Coming Soon To A Neighborhood Near You
SOUTH JERSEY GOES GAY IN A BIG WAY
Not long ago, being gay and wanting to be out and proud meant you lived in one of two places: downtown in the Spruce/Pine area, or in New Hope. It’s long been a tenet of real estate that gays are, by nature, urban pioneers, drawn to dilapidated but potential-filled cores of the city that they can buy cheap, fix up, and then enjoy. That is, until lovely couples pushing Burberry strollers come and kick them out.
But today, gays come out younger, have more money, and settle more quickly into long-term relationships that mirror (dare we say it?) marriage. That’s shifting the paradigm, and will continue to for the next decade. While there will always be a “gay market” for the electricity of life downtown, increasing numbers of gay couples are migrating over the Delaware to New Jersey, which in December capped its reputation as a gay-friendly blue state when the legislature passed a law granting gay couples civil unions — the last step before legalizing full gay marriage. (Currently, only Massachusetts allows gays to hitch.)
Exhibit A: Collingswood, which is not only riding the comeback of the Main Street wave, but has also solidified itself as a bulwark for today’s new gay family. In 2001, Chris Schwam and his partner, Steven Piacquadio, were looking to start a family (they’ve since had son Nicolas, now three, through a surrogate) and wanted a neighborhood that wasn’t just gay-friendly, but gay-family-friendly. Schwam, then a sales rep for the Philadelphia Gay News, noticed that a realty company in Collingswood was aggressively wooing the gay market, so he and Piacquadio went to check it out — and quickly bought.
Since then, the town has seen something of a rainbow avalanche, with housing prices to match: Schwam estimates the rundown house the couple bought has appreciated 75 percent, due almost entirely, he says, to the influx of gays. Schwam and some pals founded Out in the Neighborhood, a social group, with 12 members; today, their mailing list contains more than 400 names.
“I think you’re going to find that a lot of gay people not only want to come to New Jersey to start a family, but also want to feel like ‘I am legitimate,’” Schwam says. “I think [the law] opens up a whole new world for gays. We feel very accepted here.”
The trend is likely to spread throughout South Jersey, into towns with similar small-town feels and housing stocks — places like Burlington City and Bordentown, for example. There’s already a sizable gay enclave in Trenton’s too-cute-for-words Mill Hill section. A few of the bravest have even ventured into Camden, though no one thinks that city will look significantly better in the next decade.
By 2017, this will all result in what might be called the No Big Deal Syndrome: Just as blacks or Jews moving into a neighborhood now merits a shrug as opposed to hysteria (in most places, anyway), having “the gays” as neighbors will go from curiosity to mundane. It’s already started, Schwam says: “We have people all the time who come up to us and say, ‘Nicolas is getting so big!’ We have no idea who they are. But we’re no longer the token gay guys. We’re Nicolas’s parents.
“I know it sounds queer, but we seek the same things out of our town,” he adds. “The lighting of the Christmas tree, the egg hunt at Eastertime, the winter festivals, the farmer’s market in nice weather.” Schwam says, “In the end, we just wanted a nice, livable community. I mean, doesn’t everyone?”