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The battle to become the star of Boston’s ‘gay neighborhood’

Spring House Hunt

“Before, when everyone lived in the South End, you would occasionally meet someone who lived in Dorchester, and that was embarrassing.”

South Ender alum Bobby Ortega at his Dorchester home. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe staff

There’s still infighting among LGBTQ+ friend groups over the key moment when the South End lost its crown as Boston’s premier “gay neighborhood” to Dorchester.

Was it when the Eagle – a longtime gay bar known for its generous drinks and salacious stories from the late, gravelly-voiced owner Jack Repetti – closed its doors? Others say the “paved heaven and parking lot” moment happened when Stella, Cheers’ closest South End restaurant, transformed into an elementary school. Some even say the neighborhood lost its edge years ago when people began to feel safe walking south of Tremont Street.

Now the community seems to have disappeared GOOD past Tremont and into a whole new neighborhood: Dorchester.

“It used to be, when everyone lived in the South End, you would occasionally run into someone who lived in Dorchester, and that was embarrassing,” said Bobby Ortega, a South Ender alum who now lives in Dorchester. “But I remember after a night at (Dorchester LGBTQ+ bar) Blend, one night we went to a party and everyone was saying where they lived. And someone said, “Oh, I’m in the South End,” and everyone said, “Why?” There has definitely been a 180 degree turn.

There has been talk for years in gay circles about whether the Dorchester star would finally shine in terms of queer real estate appeal. Sure, there was always a defector here or there from the South End, but it still seemed impossible that the center of Victorian brownstones and brunch spots would lose its grip as a gay real estate hub.

But as every pop diva knows, loyalty can be a fickle thing in this community — at least in terms of house buying and summer suitor songs. Soaring house prices during the pandemic may have finally tipped the scales in favor of Dorchester – as well as other parts of the region – as part of a wider reorganization of deck chairs across the country as to where the queer community is concentrated.

Additionally, Dorchester also has a number of LGBTQ+ bars and restaurants like dbar and Blend.

“We decided to buy something and went to every open house in the South End for two years,” said Martha Tierney, who lived in the South End for eight years before moving with her partner to Dorchester . “I think we’ve seen everything there is to see. Ultimately, the cost per square foot just wasn’t competitive with what we could get for our money in Dorchester.

As of March 29, the average value of a home in the South End’s 02118 ZIP code was $958,536, according to Zillow. In 02125 Dorchester, which includes parts of Savin Hill, the amount was $611,496.

“We have clients who were looking for a specific unit, and in Dorchester they end up finding it for a million dollars. The same thing in the South End would have cost $1.8 million,” said Ricardo Rodriguez, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Realty. “There is a real difference in terms of affordability.”

Rodriguez also highlighted Dorchester’s appeal to younger renters; the South End used to be a place where you could find a single-family homeowner willing to rent single rooms for a few hundred dollars a month. Affordable rent is more of a possibility further south.

Alex Bitterman, co-author of “The Life and Afterlife of Gay Neighborhoods” with Daniel Baldwin Hess, has studied gay neighborhoods for more than two decades. He highlights what’s happening in Boston as part of broader regionalization spurred in part by the pandemic.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community have moved from former gay strongholds such as Boston’s South End or New York’s Chelsea to places such as the Hudson River Valley or the Berkshires and Cape Cod.

“For the first time in American history, we’re starting to see the budding or nascent formation of an LGBTQ region or an LGBTQ-friendly region, which is very exciting,” Bitterman said.

Historically gay-friendly neighborhoods such as the South End often thrived because community members were able to get more bang for their buck. What’s happening in Boston is a “hyper-gentrification” similar to what’s been happening in New York and San Francisco: someone may have bought a home to renovate for $500,000 and seen its value rise hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. more than $1 million — in a relatively short period of time, Bitterman said.

“Of course, there’s a ton of sweat and stuff that goes into places like that, but any reasonable person is going to say, ‘Yeah, let me make my profit, and I’ll get by.’ here,’” he said. added.

But there is also another factor: the double-edged sword of growing acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. Homophobia is obviously still rampant, but there has been a monumental shift in the acceptance of same-sex couples over the past three decades. In a May 2023 Gallup poll, 71% of respondents said same-sex marriages should be recognized by law, up from just 27% in 1996.

Increasing acceptance means less need for some of these long-standing safe spaces.

“All of these things that were LGBT-driven were also based on self-preservation,” Rodriquez said. “For many people it wasn’t safe to go to a regular gym or cafe, so they had to go to a gay gym or a gay cafe. But because all of that has changed, which is good news, we’ve lost that core and we’ve lost those gathering places, and so we’ve lost neighborhoods.

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