Aug Sept 2016
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Is Buffalo Really the Most Homophobic City in America?

BUFFALO ON FIRE

As a proud Buffalo, N.Y., native, I was surprised when Abodo, a website that helps people find apartments, ranked my hometown as the most homophobic city in the nation. Buffalo isn’t an accepting place for LGBT folks, based on the tweeting habits of residents.

Could a liberal northern city on the cusp of urban resurgence really be the epicenter of homophobic beliefs? Not so fast.

Statistics and demographics are important components for accurate storytelling. However, providing context about the culture of Buffalo, in addition to other attributing factors that affect the gay people there, is better for telling Buffalo's story. So, in contrast to most Americans, who simply skim headlines and make outlandish, uninformed claims online, let’s take a critical look at the metrics of this study.

Between June 2014 and December 2015, Buffalonians sent 168 antigay tweets per 100,000 tweets, which included, “fag,” “faggot,” “homo,” “dyke,” “sodomite,” and “lesbo,” among other derogatory terms. This was the highest concentration in the nation for slurs of this nature, slightly edging out Arlington, Texas, and Riverside, Calif.

What does this revelation mean for the residents of western New York, who are consistently ranked as some of the friendliest people in the nation?

It’s important to note that only 23 percent of adults use Twitter, according to a 2014 survey from the Pew Research Center. While I am not making excuses for the tweets, the views of more than three-quarters of Buffalonians were not reflected.

I’d guess that those not represented were too busy revitalizing the city, consistently referred to as “the best designed city in the world” by urban planners and architects. Thanks for having our back, Frederick Law Olmsted. You give us some street cred — no pun.

Over the past 50 years, Buffalo has slowly transitioned from a rust-belt, blue-collar city to one with an economy based on financial services, technology, the arts, education, and the biomedical field. However, the suburbs of Erie County, typically, remain white and upper-middle class with limited diversity in regard to religion, sexuality, and political beliefs. I wonder if a majority of these antigay tweets came from folks residing outside the city?

The findings by Abodo also note some uncertainty regarding the context of the tweets: “Even traditionally liberal urban areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco show levels as high as 86.2 and 49.6 per 100,000 tweets, respectively. It’s uncertain how much this may reflect more neutral in-group reclamation and use of terms such as ‘fag,’ ‘dyke,’ and ‘lesbo.’” Note: I think it’s absolutely appalling when gays, blacks, and other minorities refer to themselves as slurs.

The Queen City — that would be Buffalo, ahem — also ranked eighth for anti-black tweets, with 52 mentions per 100,000 tweets. While very disturbing, that statistic was slightly less surprising. An analysis of the 2010 U.S. Census finds that the Buffalo-Niagara region ranks sixth on the list of most segregated metropolitan areas in the nation. The class and race divide in Buffalo is reflective of most areas, something that has become more evident to me as I relocated to diverse cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.

While the full study is just a small glimpse into “America’s Most PC and Prejudiced Places,” it does highlight that overall, our nation has some harsh words when tweeting about different races, ethnicities, genders, religions, and sexual orientations.

Growing up 10 miles east of downtown Buffalo in the town in Lancaster, I went to high school with around 2,200 students. Almost 100 percent were Caucasian. Living in the city for four years, it was a stark contrast: Buffalo is almost evenly split among whites and blacks, with a current population of just under 260,000 residents, including many immigrants.

While I’ve previously argued that American millennials are more racist than homophobic, Buffalo may prove to be a case study regarding the evolution of equality-minded folks who may naively believe that sticks and stones don’t break bones. Unfortunately, those young brains aren’t completely formed, and for some reason, they can’t comprehend that slurs and abuse are inappropriate. Rest in peace, Jamey Rodemeyer.

What’s scary, possibly due to the way millennials were raised with technology and social media, is that they apparently have no qualms about advocating for their oppressive beliefs in a public forum. Further, in a heinous trend utilized by bigots and social justice warriors alike, those in the digital space spread news first and ask questions later, which has dire consequences. Can’t you spare 30 seconds to Google?

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. We have millions of Americans who currently support a racist demagogue with no political experience for president, but I guess that’s the reality we face as a democratic, free society.

Although I don’t agree with blanket statements that scapegoat entire cities, one fact is clear: Buffalonians share homophobic and racist tweets, among other slurs. With that taken into account, I still like to showcase the Buffalo that inspired me as a youth.

While my youth in the suburbs was, in many ways, stifling and homogeneous (not homosexual, as I wished), moving to the city of Buffalo for college was one of the most important decisions of my life. It’s a cultural hub of art, creativity, activism, journalism, and music, with kind-hearted residents who actually know how to carry on a conversation and want to drive the human race forward.

Contrary to what Abodo says, my roots in Buffalo not only motivated me to be a writer and activist, they taught me there’s nothing really admirable about advocating for your own rights — we must stand up for each other.

JEFFREY HARTINGER
JEFFREY HARTINGER is a writer and lives in San Francisco. Visit his website or follow him @BuffaloGuyinSF.
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