White gay men are not the culprits gentrifying Harlem

Cat Lady Sarah Dubinsky

Rev Irene MonroeIn New York City, building 1644 on Park Avenue is gone. So, too, is building 1646. On March 12th witnesses and residents of the area all reported hearing an explosion before the buildings leveled leaving plumes of dust where they once stood. Tremors from the fiery blast were felt more than a mile away. The night before the conflagration the smell of gas was detectable.

These two buildings, like the many surrounding ones, housed NYC’s poor and low-income families on 116th Street in an enclave renownedly known as Spanish Harlem.

News spun of a possible terrorist attack. But the story had no legs. And life-long Harlem residents knew better.

With landlords refusing to repair their buildings and blatantly violating building codes -especially of rent control buildings- news of a possible terrorist attack or accidental explosion divert attention of any suspicion of arson as a tactic to expedite gentrification goals. And now Park Avenue even at 115th and 116th Streets is prime real estate in a shifting landscape brought on by gentrification.

In expressing his outrage that so many Harlemites felt, Keith Boykin, a renowned African American gay activist, tweeted, “This is the 3rd building collapse in Harlem in the past 5 years.”

In the past five 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.

“Obama has released the homo demons on the black man. 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 as to why on the church’s online video.

“Black woman let me say something to you: you have a very hard time competing against a white homosexual male. 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… “

Raymond Madson of New Mexico corroborates with Rev. Manning about gays being the crux of the problem, and shared his sinister thoughts with me in an email on how to resolve the matter.

“It’s about time someone spoke to the bad effect “gays” are having on housing, commerce, culture and all the other facets of American Society. “Save Harlem. Kill the Gays.” Or at least relegate them to their own ghettos and don’t let them out.”

If Manning and Madson were merely lone opponents on gentrification whose homophobic expressions were perceived as on the lunatic fringe they could then simply be dismissed. But their public diatribes are what many are not expressing but sadly are also harboring.

For example, let’s not forget the murder of Islan Nettles. In the pre-dawn hours of a Saturday in August, Islan Nettles, 21, was strolling and lollygagging with a group of her sister-friends on Frederick Douglass Boulevard between 147th and 148th Streets in Harlem. When she and the girls were recognized as transgender women, Paris Wilson, 20, began spewing homophobic epithets. Enraged by the sight of the women, Wilson crossed the street to where the women were and savagely pummeled Nettles, resulting in her death, because he’d allegedly been teased for flirting with a transgender woman.

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 businesses and real estate interests 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.

For example, in February I was on the HuffPo Live show “Why We Still Need Gayborhoods.” Also on the show was Janice Madden, a Professor of Regional Science, Sociology, Urban Studies, and Real Estate at UPenn, 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 “close to or have easy access to the downtown and had older housing.”

But not every African American and Latino who oppose gentrification in his or her neighborhoods blame white gay men. Filmmaker Spike Lee’s beef with gentrification in black and brown enclaves throughout NYC is the permanent dislocation not only of a people but also of the inimitable culture and lifestyle they created.

Truth be told, Harlem is not only being gentrified by the supposedly demographic group Rev. Manning labels “white homo.” African American professionals -straight and LGBTQ- are moving in, too.

“I’ve seen empty lots get filled with condos. I was fortunate to purchase one,” Media professional Barion Grant told The Root. “I’m a college-educated person from New Jersey who has moved to this community, so I’m fine with identifying myself as a gentrifier. But at the same time I’m re-investing in this community, mostly via my church, First Corinthian Baptist Church.”

Buildings 1644 and 1646 on Park Avenue are now empty lots. A luxury condo, or upscale restaurant, or boutique shops, or hotels or B&Bs will be placed there. The people who once resided in those buildings have been relocated to what most likely will now be their new permanent address.

Since the fire, however, Rev. Manning has taken down his invective sign to replace it with another. In expanding his thoughts on who the actually culprits are responsible for gentrification going on in Harlem he no longer blames white gay men only.

And it’s reflected in the new towering sign outside the church that now reads: “Jesus Would Stone Homos. Stoning Is Still The Law.”

Rev Irene MonroeAuthor Rev. Irene Monroe can be reached via email at revimonroe@me.com.

Irene Monroe
Rev. Irene Monroe is a nationally renowned African-American lesbian activist, scholar, and public theologian. Her writings have appeared in the New England Blade, The Advocate, The Bilerico Project, The Witness, and Black Commentator.