Saturday, March 31, 2007

Fabulous Ferndale- now with extra gay!

My little adopted hometown has just been named to The Advocate's list of best places to live for gays & lesbians. This is the second time I've seen Ferndale on such a list. Ferndale has long been known as the gay enclave of metro Detroit. I never gave much thought to why, since every town here seemed gay-friendly to me.

I grew up in the Appalachian mountains where, at least in the eighties and nineties, being queer was something you acknowledged at your peril. I didn't know a soul who was openly gay and even closeted folks were not out of danger. In high school my first boyfriend and I were run off the road and beaten up by a pickup truck full of epithet-spewing football players. Business owners in my hometown received threats based on the mere suspicion they were gay.

Homophobia wasn't just rampant in east Tennessee, it was the default mode of thought. If such a thing as a gay community existed it was deep underground. In the gay & lesbian student group I helped found at my university, most attendees were afraid to give their real names. The only other place to meet queers was at MCC, held at at a Unitarian church way out in the boonies. Being agnostic meant keeping mum about my beliefs but I went anyway. I even made a few queer friends, which seemed like the impossible dream. There was one gay bar in a 150 mile radius.

The metro Detroit gay bar rag currently lists 32 gay clubs. There are Pridefests, gay bowling and softball leagues, and a GLBT rights foundation. Gay and lesbian couples strolling downtown holding hands are not an uncommon sight in Oakland county. Throughout the region, the differences from my hometown are so pronounced it's easy to forget Ferndale is still a special case.

Upon reflection there are a lot of things I take for granted. We have openly gay members of city council. Downtown there's a huge gay & lesbian community center, a gay bar and a gay bookstore. (The lesbian bookstore relocated.) Chosen Books, a gay bookstore and mainstay of Royal Oak, is relocating to new digs a few blocks from our house. There must be quite a high concentration of GLBT folks to support all those queer businesses.

Right now I don't want the word to get out so much. Downturn in the local economy precipitated a drastic drop in rents. Now a much larger 3 or 4 bedroom house can be had for the same rent as our tiny two bedroom bungalow. I'd hate to see a massive influx of outside GLBT folks before we get a chance to upgrade our living quarters.