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    December 26, 2008

    The great gay migration

    Posted by: Chris

    Memphishernandodesotobridge I've spent a lot of time this year back in Memphis, where I grew up, and I'm struck how over holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, the city's gay establishments swell with locals like me who got the hell outta Dodge after graduating high school or college. The reasons are obvious enough to us, but bit by bit "those who stayed" are beginning to clue in.

    The Memphis Commercial Appeal documented "the great taxpayer migration" in an article last week:

    An analysis of tax-return data compiled by the Internal Revenue Service showed that in Memphis, upward mobility often translates into outward mobility. The total income of people leaving the area outstrips the pay of those moving in by tens of millions of dollars each year, according to the data.

    That has led to a substantial -- and accelerating -- hemorrhaging of wealth, bringing ominous portents for the economy, tax base and even quality of life for the entire region.

    That's only counting the impact of  folks who were already in the workforce and moved on to greener pastures. If you add in those of us who left for college or just afterward, the net loss to cities like Memphis would be further multiplied.

    The beneficiaries aren't just bigger cities, but those without the cultural and political baggage of racism and homophobia. Dallas-Fort Worth was one of the top beneficiaries of the exodus out of Memphis, but the No. 1 destination was Nashville, a city that's slightly smaller in population but with better race relations, a much more active and engaged gay community and a lower "redneck ratio."

    Memphislogo The evidence isn't just anecdotal, either. Using Census data from 1990, the Brookings Institute constructed a number of different "indices" based on population categories and looked for patterns among the best and worst performers among the nation's top 50 cities. The results should not surprise you:

    Perhaps our most striking finding is that a leading indicator of a metropolitan area's high-technology success is a large gay population. Frequently cited as a harbinger of redevelopment and gentrification in distressed urban neighborhoods, the presence of gays in a metro area signals a diverse and progressive environment and provides a barometer for a broad spectrum of amenities attractive to adults, especially those without children. …

    Eleven of the top 15 high-tech metropolitan areas also appear in the top 15 of the gay index. The five metro areas with the highest concentration of gay residents — San Francisco, Washington, Austin, Atlanta, and San Diego — are all among the nation's top 15 high-tech areas. …

    The gay index is positively and significantly associated with the ability of a region both to attract talent and to generate high-tech industry.

    And just in case you thought San Francisco -- known for Silicon Valley and the Castro -- was unfairly weighting the data, the "gay index" was even more closely associated with high-tech success without S.F. included. Studies like this are part of what convinced the city of Cincinnati to rescind its anti-gay ordinance a few years back. And if this follows other trends, Memphis will clue in sometime before the turn of the next century…



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    1. Chuck on Dec 26, 2008 4:31:59 PM:

      An excellent and very perceptive commentary, Chris.

      Richard Florida, the author of The Flight of the creative Class, makes the very same argument in his book, except that the "Great Gay Migration" is not limited to just gay people or to simply moving to a larger and more progressive city. Huge numbers of heterosexuals are also making the migration to progressive countries like Canada, Australia and Asian countries.

      Here is yet another article that warns about the loss of creativity that is further weakening our technological and financial leadership in the world.


      Our leadership (if one could call it that), would do well to take note of this phenomenon that threatens to reduce America to a Third World country, if this hemorrhaging of intelligence and creativity is not quickly stopped and reversed.

    1. Lucrece on Dec 26, 2008 5:35:20 PM:

      I wonder, is the presence of gay really contributing to gentrification, to development? Or are these correlations simply the consequence of gay individuals being more mobile than their heterosexual counterparts (many do not get along with family; many do not have children; many have less obligations in general, and thus can spend more time on external projects)?

    1. Chuck on Dec 26, 2008 6:52:12 PM:

      Lucrece, every one of the reasons you gave, are good reasons to "Get out of Dodge." lol

      Seriously, however, the reasons you gave could well be contributing factors to the migration of gays.

      If you would be abundant, then you must be where the abundancy is. - Werner Erhard

    1. Tim on Dec 26, 2008 7:06:22 PM:

      Chris, in the back of mind, I thought about this correlation but did not have any empirical data to back it up. Thanks for providing it.

      Take a look at thriving cities with proportionally significant gay populations, and not just large metropolitan areas, to see how formerly shuttered buildings and moribund downtowns can be rejuvenated. Over the summer, my partner and I were in Asheville, NC, and saw a thriving, vibrant city, one with an active gay community. Having been to Austin, I can say the same is true there, too.

      Chuck makes an interesting point. The U.S. continues to brag that our intellectual capital is what sets us apart from the competition in the global economy. However, rather than encouraging the brain power and personal drive that results in innovation, the U.S. government, and some states and municipalities, have passed draconian laws or refused to change regulations meant to harm gays and lesbians with the express desire to drive "them" out. Be careful, our country and those states and communities may get what they wished for.

      This is what happens when a majority population tries to portray those not like them as "the other." This also happens when the difference is based on nationality, immigration status, or religion.

      For years, Canada has been much more accommodating to immigrants and much more progressive on the issue of marriage equality. I just wish they at least had a warm territory somewhere. I hate the cold weather! :)

    1. Michael Schmidt on Dec 27, 2008 4:04:46 PM:

      Chris, I have no doubt that many of us throughout challenged regions find similar out comes. I know in many minds, the Sago Mine incident which high lighted some of WV's most economically challenged, at one time there was truly a Gay culture here in the Capital City of Charleston.

      When I came out in the early 1980's, cock tail parties, the a crowd, b crowd and everyone crowd was present. Our bars saw 500 - 700 on a Saturday night. Now its a ghost town and as generations of parents pass on and fewer and fewer return for our holidays, its apparent how leaveing to find better opportunites is the standard. The few of us who stay find the lack of societal and gay culture almost smothering. Those up and coming work for education to spring out of state and us older folks cursed buy knowing what was once here suffer.

      I find myself thinking of very UNHEALTHY exclusive thoughts...since the loud voices of many of these areas unwelcoming fundamentalists dominated media let us know..they could do with out us.. where is our Island. I often wonder.. with out us and MORE IMPORTANTLY our money.. where would this country be.

      I am glad to hear in Memphis the bars swelled...here in contrast..they sat like ghost taverns.. and us locals saying where has everyone gone!

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