Safe Space

Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence

Safe Space

Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe

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Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: 23 photographs, 2 maps Published: November 2013

American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Sociology > Urban Studies

Winner, 2014 Lambda Literary Award in LGBT Studies

Since the 1970s, a key goal of lesbian and gay activists has been protection against street violence, especially in gay neighborhoods. During the same time, policymakers and private developers declared the containment of urban violence to be a top priority. In this important book, Christina B. Hanhardt examines how LGBT calls for "safe space" have been shaped by broader public safety initiatives that have sought solutions in policing and privatization and have had devastating effects along race and class lines.

Drawing on extensive archival and ethnographic research in New York City and San Francisco, Hanhardt traces the entwined histories of LGBT activism, urban development, and U.S. policy in relation to poverty and crime over the past fifty years. She highlights the formation of a mainstream LGBT movement, as well as the very different trajectories followed by radical LGBT and queer grassroots organizations. Placing LGBT activism in the context of shifting liberal and neoliberal policies, Safe Space is a groundbreaking exploration of the contradictory legacies of the LGBT struggle for safety in the city.


“This is a deep and intriguing study of what neighborhood and safety have meant—and seemed to mean—to different facets of the gay community at different times in its development in the period following WWII. . . . While obviously written for an academic audience, Safe Space will be accessible to most readers, and offers some insights into ways that gay spaces may not have been quite what we thought they were.”
— Kel Munger, Lit/Rant

“A commendable revision of the LGBT story in America. . . . A dramatic picture of a febrile movement that had a difficult relationship with its competitors. The book further excels by demonstrating this history through the experiences of LGBT people of color, transgender individuals, and immigrants. This rich analysis serves as a useful primer on why gay neighborhoods are at the epicenter of discussions about gentrification.” — Publishers Weekly

“The book’s extensive coverage of LGBT activism in the latter half of the 20th century illustrates how contemporary socio-legal gains were made possible by resistance-fuelled, political organising. What began as a gay backlash to victimisation soon became a platform for resistance to state violence. . . . Overall, this is a fascinating insight into lesser-known aspects of America’s gay liberation movement.” — Marian Duggan, Times Higher Education

"Hanhardt challenges commonly accepted narratives about safe streets, LGBT identity, and intersections of visibility and vulnerability. . . . Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above." — A. B. Audant, Choice

"Hanhardt's very specific archiving of neighborhood activism and antiviolence organization in San Francisco and New York is important for helping to contextualize, explain, critique, and challenge the elitist, white-supremacist, homonormative, and unsafe space crafted by the funding concepts, organizational strategies, and campaign discourses of the contemporary LGBT movement." — Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Make/Shift

"Recommended both for its astute and never simplified analyses of social movements as well as its cautionarily optimistic political vision, Christina B. Hanhardt’s Safe Space is a necessary and welcome contribution to the field of LGBT and Queer Studies." — Rachel F. Corbman, Sociological Review

“Scholars and academics studying urban spaces, as well as grassroots activists within and outside the LGBT community, should take note of Hanhardt’s work. Her discussion of the emergence of LGBT activist claims to the protection of property and of self and the ways these protections became viewed as natural rights expected in American urban spaces helps illuminate not only specific transformations within urbanized LGBT populations in New York and San Francisco, but broader divisions which formed in liberal activist groups after the 1960s.” — Geoffrey West, Planning Perspectives

“Against the fractured landscape of cities characterized by uneven development, Safe Space is a clarion call for radicals to recognize the common deterrents facing all those working for more just cities. . . . Safe Space recognizes that claiming the city as an equitable space for all will require a broader understanding of identity, its use as a tool for development, and its latent potential as a site of resistance.” — Eric Peterson, Jacobin

“The multiple narratives presented in Safe Space and the vigour with which the author conveys the gains and losses made during this journey offer an account of America’s LGBT history rarely found in other works.” — Kevin Guyan, Urban History

“[T]his book will introduce students and scholars to grassroots activists who worked to create safe spaces for all people to live and love. As Hanhardt concludes, these activists were at their best  when they struggled not just for safety, but also for freedom and justice.” — Steve Estes, History: Reviews of New Books

“Hanhardt’s voice is that of an activist saddened, sometimes enraged, by how the potential for both equality and diversity was squandered by a middle-class white gay movement. Her book, then, is itself a moral intervention, one that combines social research and utopian politics.” — Idoo Tavory, Public Books

Safe Space asks so many pertinent questions, and provides such a satisfying analysis of the issues involved, that the book is simply a joy. If it leaves answers open, that is because the questions need to be answered in the form not of a book, but of political practice – and that’s up to us.” — Colin Wilson, Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century

Safe Space makes a major contribution to the histories of urban sexual communities and activism. . . . Safe Space does what path-breaking political history ought to do: bring underrepresented groups into stories about policymaking that we think we know well and ask larger questions about the forms of citizenship policy promotes and obscures.” — Claire Potter, Journal of the History of Sexuality

Safe Space is a richly researched examination of activist organizations and less-organized activist efforts on behalf of LGBT rights in San Francisco and New York over the last fifty years. Hanhardt draws on archival materials as well as interviews and participant observation to provide a view that is close to the ground, attentive to the trees, even sometimes the weeds, without losing view of the forest.” — Miranda Joseph, GLQ

“Because of its intersectionality, a number of audiences might find the text interesting and valuable, including urban historians, urban geographers, feminist and queer scholars, social movement theorists and LGBTQ activists. Additionally, the themes in Hanhardt’s book resonate with current discussions in communities across the USA about how normative ideologies of safety and violence tend to reinforce institutionalised inequities and prejudices.” — Elsa Noterman and Heather Rosenfeld, Urban Studies

Safe Space is impressive in its research and scope. . . . Safe Space is indispensable reading for anyone interested in the intersections of LGBT history, critical race and sexuality studies, and urban studies.” — Daniel W. Rivers, Journal of American History

“There is much to appreciate here, especially how Hanhardt integrates urban studies, queer studies, criminology, stratification, and even the sociology of knowledge as she reflects on the role of empirical evidence in the legitimation of injury. This is interdisciplinarity at its best, and Christina Hanhardt unearths new archival evidence that will change the way we think about the history of gay neighborhoods and the politics of violence.”  — Amin Ghaziani, Contemporary Sociology

"Safe Space develops a powerful critique of neoliberal obfuscation in which radical gay moments of the past became convenient covers for capital accumulation." — Kevin J. Mumford, American Historical Review

"Hanhardt’s Safe Space offers an activist historiography of urban redevelopment and displacement, where biopolitical shifts have carved the social and physical landscape of San Francisco and New York City from the 1960s to the present.... She skillfully manages a dance of scale—telling both a macro history of changing postwar American liberalism and the micro histories of the ways it all came to remake daily life." — Eric A. Stanley, QED

"Scholars and advanced students of lgbt history will gain much from reading this book, which extends more familiar stories about East and West Coast LGBT political organizing, identity formation, and group consciousness into the early twenty-first century. It should also find a wide readership among readers interested in urban history, neoliberalism, and anticrime campaigns." — Rebecca L. Davis, Canadian Journal of History

"Geographers everywhere should take heed and would do well to read this book. Drawing upon Hanhardt’s insightful text will prove an exciting way to incorporate geographies of sexuality into research and teaching, particularly through the lens of neighborhood change." — Jen Jack Gieseking, Gender, Place & Culture

"A wonderful book that bursts through the usual boundaries of gay history. Christina B. Hanhardt weaves class, race, and sexuality tightly together in her urban history of the last fifty years and, in doing so, succeeds in upsetting much of the conventional wisdom about the gay movement and gay politics. Her analysis implicitly calls for the revival of a multi–issue, intersectional queer politics that challenges injustice of every sort and sees them all as linked." — John D'Emilio, author of The World Turned: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and Culture

"Safe Space is a pathbreaking book for the interdisciplinary fields of queer studies and American studies. Offering a trenchant account of the stakes of gay (and sometimes lesbian) claims to urban geographies, this carefully researched history unsettles many of the heroic assumptions driving the current politics of sexual identity in the U.S. It will make a crucial intervention in a number of scholarly and activist debates." — Siobhan B. Somerville, author of Queering the Color Line: Race and the Invention of Homosexuality in American Culture

"Christina B. Hanhardt's brilliant book should be required reading for all those interested in how the LGBT movement's politics have come to reinforce racialized governance logics and control of economically and socially marginal populations." — Urvashi Vaid, author of Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Christina B. Hanhardt is Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. "The White Ghetto": Sexual Deviancy, Police Accountability, and the 1960s War on Poverty 35

2. Butterflies, Whistles, and Fists: Safe Streets Patrols and Militant Gay Liberalism in the 1970s 81

3. "Count the Contradictions": Challenges to Gay Gentrification at the Start of the Reagan Era 117

4. Visibility and Victimization: Hate Crime Laws and the Geography of Punishment, 1980s and 1990s 155

5. "Canaries of the Creative Age": Queer Critiques of Risk and Real Estate in the Twenty-First Century 185

Conclusion 221

Epilogue 227

Appendix: Neighborhood Maps of New York and San Francisco 231

Notes 233

Bibliography 315

Index 335

Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Honorable Mention, 2014 John Hope Franklin Book Prize (presented by the American Studies Association)

Honorable Mention, 2014 Lora Romero First Book Prize (presented by the American Studies Association)

Winner, 2014 Lambda Literary Award in LGBT Studies

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5470-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5457-4
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