display the pride flag (or some iteration of it) in the last ten years.

I believe this, when looked at in conjunction with the reality that LGBTQ+-specific places are continually closing down, speaks to the growing acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community within mainstream society, a fact that has helped many people accept the slow fading away of the “gayborhood.”

However, just because one is accepted in a certain space does not necessarily mean that space is FOR them. Thus, this leaves us with the question: For whom does Dupont Circle exist?

Works Cited

Fulmer, Sean, and Steven Botsoe. “LGBTQ Nightlife Dissipates in the District.” The Hoya, March 15, 2019. https://www.thehoya.com/lgbtq-nightlife-dissipates-district/.

Gaich, Stephen. “There Goes the Gayborhood.” Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights, December 15, 2017. https://www.washingtonblade.com/2017/12/15/there-goes-the-gayborhood/.

Reed, Dan. “DC’s Gayborhoods Are Disappearing. How Should We Feel About That?” Washingtonian, October 6, 2017. https://www.washingtonian.com/2017/10/06/dcs-gayborhoods-disappearing-feel/.

Societyandcultureforward. “Re-Gentrification of the Dupont Circle.” Society Culture Forward (blog), October 26, 2014. https://societycultureforward.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/re-gentrification-of-the-dupont-circle/.

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