Are you shocked that Los Angeles and New York didn’t make the list in our fourth annual accounting of city life in America? Then listen up, honey. As much as we love fabulous soirees and mimosa brunches, there’s much more to LGBT life than that. We live in little burgs and big cities and tons of places in between — so we’re looking at the in-between. This year our totally accurate (and totally subjective and constantly changing) criteria for a great gay city had to include two of the biggest legislative and political developments for LGBTs: marriage equality votes in four states and the election that swept a ton of queers into high office, including seven members of Congress.
According to Victory Fund;
1 point for each federal, state, and local official in office or elected in 2012
1 point for each company located in a city
1 point for each stop since 2009
1 point each if a city has Whole Foods, West Elm, or Pottery Barn stores
1 point for every jurisdiction with laws prohibiting discrimination, according to National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
1 point for each team
1 point per organization, according to BiNetUSA
1 point for each league
Population within city limits
(population of >150,000 required)
15. St. Louis (pop. 318,069) What was founded in 1764 as a fur-trading outpost has become an LGBT beacon in the Midwest. The city proudly proclaims a ton of neighborhoods as gay-friendly, including the queer epicenter along Manchester Avenue in the Grove, site of leather bars, the LGBT center, and the trendy Just John (JustJohnClub.com) bar; Tennessee Williams’s old haunt, the Central West End, with its architectural sights, hotels, and galleries; the South Grand hood, site of PrideFest and MoKaBe’s coffeehouse; Soulard and Cherokee Street, home to Clementine’s, St. Louis’s oldest gay bar, founded in 1978; and the stately Lafayette Square, for wine bars and B&Bs.
14. Salem, Ore. (pop. 156,244) Salem may not be chockablock with nightlife (it does have the Southside Speakeasy; SouthsideSpeakeasy.com), but it’s got a ton of LGBT-welcoming churches (Salem Spirit of Life Church, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Salem, First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Freedom Friends Church, Morningside United Methodist Church, Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Interests), and more support groups (SalemPride.com) than you can shake a cherry tree at. As the home of Oregon’s state capitol building, it hosts Capitol Pride each August.
13. Colorado Springs, Colo. (pop. 426,388) Screw the fundamentalists (or don’t — that’s probably a better policy), but don’t let them ruin your good time. The regulars at dance hot spot Club Q (ClubQOnline.com), the 18-and-over Underground (UndergroundBars.com), and the straight-friendly Script Bar and Grill (TheScriptBarAndGrill.com) certainly don’t. But if you check out the bathhouse, Buddies Private Club (ClubBuddies.com), keep your eyes peeled for closeted Focus on the Family types.
12. Providence, R.I. (pop. 178,053) Three schools (Brown, Rhode Island School of Design, and Johnson & Wales) bring in the LGBT and LGBT-friendly students who help make this small city so gay and so unstuffy in a non–New England-y kind of way. The gay haunts are easily navigable but no less cool for the city’s size. Guys and gals alike will go nuts for Providence Roller Derby (ProvidenceRollerDerby.com) Also, the city’s former mayor, out 51-year-old David Cicilline, was elected to his second term in Congress.
11. Oakland, Calif. (pop. 395,817) Cali’s seventh largest city is across the bay from “The City,” and while it’s seriously hard to compete with San Francisco’s LGBT cred, Oakland is no less vibrant yet more diverse and affordable. In fact, it boasts more lesbian couples per capita than any other major American city and ranks third in gay- and lesbian-headed households, after San Francisco and Seattle. This city has students, families, funky gays, an annual Black Pride and Black LGBT Film Festival (BlackLGBTFilmFest.com), and the East Bay Front Runners (EastBayFrontRunners.org), so you can see the scenic bay while burning off the calories consumed at the super-popular White Horse Bar (WhiteHorseBar.com) the night before.
10. Twin Cities, Minn. (pop. 676,201) The formerly “just roommates” cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are now fully domestic partners and have become a Midwestern gay mecca, and it’s not just because of pro-LGBT senator Al Franken. It might have something to do with early antidiscrimination ordinances, a no-nonsense attitude, the hunky Mayhem rugby team (MayhemRFC.com), and the Town House Bar (TownHouseBar.com), popular with the ladies. (Don’t even try to resist the Mall of America — you’ll need a car to get there and lots of trunk space to haul your wares home.)
9. Atlanta (pop. 432,437) This star of the South and former gayest city has clothes, clubs, cuties, concerts — and yes, some housewives too. Atlanta also has hot gayborhoods (Ansley Park, East Atlanta, Grant Park, Kirkwood, Midtown, and nearby Decatur for the ladies). It’s no wonder that half of the residents have moved to Hotlanta from somewhere else. Sure, there’s plenty of culture and high art, but don’t miss legendary clubs like My Sister’s Room (MySistersRoom.com) and Swinging Richards (SwingingRichards.com).
8. Madison, Wis. (pop. 236,901) With plenty of brewing companies and locavore dining, the granola lesbians in this progressive college town may be the best fed in the country. Clubs and social events are largely concentrated in the walkable downtown, but Plan B (PlanBMadison.com), voted the most popular gay bar (could it be for the X-rated trivia night?), is a short taxi ride away.
7. Eugene, Ore. (pop. 156,929) Though it may be “all-American,” there’s nothing stuffy about this idyllic town known for its romantic covered bridges, colorful murals, and natural beauty. It’s tops when it comes to counterculture, eco-consciousness, and outdoors enthusiasm. Home to the University of Oregon (an institution The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students placed among the top 20), the city has a well-deserved progressive reputation. And the Oregon Bach Festival (OregonBachFestival.com) is classical music’s coolest event.
6. Salt Lake City (pop. 189,899) Last year’s gayest city isn’t exactly country, but you’d never know by visiting the Trapp (TheTrappSLC.com), a welcoming, wood-paneled bar that serves cocktails in jam jars. Though many clubs are very quiet during the week, on the weekends the college crowd and queers from all over the metropolitan area descend on Jam (JamSLC.com) and Paper Moon (Facebook.com/PaperMoonSLC). Sugar House is a gay-friendly hood, and the Tower Theatre (SaltLakeFilmSociety.org) has long been an LGBT meeting spot and cultural touchstone.
5. Seattle (pop. 620,778) The fun, funky folks in Seattle don’t wait for sunny skies for a good time. Though the whole city is gay-friendly, Capitol Hill is the epicenter of LGBT life, and it features lots of small and large clubs (for men and women), B&Bs, and great dining, both high-end and low. While heteros can feel comfy in most modern gay bars, the delightfully small, speedy dive bar Pony (PonySeattle.com) is just for the gay guys. Don’t plan your wedding reception there.
4. Washington, D.C. (pop. 617,996) Between the legalization of same-sex marriage in the nation’s capital and the tons of openly LGBT elected officials, this is a queer city on the rise — and the LGBT residents have steered clear of political scandal and remained focused on securing their rights. P Street and 17th Street in the Dupont Circle area are well-known gay neighborhoods, but the LGBT center of the city has migrated east to Logan Circle, a hip, funky area with friendly bars and a Whole Foods.
3. Spokane, Wash. (pop. 210,103) Most of eastern Washington is somewhat conservative, but like many western cities, Spokane is becoming steadily more diverse, boosted by an energetic LGBT populace. This rugged, hilly city near the Idaho border hosts the Spokane Pride Parade and Rainbow Festival (OutSpokane.com) each year.
2. Springfield, Mass. (pop. 153,155)
Though it’s not exactly a household name as an LGBT hot spot, Springfield ought to be. The city is among the top 10 cities in the U.S. in percentage of same-sex couples, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, and it’s a desirable place to relocate from the metropolises because of its location near skiing, shores, Boston, and Provincetown. LGBTs appreciative of art and architecture inhabit gay-popular hoods Downtown, McKnight, Forest Park, and the Ridgewood/Maple Hill area of Six Corners.
1. Tacoma, Wash. (pop. 200,678)
Book a charming B&B, dine at the gay-owned Pacific Grill (PacificGrillTacoma.com), and dance the night away at The Mix (TheMixTacoma.com), and you’ve got a great recipe for a Northwest honeymoon. The center of LGBT life in Tacoma is the St. Helens District, where the nightlife is plentiful, with some venues rivaling nearby Seattle’s. When the indoor fun is done, the environs offer stunning forests and oceans in fairy-tale settings. Consider visiting in July, when the weather is great and Tacoma celebrates pride at Out in the Park (OutInTacoma.com).