Professor researches ‘gayborhood’ necessity

Boystown, Chicago was the first officially recognized gay community in the United States and celebrates gay and lesbian sexuality. The neighborhood also features rainbow sidewalks.

Kenzie McCoy

When he’s not teaching one of Washburn’s introduction to sociology classes, Chris Conner, assistant professor of sociology/anthropology, is spending his time researching the gayborhoods around the United States. Conner is focusing on what will become of these long-developed neighborhoods with rainbow-painted sidewalks and flying rainbow flags after same-sex marriage became legal nationwide in June 2015.

Gayborhoods are collections of cultural and social institutions in different metropolitan cities. This topic of gayborhood evolution has entered Conner’s mind for years and Conner said he personally connected with his developing research.

“I’m gay, so this topic interested me because I never really felt like I fit into the mold,” Conner said.

Conner first began teaching at Washburn in August 2015 and also started gathering information about gayborhoods in the same year.

“My project is asking the question, where are we now?” Conner said. “Most of the research on gay culture died out in the 1970s, so I’m updating that older research and am brining to the light the issues now. My research is very timely and focuses on what will come about in these neighborhoods.”

Conner has gathered much of his material through informal and formal interviews, asking his contacts, as well as people who live in these gayborhoods, if gayborhoods are still necessary after marriage equality.

“Everyone is saying now that we have marriage that we are equal,” Conner said. “Minorities are still getting left behind because if you fit into this idea about what being gay should look like, then this idea of assimilation is really good for you. However, if you are a minority, a transgender person or maybe a lesbian, then the idea that everyone is equal after marriage doesn’t benefit you.”

Conner said he has found that although marriage equality has been a progressive movement, there is still much discrimination and other issues surrounding the LGBT community. Major issues still surrounding LGBT minorities are homelessness and wage gaps.

“The largest group of homeless people are LGBT and transgender youth,” Conner said. “People are unaware of other social issues that gay folk have to deal with. There’s also a wage gap between heterosexuals and LGBT persons.”

Conner has traveled to many gayborhoods around the United States, but his most recent trip was to Boystown, Chicago, the first formally recognized gay settlement. Boystown includes over 30 gay and lesbian bars and nightclubs, as well as shops and residential living areas.

“In Boystown, there’s these pylons that are rainbow colored and they have different gay historical figures; for example, Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay politicians,” Conner said. “It’s one of the longest running areas that’s been openly gay. It’s a whole kind of ecosystem.”

Conner’s research also includes ethnographic experiences, which consists of Conner’s participation in the Kansas City gay pride festival. This year’s festival will take place June 3-5.

Conner said that his learning experiences through his gayborhood research have also provided him with great teaching material for his sociology classes.

Conner will be presenting conference papers on his developing research at the 2016 American Sociological Association Meeting in Seattle, Washington, in August.