15. Albuquerque, N.M.
This largest city in New Mexico has become a hotbed for Southwestern gays as well as space aliens (Roswell is an easy drive away). The hipster hood of Nob Hill, marked by neon signage, is its gayborhood, but gays are scattered throughout this expanding city. Exhale (formerly Renea’s) is the only lesbian bar between Dallas and Phoenix.
14. San Diego
Why San Diego when L.A. is so close? (The question almost answers itself.) San Diego has always been more bi-friendly, mellower, less snooty, and a place to which L.A. gays frequently escape. Black’s Beach is a famous nude sunning spot, and there’s even an annual gay rodeo.
13. Springfield, Mass.
When you think of gay Massachusetts, you may think Northampton or Provincetown. But now, thanks to a string of pro-gay municipal actions and progressive former mayor Michael Albano, Springfield has become an example of how a state’s pro-gay legislation can transform a city.
12. Asheville, N.C.
With its thriving art scene and adorable homes, Asheville is a prime example of the new gay South. And it’s only getting gayer: Newly elected city councilman Gordon Smith says extending domestic-partner benefits to LGBT city employees will be among the council’s top priorities this year.
11. Gainesville, Fla.
Anchored by the University of Florida, Gainesville is a surprisingly hospitable area for gay and lesbian Floridians who have no desire to work for Disney or deal with all that Miami nonsense. Queer college kids mix well with aging gays here. The city was also named by now-defunct Blender magazine in 2008 as the best place to start a band.
The birthplace of grunge and upscale coffee, and home to numerous cute bois and dykes with piercings, Seattle has a gay scene that’s as comfortably inescapable as the Space Needle. Even as luxury condos and pricey wine bars sprout up, alternative venues like the newly renovated Pony in Cap Hill are keeping it real.
This countercultural lefty Shangri-la in the middle of Texas has been going through a growth spurt. But no matter how cosmopolitan their home gets, gay and lesbian residents will always take their barbeque, two-stepping, and live music culture seriously. Many visitors say that this city’s sophisticated, lively lesbian social scene rivals those of New York and Los Angeles. And the clothing-optional swimming area Hippie Hollow attracts thousands of au naturel gays for the semiannual Splash Weekends.
8. Portland, Maine
Maine may have lost its marriage law (for now, while it retains domestic partnerships) but the independent Maine mentality is alive and well in this picturesque city. It’s sweet, romantic, and too small for bitchy queens and their toxic attitudes. Energetic young businesses like fermented-honey booze-maker Maine Mead Works and the popular men’s clothing label Rogues Gallery have established it as a harbor for creativity as well as tolerance.
7. Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
In the late ’80s, Fort Lauderdale exorcised the college partiers and MTV’s Spring Break and transformed itself into a place for gays to vacation, indulge (there are more than 25 bars and clubs in the area), settle down, or escape South Beach. The suburb of Wilton Manors has 1,270% more gay men per capita than the national average, and Fort Lauderdale’s newly elected mayor, Jack Seiler, is vocally supportive of gay and lesbian equality.
6. New Orleans
With Southern Decadence, the Saints and Sinners LGBT writers conference, gay Mardi Gras krewes, the gay Easter Parade, and 18 gay bars within walking distance of each other in the Quarter, this unsinkable town has a tolerant attitude toward gayness that’s been in place since before the Civil War.
5. Madison, Wis.
Madison is often called the Berkeley of the Midwest—the east side is hippie-crunchy, there’s a brand-new gay dance club (Plan B), and heaps of cute blond dreadlocked nuevo organic farmer dudes can be found at the Willy Street Co-op or the Farmers’ Market drinking their own beer from mason jars.
4. Bloomington, Ind.
This forward-thinking college town is a magnet city for gays in the Grain Belt. It’s also home to Indiana University, where Miss Gay IU—said to be the first student-sponsored drag competition held on any campus—is in its 20th year. The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction is also here, inspiring the entire town to be heteroflexible.
3. Iowa City
The no-nonsense swing state city is infused with intellectual curiosity. The state supreme court ruling in favor of marriage equality is but one moment in a long history of progressive decisions. Home of the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a thriving arts community, this is where Brokeback Mountain’s Ennis and Jack would have bought a house and adopted kids, in the alternate ending of that romance.
2. Burlington, Vt.
Vermont’s largest city may seem deceptively sleepy (Vermonters tend to be quiet about their beliefs), but it’s the epicenter of the state’s equality efforts. There are several out members in the state legislature (if not on the city council), and nearby Ben & Jerry’s renamed its Chubby Hubby flavor “Hubby Hubby” to celebrate the state’s marriage equality law.
Georgia isn’t the most gay-friendly state, but Atlanta is undoubtedly our gayest city—with 29 gay bars here, there’s a reason it’s dubbed Hotlanta. Atlanta’s several queer events include one of the nation’s largest Prides in October (returning to Piedmont Park this year), and MondoHomo, a May event celebrating art, drag, burlesque, film, and BBQ. The gay epicenter is Midtown, anchored by Outwrite Books, a giant gay bookstore bucking the national trend—by staying in business! Atlanta guys are hunky, the ladies are gracious, the gay sports leagues are seriously well organized, and its housewives (and their gay BFFs, complete with handbags and heels) are now camp icons. And who doesn’t love the sweet lilt of a Georgia accent on a knockout guy or gal?