Happy and gay in Jackson Heights

When gay couples commit to a life partner and choose to bring a wee one into the world, they then face the toughest decision of all: where should they live?

The answer is not simple. Gay couples need to determine what neighborhoods combine good schools, affordable rents, an easy commute, and a vibrant community in a kid-friendly — and queer-friendly — environment.

Beset by the high rents of Chelsea and exasperated by the leagues of triple-wide strollers in Park Slope, many of the city’s gay parents find themselves turning to Queens and Jackson Heights.

Known for Bollywood DVDs and tandoori chicken, Jackson Heights has grown over the years into a haven for young families, and its all-inclusive attitude means gay parents can raise their children in peace. Beatrice and Gretchen moved there in October 2008 with their two-month-old son, Beckett.

“I’ve lived in New York for 20 years, and this is the best quality of life I’ve had,” says Gretchen. Between the two of them, they have lived in Washington Heights, the Upper East Side, and Park Slope — the last, “before it was chic and expensive.”

All were adequate, but when they found out they were expecting their first child, they looked at their shared Washington Heights apartment with new eyes and knew a move was imminent.

“We were originally thinking we wouldn’t move,” says Beatrice. “We liked that the park was nearby, plus we had a doorman and it was inexpensive. But once we decided to start a family, we knew we could no longer live in our one-bedroom.”

The couple first heard about Jackson Heights from a magazine at a fertility clinic. Even though the area touted itself as being family-friendly, Beatrice and Gretchen still thought they would explore other locales.

This didn’t last long.

On their first trip to Jackson Heights, they noticed the commute from 50th Street in Manhattan to Queens’ Roosevelt Avenue Station took only 17 minutes. By contrast, “the A train was such an ordeal when we were living in Washington Heights,” says Beatrice.

The hits kept coming: public schools were famously good, apartments were, of course, generally much larger than in Manhattan, and many apartment buildings had their own gardens for the tenants’ private use – and, Beatrice adds, they’re “completely enclosed, which makes you feel safe.”

Beatrice and Gretchen also realized that their dining options had greatly expanded once they moved to their new home.

“I think that’s the reaction we get the most when we tell people we live in Jackson Heights — ‘Oooh, you have great restaurants out there!’” says Gretchen.

The varieties of cuisine available are numerous — Indian, Colombian, Thai, Vietnamese, Latin American — but the couple quickly learned was how every restaurant and business seemed to welcome children.

“It’s a very kid-friendly neighborhood,” explains Gretchen. “People like kids here. On Halloween, they close off 37th Avenue, set up barricades, and turn on the floodlights. Then, all the kids walk up and down the street in their costumes, and all the stores give them candy.”

More and more, Beatrice and Gretchen noticed this welcoming attitude from all types of people, for all types of people.

“In our building, we have two Irish families. There are also Italian, Ecuadorian, Polish, French, and Chinese residents. We’re the only gay couple in the building, but the people in our building could not have been more excited about the baby. They all bought us baby presents,” says Gretchen.

Jackson Heights may not be as gay-centric as other parts of New York, it is very much a place where differences are respected and parents from all walks of life can feel comfortable.

“When we first moved to the neighborhood,” says Gretchen, “I went into a Starbucks and started talking to the girl behind the counter. I asked if she was familiar with the neighborhood, and she said yes. Then I asked if it was a gay-friendly place, and she said ‘Definitely.’ It turned out she was gay too.”

Jackson Heights isn’t perfect. There aren’t any parks, though there are a few playgrounds. Parking is a pain, but it’s not terribly different from anywhere else in New York.

“Cops are really die-hard ticketers,” warns Gretchen. She also cites the lack of a real gym. “There’s no New York Sports Club or anything like that.” But she admits that these are small prices to pay for a place that is “almost like a small town.”

Beatrice is more succinct: “It’s the anti-Manhattan.”