U.S. census data over the past three decades showed a decline in the density of same-sex couples in Chelsea and Greenwich Village in New York City, Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., West Hollywood in Los Angeles County and the Castro, which he called “America’s premier gay neighborhood.”

“Gay men are moving out of gay neighborhoods,” he said. “They are settling in other urban neighborhoods and close-in suburbs. And non-L.G.B.T.Q. people are moving in and knocking down the concentration in gay neighborhoods.”

Dr. Hess said part of this was generational. The men and women who established these neighborhoods “wanted to segregate and be surrounded by gay people,” he said. “In contrast, when you ask young people today what they want, they would prefer an inclusive coffee shop. They don’t want anyone to feel unwelcome.”

Some gay leaders argued that the instinct to live in communities of like-minded people remained a powerful draw and that there would always be some version of a gayborhood, though perhaps not as concentrated and powerful.

“I say this as a gay man: It’s nice to live in a community where there are a lot of other queer people there, where I can go out and walk on the street to a gay bar,” said Scott Wiener, a California state senator who lives in the Castro. “Where I can walk two blocks to get an H.I.V. and S.T.D. test at a clinic that won’t judge me.”

“We have to be very intentional of protecting these neighborhoods — and keeping them queer,” he said. “With that said, I also believe that the Castro is very strong and has very deep L.G.B.T.Q. roots.”

These changes follow a comparable pattern in American history: Immigrants establish ethnic neighborhoods to escape discrimination and build community ties, but those enclaves lose their distinction and energy as subsequent generations move to suburbs that have become more welcoming

In this case, it is also a story of gentrification, economic cycles and social change. Gay men and women have moved into relatively downtrodden neighborhoods, like the Castro and Montrose, fixing them up. Once housing costs become too high, residents and younger generations have relocated to another downtrodden neighborhood.

In New York City, that has meant a shift from Greenwich Village to Chelsea to Hell’s Kitchen; in the Los Angeles area, a migration from West Hollywood to neighborhoods like Silver Lake. But the relocations this time have been more far-flung.

“I know a lot of new gay dads who are living in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill,” two neighborhoods in Brooklyn, said Corey Johnson, a former speaker of the New York City Council who is gay and lives in Greenwich Village. “They are not traditional gay neighborhoods. Schools are better. It’s more affordable. And you have more space.”

Mr. Johnson argued this had in fact resulted in an increase of openly gay and lesbian members of the City Council. But other L.G.B.T.Q. leaders said there was a real danger in this kind of diaspora.

“I think it’s important that we have spaces where we walk around, hold hands and maybe share a brief kiss and not be too worried,” said Tina Aguirre, the manager of the Castro L.G.B.T.Q. Cultural District. “We need to live in queer neighborhoods. It’s just not as pressing as it was in the ’80s and ’90s.”

On a beautiful afternoon in June, gay rainbow flags were fluttering up and down Castro Street as Mr. Jones walked by reminders of an earlier era. The Castro Theater, a landmark backdrop for parades and protests over decades, is reopening after a long closure forced by Covid-19. Men, mostly, were drinking in bars, and some of the sex shops were open. At one point, a completely naked man walked nonchalantly past on the sidewalk.

“I guess he’s trying to keep the neighborhood gay, too,” Mr. Jones said.

Mr. Jones paused by the storefront where Mr. Milk had a camera shop. In 1979, Mr. Jones lived two houses away and watched from his apartment when the police moved in on protesters on Castro Street following the lenient verdicts handed down to Dan White, a former supervisor, for the assassinations of Mr. Milk and George Moscone, the San Francisco mayor. “The night of the White Night riots, when the police counterattacked, we were out on the fire escape up there just watching the chaos,” Mr. Jones said.

Mr. Milk, evicted from his Castro Street storefront, had later moved his camera shop over Market Street. That was the space Mr. Jones used for the AIDS quilt project. It is today a restaurant.

Mr. Jones is not happy about leaving this corner of San Francisco, but said he had little choice. He had lived in his Castro apartment for 11 years before his landlord asserted that he forfeited his rent control protections by living in Sonoma County, effectively forcing him out by more than doubling his rent. He said he liked having the getaway of his home in Guerneville, but had considered himself a city person from the day he arrived here as a teenager from Phoenix.

“Everything good in my life has come out of this neighborhood,” he said.

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