June July 2016
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Queerest Cities in America 2015

THE EQUATION:
Cities of 100,00 population or more are considered. The raw score is divided by the population to provide a ranking based on a per capita LGBT quotient.
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15. Carlsbad, Calif. Above: Beach at Carlsbad
[ pop. 110,972 ]
The seaside city of Carlsbad offers more to its residents and visitors than idyllic temperatures and Legoland. Carlsbad is the location of Congregation B’nai Tikvah, an LGBT-friendly synagogue. It is also home to openly lesbian surfer Cori Schumacher, who enjoys the ocean along with other queer surfers. (The recent documentary Out in the Lineup explores this culture.) Shumacher also began the Carlsbad-based Inspire Initiative, a nonprofit that works to empower women through surfing and to encourage diversity and acceptance in the surfing world.  

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14. Washington, D.C.  Above: Dignity USA group walking in Capital Pride 2014
[ pop. 646,449 ]
The District is a beacon of inclusiveness and activism, with multiple groups that work toward more LGBT-inclusive religious communities, such as three Jewish LGBT organizations, Dignity USA, Queer For Christ, and the Light of Reformation, a Muslims for Progressive Values Unity Mosque. The city is also home to a thriving theater scene that hosts touring shows like The Book of Mormon, Once, and Legally Blonde, as well as Capital Fringe, the world-renowned independent theater festival. The city’s strong nondiscrimination laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

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13. Cambridge, Mass. Above: Harvard Square
[ pop. 107,289 ]
Cambridge, primarily known as the location of Harvard University, has quickly become an epicenter of progressive cool. The city made headlines as the home of America’s first black, openly lesbian mayor, E. Denise Simmons, in 2008. It was also the first city to give a stipend to partnered public employees to offset the federal tax on health benefits for same-sex spouses. Not surprisingly, the city also prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity. LGBT-friendly and gay-owned businesses abound and are organized in a directory by Boston’s Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

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12. Boise, Idaho Above: Boise train depot
[ pop. 214,237 ]
Boise has come a long way since the infamous Boise homosexuality scandal (a ripple of the widespread Lavender Scare). It now makes our list because of its theater scene that brings in big-name Broadway shows like The Book of Mormon, Jersey Boys, and Mamma Mia!, as well as its LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance that was passed in 2012. Boise is also home to the Idaho Gay Rodeo Association, a chapter of the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA.com), and the active Boise Pridefest, which recently sponsored a fund-raising concert tour across Idaho.

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11. Spokane, Wash. Above: Centennial Trail
[ pop. 210,721 ]
Spokane residents only need to tune their radio to Queer Sounds on 92.3 FM (KYRS.org) on Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. to get an idea of just how queer their city is: The show promotes only LGBT artists. The city, which benefits from Washington’s trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law, is also home to an Eastern Washington University campus that welcomes the public to events like Gender Awareness Week. Groups that represent a small chunk of the queer goings-on here include the Pink Pistols, a book group at the Inland Northwest LGBT Center, a gay bowling league, and events like the Spokane LGBTQ Film Festival (SpokaneFilmFest.org) and OutSpokane (OutSpokane.com), which hosts an annual pride celebration.

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10. Boulder, Colo.  Above: The view of Boulder from the Flatirons Boulder, Colo.
[ pop. 103,166 ]
Boulder is a lefty oasis that attracts like-minded free spirits benefiting from Colorado’s trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law enacted in 2008. Boulder made headlines this year when the county clerk issued marriage licenses to over 200 same-sex couples before marriage equality became legal. OutBoulder (OutBoulder.org) has been connecting the LGBT community since 1994 by organizing listings for the dozens of groups and events, including the Gay Men’s Knitting Group, Trans Game Night, Old Lesbians Organizing for Change, and the Gender Non-Conforming Support Group.

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9. Davenport, Iowa Above: The Davenport Sky Bridge
[ pop. 102,157 ]
Located on the mighty Mississippi River, Davenport is the largest of the Quad Cities. Middle America welcomes LGBT people here with a trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law. Outstanding cultural institutions like the Figge Art Museum (FiggeArtMuseum.org), events like Quad City Pride (QCPride.org), and the Progressive Restaurant Walk, as well as nightlife options like Mary’s On 2nd  (832 W. 2nd St.), entertain locals and attract visitors from neighboring big cities like Chicago and Des Moines.

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8. Tacoma, Wash. Above: Museum of Glass
[ pop. 203,446 ]
Located between the gay heavyweights of Seattle and Portland, Tacoma ranks high again this year thanks to the statewide trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law and strong sense of LGBT community (including the Pink Pistols). Residents take advantage and appreciate the surrounding Pacific Northwest environment — last year the city held an Earth Gay event, and groups like OutVentures (OutVentures.org) lead camping and hiking excursions throughout the year. At night, The Mix (TheMixTacoma.com) is the go-to neighborhood bar.

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7. Erie, Pa. Above: Presque Isle lighthouse
[ pop. 100,671 ]
This old manufacturing city in northwestern Pennsylvania has an LGBT edge thanks to its trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance, LGBT-friendly restaurants and bars, and strong sense of acceptance. The community stays in-the-know with Erie Gay News (ErieGayNews.com), where since 1992 residents and visitors have been able to find events throughout the month, such as the Lake Erie Gala sponsored by the Erie Sisters Transgender Support Group. During the day, locals explore the surrounding nature, and at night they can be found enjoying local establishments like Lone Shark Seafood (LoneSharkSeafood.com) or The Zone Dance Club (TheZoneDanceClub.com).

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Correction: This entry previously described Erie as being in the northeastern Pennsylvania.

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6. Salt Lake City, Utah Above: Downtown Salt Lake City
[ pop. 191,180 ]
“Sal Tlay Ka Siti, the most perfect place on Earth,” Nabulungi satirically sings in The Book of Mormon, but with gay marriage, a stream of hip establishments, gay organizations (including a Pink Pistols chapter), and an ever-growing liberalism, Salt Lake City is quickly becoming a queer enclave in otherwise solidly red Utah. The gay community was once centralized in the Mountain West neighborhood, which is home to the Utah Pride Center (UtahPrideCenter.com). Now the community can also be found in, but isn’t limited to, the Sugar House and the Avenues neighborhoods. Salt Lake City has a gay monthly rag (GaySaltLake.com), the LGBT film festival Damn These Heels (UtahFilmCenter.org), and a queer thrift store (YourThriftAlternative.org). Nabulungi may have been on to something.

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5. Madison, Wis. Above: State Street in Madison
[ pop. 243,344 ]
Madison residents aren’t only cheesehead-wearing football fans. Lesbian comic Tig Notaro’s show, The Book of Mormon, and Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike are just some of the events happening at the Overture Center for the Arts (OvertureCenter.org). The large LGBT population, enjoying a trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance and the benefits of marriage equality, also has a range of watering holes — from the uber-dancey Plan B (PlanBMadison.com) to the divey Shamrock (117 W. Main St.). Multiple organizations such as a chapter of Pink Pistols and a line-dancing group, Dairyland Cowboys and Cowgirls (DCandC.org), establish a stronger sense of community in this Midwestern capital. 

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4. Lansing, Mich. Above: Zaha Hadid-designed Broad Art Museum
[ pop. 113,972 ]
You can’t walk down the streets of Lansing without recognizing that this capital is a college town. And the well-educated, left-leaning city (denying Michigan’s own Mitt Romney of his White House goals in 2012) protects its LGBT citizens with a nondiscrimination ordinance. Each year, LGBT organizations from throughout Michigan, including the Pink Pistols gun club, convene at the capitol for Michigan Pride (MichiganPride.org) to celebrate the state’s achievements and unite for a better future.

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3. West Palm Beach, Fla. Above: Mounts Botanical Garden
[ pop. 102,436 ]
A new injection of cool trendsetters (including Jonathan Adler and his partner, Simon Doonan) into Palm Beach has spilled over to neighboring West Palm Beach. The five-minute drive across the bridge makes a big difference to LGBT people; West Palm Beach has a trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. Residents and visitors take advantage of the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, home of the Miami City Ballet, the Palm Beach Opera, and touring Broadway shows like The Book of Mormon. Denizens come together at trendy restaurants, such as the gay-couple-owned Table 26 and sing karaoke on Sundays at neighborhood spot Rooster’s.

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2. Atlanta, Ga. Above: The Center for Civil and Human Rights
[ pop. 447,841 ]
Five gay Jewish organizations, a Muslims for Progressive Values Unity Mosque, a Black and White Men Together group, a massive support system for people living with HIV/AIDS, a Gay Fathers of Atlanta club and recreational groups like two LGBT choirs and a gay gun club help form a diverse and vibrant queer community in Atlanta. While enjoying strong nondiscrimination laws that protect against sexuality and gender identity, queer residents can attend world-class theater like Wicked and take on the night in energetic LGBT-friendly enclaves like Ansley Mall, Cheshire Bridge Road, and West Midtown.

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1. Dayton, Ohio Above: Deeds Carillon in Carillon Historical Park; Inset from top: Schuster Performing Arts Center, Montana McDaniels at Club Masque, Club Masque “Boys in Bubbles” party [ pop. 143,355 ]
Dayton’s thriving cultural scene includes blockbuster theater productions like The Book of Mormon and Wicked and a world-renowned orchestra and ballet (DaytonPerformingArts.org) — not to mention the quainter appeal of the Dayton Playhouse (TheDaytonPlayhouse.com). A transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance and a surprisingly exciting LGBT nightlife scene — multilevel Club Masque (ClubMasque.com) is a highlight — also help shine queer life into this Rust Belt city. Gays and lesbians are drawn to the little-big-city feel and the natural attractions of the Miami River Valley, guided by the LGBT outdoor recreation group Out and About Dayton. With its rich history (the Wright brothers lived here!), Dayton is high on our radar.

And in times of crisis, the people of Dayton come together, as in the case of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who recently committed suicide in the nearby town of Kings Mills. A vigil in her memory is being held January 17 at the Eternal Joy Metropolitan Community Church.

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Honorable Mentions
 
16 Costa Mesa, Calif.
 
17 Columbia, Mo.
 
18 Peoria, Ill.
 
19 Springfield, Ill.
 
20 Ann Arbor, Mich. 
 
21 Allentown, Pa.
 
22 Gainesville, Fla.
 
23 Orlando, Fla.
 
24 Cedar Rapids, Iowa
 
25 Buffalo, N.Y.

 

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