By Mike Albo
Originally published on Advocate.com January 12 2011 5:00 AM ET
Check out the 2012 Gayest Cities in America list!
Gay issues have never been more of a lightning rod. Pop culture has never been so gleefully gay. And politicians have never been more gay-accepting — or at least gay-aware. But no matter how visible LGBT people seem to be, there are some folks who still think we all live in Chelsea, West Hollywood, and the Castro. But, of course, that’s far from the case.
Using a completely unscientific — but still strangely accurate — statistical equation, The Advocate has come up with a diverse and surprising list of where gay people are living, loving, voting, and creating communities. This list demonstrates that the homosexual agenda is spreading across the 50 states — from Washington, D.C., to Vancouver, Wash. — and especially, it seems, in the heartland. Like it or not, America, LGBT is more a part of the USA than ever before.
Click through the the following pages to see the top 15 gayest cities.
Miami has finally graduated from party town to something more sophisticated. Over the past 10 years, the city has zipped itself up, with Art Basel lending an air of international sophistication. The Design District has given the city its own promenade of chic stores and restaurants, and style boutiques like the Webster (TheWebsterMiami.com) and Alchemist (ShopAlchemist.com) have elevated fashion beyond the beach look. But coastal chic can’t be quashed here. Thankfully, there are still hordes of hot tanned and toned guys cruising South Beach.
14. Oakland, Calif.
Now that San Francisco’s too pricey for most of the middle class — including artists and the funky gays — Oakland has become the Brooklyn of the West Coast. In fact, according to an Urban Institute analysis of U.S. Census data, Oakland has the second highest concentration of same-sex couple households in the country as far as large metro areas go (behind San Francisco). Back in 2004, officials promoted economic development by proposing an official gay business district. Since then the city has welcomed a surge of gay nightlife, an annual Black LGBT Film Festival (BlackLGBTFilmFest.com), and even a nude yoga studio for men (SensoryEnergetics.com).
With its new Gay and Lesbian Center (GLBTColorado.org), its gay state senator, Pat Steadman, and its newly appointed gay supreme court justice, Monica Marquez, Denver exemplifies that equality is inevitable — and hard fought. It’s just been 19 years since Colorado voters approved the antigay Amendment 2 (ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996). Capitol Hill has long been this city’s gayborhood, where Charlie’s (CharliesDenver.com) county-western bar offers one of the best two-stepping gay scenes in the country. But now the gay influence is spreading outward, especially into the newly hip Highland area.
Who knew? Cleveland is about to become a major gay stomping ground. After much effort, the city won the bid to host the 2014 Gay Games (GayGames.com). “We see this as a springboard,” says Sharon Kobayashi, vice president of the tourism group Positively Cleveland. “We hope to make Cleveland a gay destination.” Things are changing quickly here: The city council added protections for transgender people to Cleveland’s antidiscrimination laws in housing and employment, and there’s a country line-dancing group, the Rainbow Wranglers (RainbowWranglers.org), which meets every Thursday at the Mean Bull.
11. San Francisco
Heaven will be much like San Francisco, according to Belize, a character in Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America. “Big city. Overgrown with weeds, but flowering weeds. On every corner a wrecking crew and something new and crooked going up catty corner to that ... and big dance palaces full of music and lights and racial impurity and gender confusion.” The description of San Francisco, gentrifying but still scrappy, suits the gay daddy of American cities. The gay-friendliest straight mayor in history, Gavin Newsom, is leaving office to become California’s lieutenant governor, possibly to be succeeded by the city’s first openly gay mayor. Possible candidates include out pols Bevan Dufty and Tom Ammiano.
10. St. Louis
This is the open-minded heart of the Midwest. Anheuser-Busch just made a cash donation to the gay-and-lesbian-centric Gateway Business Guild, and St. Louis artist and gallery owner Philip Hitchcock was named as Mr. Midwest Leather 2010. But it was last October’s First Annual Trans Family Picnic, put on by local advocacy group TransHaven (TransHaven.org) in Tower Grove Park, that most signals how St. Louis has become a welcoming city for queer folk.
Seattle has always had a creative, fun gay scene, making this cosmopolitan city the shining gay star of the Pacific Northwest. This is where the graceful and hip Ace Hotel chain got its start. It’s where The Stranger hosts its yearly homemade porn film festival. It’s the home of gay spokesman Dan Savage, founder of the It Gets Better Project, and the jaw-droppingly warped drag performer Dina Martina. Gay life here continues to be artsy, funky, lively and multifarious. And if you haven’t been to Pony (PonySeattle.com), the coolest (and perhaps the smallest) gay bar in the country, then you are missing out.
8. Washington, D.C.
In the past few years, D.C. has been loosening its tie and doffing the boring blue blazer. There are large, thumpy dance clubs like Town (TownDC.com), which hosts variety shows by LGBT troupe Crack (CrackDC.com), and monthly parties have cropped up all over the city, such as the alt-queer/pop/dance night Taint at DC9 (DCNine.com). Even the once-defunct, sleazy stripper bar Ziegfeld’s/Secrets (SecretsDC.com) reopened in a grand new Southwest location in February 2009. The gay center of the city has migrated east to Logan Circle, a hip, funky area with friendly bars and Whole Foods. Plus, gay-owned restaurants like L’Enfant and Comet Ping Pong are tantalizing the city’s more refined palates.
Atlanta has always had the infrastructure to be the gay nexus for the South, and if the Atlanta Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce has its way there will continue to be an influx of LGBT businesses that will promote advocacy through economics and provide a more powerful voice for equality. Not to mention that Atlanta is awash in burgeoning gayborhoods, from business district Candler Park and eclectic East Atlantic Village to the tree-lined Virginia Highland area, where residents elected a lesbian council member, Anne Fauver.
6. Vancouver, Wash.
One gets the sense that a lot of those groovy gay and lesbian Portlanders are mellowing out and coming here to settle down. Friendly, low-key, neighborhoody Vancouver is right across the Columbia River from Portland, Ore., and has bars such as the Northbank (106 W. Sixth St.) with affordable happy hours and uncrowded pool tables. The city of around 165,000 has six gay-friendly churches, and its Skyview High School has a student-led gay-straight alliance.
The historic home of daddy Andy Warhol, mommy Gertrude Stein, and cool lezzie aunt Willa Cather, Pittsburgh has always had a gay streak, but it’s been unsung as a major destination. But now gays and lesbians are taking advantage of the bargain housing prices in this beautiful, cleaned-up urban landscape. The vibrant arts community — including the Warhol Museum (Warhol.org) and the Mattress Factory contemporary art museum (Mattress.org) — plus a vigorous theater arts program at Carnegie Mellon University is augmented by the well-attended Pittsburgh International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (PILGFF.org) over 10 days in October, and the fast-growing Pride Theater Festival over two weekends in June.
4. Orlando, Fla.
Everyone knows that many Disney employees are friends of Dorothy. But now Orlando itself is coming out as a hot spot for gay and lesbian life and a hotbed of progressive attitudes. Last November, when Orange County leaders voted 6-1 to add sexual orientation protections to the private-sector antidiscrimination law, not a single resident or religious organization opposed it. Meanwhile the annual Theater Fringe Festival (OrlandoFringe.org) continues to be one of the gayest in the country; it spawned the Oops Guys show Bitches of the Kingdom! about fairy-tale princesses gone sour.
3. Las Vegas
Dozens of flashy shows every night! Home of Siegfried and Roy! The setting of the campiest film ever made (Showgirls)! According to a survey by Community Marketing Inc., Sin City is the top destination for American lesbians as well as the number 2 destination for American gay men and gay seniors (after New York City). Things are unsurprisingly over-the-top here, including Krave (KraveLasVegas.com), the 17,000-square-foot entertainment venue that bills itself as the number 1 gay nightclub in the country. The city also draws forward-looking conventions, including last November’s Same Love, Same Rights LGBT Wedding Expo, which hosted more than 50 gay-friendly businesses.
2. Santa Fe, N.M.
At an elevation of 7,000 feet, Santa Fe is the nation’s oldest state capital — and the highest. This is where seasoned gays come to center themselves, but not in a boring way: LGBT retirement community RainbowVision has raucous drag shows at the Silver Starlight Lounge (500 Rodeo Road, nominated a Top 60 bar in the USA by Out magazine). Not only is Santa Fe home to plenty of body workers, reiki practitioners, and shaman-type hippie gays, it also has the most restaurants per capita of any city in the country and boasts the third largest art market.
Over the past decade, Minneapolis has become the gay magnet city of the Midwest. It makes sense: People here are no-nonsense, practical, and don’t deal well with hypocrites. This is where the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America took a historic leap forward and voted to accept gay and lesbian pastors, including the Reverend Mary Albing, the denomination’s first openly lesbian pastor. And Minnesota senator Al Franken introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act to protect LGBT youth from school bullies. But that’s not all. Minneapolis also has the very hot Mayhem rugby team (MayhemRFC.com) and a thriving bear community with events like Bob’s Bear Bash, every Wednesday night at the Saloon (SaloonMN.com).