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It's not all piano bars, gender-specific music festivals, and giant disco houses (although we all love some of those things) that make these cities the gayest in America. You say you're shocked Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City aren't at the top of the list, this year and every year? What kind of fun would that be? (Spoiler alert: San Francisco comes in at No. 11.) This year's criteria, designed to uncover the hidden factors that give a city its queer cred, include points for a city's LGBT elected officials (and fractional points for the state's elected officials), points for the percentage of the population comprised by lesbian-coupled households, a point for a gay rodeo association, points for bars listed in Out magazine's 200 Best Bars list, a point per women's college, and points for concert performances by Mariah Carey, Pink, Lady Gaga, or the Jonas Brothers. The raw score is divided by the population to provide a ranking based on a per capita LGBT quotient. (More details on scoring.)
Think your city should be on the list? We challenge you to make it so. Wouldn't every city be better if it were just a bit gayer? Illustrations By Jason Luz and Justin Miller
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15. Pittsburgh, Penn. (pop. 306,211)
Pittsburgh's women's colleges, Chatham University and Carlow University, give the city a two-point boost, but it's got queer history too: Andy Warhol, Gertrude Stein, and Willa Cather all called this place home. The arts scene is flourishing, with the Warhol Museum (Warhol.org), the Mattress Factory contemporary art museum (Mattress.org), and a vigorous theater scene that includes the Pride Theater Festival in the summer and the Pittsburgh International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (PILGFF.org) in October.
Above: LGBT Film Festival, Yayoi Kusama exhibit at the Mattress Factory
14. Long Beach, Calif. (pop. 467,892)
Good California cuisine, a bunch of gay bars and restaurants, marine life at the Aquarium, beaches, one of the country's biggest Pride events, and a relaxed atmosphere all conspire to make Long Beach a surprisingly gay city. Check out the lumberjack-chic atmosphere of the Mineshaft (1720 E. Broadway, 562-436-2433) and the civic-minded Paradise Piano Bar and Restaurant (ParadisePianoBar.com).
Photo at top courtesy Long Beach Pride
13. Orlando, Fla. (pop. 249,562)
Let's make an Orlando LGBT list: Gay Days at Disney World bring in 150,000 LGBT folks and their pals all dressed in red T-shirts (along with $100 million a year); The Orlando International Fringe Festival (OrlandoFringe.org) is super gay -- it produced Bitches of the Kingdom; there are domestic partnership protections and a growing live music scene; and then there's the Parliament House, an all-in-one gay bar, club, and hotel complex (ParliamentHouse.com) with seven bars on 10 acres catering to almost any experience, be it sporty, campy, grungy, or glam.
Above: Pulse nightclub
12. Rochester, N.Y.(pop. 210,532)
The downtown area's Park Avenue
corridor has the right mix of chic dining, drinking, and entertainment to make it the gay epicenter in Rochester. This tree-lined, charming city in the Finger Lakes region is New York's third largest (and was named sixth most livable in the United States in 2007 by the Places Rated Almanac). LGBT groups have events calendars and an annual Pride event, and cultural offerings include historical sites (it was home to Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony), museums, and galleries, all within walking distance of Park Avenue.
Above: Rochester Gay Men's Chorus by Brian Sprouse
11. San Francisco, Calif.(pop. 825,863)
Calm down, San Francisco. Everyone knows you're still the gayest thing going. The beautiful, panoramic City by the Bay is home to both well-heeled queers and a vibrant counterculture (witness the uproar over the recently announced ban on public nudity). LGBT life here is not limited to the Castro neighborhood, though that's a tourist draw for good reason -- it's a queer Disneyland. You'll find us in every neighborhood, and gay-owned and gay-popular bars, restaurants, and business are everywhere. San Francisco is home to more nightlife than you can shake a go-go boy at, as well as vibrant bear and trans communities.
10. Arlington, Va.(pop. 221,045)
Sitting right next to D.C., Arlington has three LGBT elected officials and a gay rodeo association -- but more than that, this city has the Arlington Gay & Lesbian Alliance, offering social activities and community service, and popular gay bar and brunch spot Freddie's Beach Bar & Restaurant (FreddiesBeachBar.com) and gay-popular divey beer bar Galaxy Hut (GalaxyHut.com).
Above: Courtesy IGRA
9. Oakland, Calif.(pop. 400,740)
No city in the United States can beat Oakland for its percentage of lesbian couple households. And though nearby San Fran is the granddaddy of urban gay meccas, the much more affordable nearby Oakland is at least as diverse: UC Berkeley students, middle-class families, and integrated neighborhoods characterize the city. Many bars and clubs attract black and Latino crowds for salsa and hip-hop, and the annual Black Pride and International Black LGBT Film Festival call Oakland home.
Above right: El Campanil clock tower at Mills College
8. Salt Lake City, Utah(pop. 189,314)
While some jaws dropped when this city was named No. 1 a couple of years ago, SLC's queer citizens knew we were on to something. There are plenty of sporty gay and lesbian ski bunnies, more than half a dozen bars and clubs -- including Club Try-Angles (ClubTry-Angles.com) and the enduring ladies' spot Paper Moon (ThePaperMoonClub.com) -- and a popular annual Gay Pride celebration that last year drew some family members of Mormon LGBTs marching in support of their kids, siblings, and parents. Utah's capital does not have a Mormon majority, unlike the rest of the state, and increased scrutiny of the church following its support of the antigay Prop 8 is forcing some overtures toward queer acceptance.
Above: Courtesy Utah Pride Festival
7. Madison, Wisc.(pop. 240,323)
Madison is outdoorsy, educated, friendly, and progressive. Larger cities Milwaukee and Chicago are within driving distance, but even so, the city's got its own day -- and nightlife. Locals imbibe at slick video bar Plan B (PlanBMadison.com; Thursdays are 18 and over); the bear-leather-sports bar Woof's (WoofsMadison.com): the big disco FIVE (FiveNightclubMadison.com); the relaxing Captain Dix (CaptainDix.com); and reborn dance club Cardinal Bar (CardinalBar.com). Daytime haunts include coffeehouses (it is a college town) and lesbian fave A Room of One's Own, a feminist bookstore and coffeehouse (RoomofOnesOwn.com).
Above: lesbian fave A Room of One's Own
6. St. Louis, Mo.(pop. 318,069)
The city's three gay elected officials, gay rodeo association, and gay-friendly concert lineup confirm to us what many already knew about St. Louis: It's the open-minded heart of the Midwest. Before the leather bars and LGBT center opened along Manchester Avenue, before there was the RiverFront Times-voted Best Lesbian Bar Attitudes Bar & Grill (4100 Manchester Ave., 314-534-0044), the Boxers 'n Briefs all-male strip club (BoxersNBriefs.com), or the down-and-dirty Grey Fox (GreyFoxSTL.com), Tennessee Williams was frequenting the Central West End, with its architectural sights, hotels, and galleries.
Above: Drag performer Michelle McCausland
5. Atlanta, Ga. (pop. 443,775)
Atlanta has long been the epicenter of the gay South, which is why it consistently makes this list, regardless of how the criteria change. And it's no wonder, as Hotlanta's LGBT folks strut to the beat of their own drummers -- in stark contrast to much of the conservative surrounding state. The city has tons of great gay bars, including five on Out's best-of list; the all-women Spelman College; Black Gay Pride in September and Atlanta Pride (one of the country's largest) in October; and MondoHomo, a May event celebrating art, drag, burlesque, film, and BBQ. (You decide if the Real Housewives are a net plus.)
Above, top: Rap duo KIN4LIFE; above right: Striptease artist Vagina Jenkins
4. Cambridge, Mass.(pop. 106,471)
Though the city is the little sibling to much bigger Boston, Cambridge's own queer cred is substantial: The city council enacted antidiscrimination protections for transgender people in 1997, and one of the council's current members, E. Denise Simmons, was the nation's first African-American lesbian mayor. Disco dance hall ZuZu (Zuzubar.com) has tons of club nights, including Zuesday's queer dance party, and the Paradise bar (ParadiseCambridge.com) has hot male dancers six nights a week. And on the seventh day they rested.
Above right: E. Denise Simmons
3. Seattle, Wash.(pop. 634,535)
Seattle is the home of our nation's lust for lattes, our lust for lust (thanks in part to Dan Savage's sex advice and his homemade porn film festival), and our lust for cool, lo-fi boutique hotels (the city is where the Ace Hotel chain sprouted). Capitol Hill is its gay headquarters, with lots of venues for guys and gals, wine bars, live music, and locavore cuisine. And if the sun isn't shining, there are plenty of alt-cuties who will happily cuddle to keep you cozy when it rains.
2. Pasadena, Calif.(pop. 138,547)
This beautiful but sleepy adjunct to Los Angeles, a kind of bedroom community for gays who like to garden, gets its high ranking primarily from having two gay elected city officials for its relatively small population, and a fractional boost from California's many statewide elected LGBTs. Nevertheless, Pasadena's got lots to offer: two gay bars, the Boulevard (3199 E. Foothill Blvd., 626-356-9304), with karaoke and pool, and Club Caution, right around the corner in Highland Park; a number of LGBT-welcoming churches; the thriving Pasadena Lesbian Book Club (Meetup.com/QueerBooks-67); and arguably the best flea market in the world -- antiques! vintage! -- monthly at the Rose Bowl.
Above: Courtesy San Gabriel Valley Pride (Bingo)
1. Washington, D.C.(pop. 623,323)
In many respects, D.C. is still part of the South. But this city has a whopping 17 gay elected officials, perhaps a result of its unique status as a federal district, free from the grip of a state government. Gay-friendly neighborhoods include P Street and 17th Street in the Dupont Circle area, and Logan Circle to the east. The capital's nightlife includes the Duplex Diner and its hot bartenders (DuplexDiner.com), and show tunes, top 40, and retro pop at perennial fave JR's Bar (1519 17th St. NW, 202-328-0090). Though they're ostensibly right-leaning, we think hunky young pols Rep. Paul Ryan and Rep. Aaron Schock are subtly demonstrating their LGBT friendliness by indulging in well-known gay customs: Ryan lifts weights and exaggerates his stats (how fast was that run, Paul?), and Schock likes his shirtless photo shoots and pink fashion accessories. And we cannot overlook House Speaker John Boehner; bring extra Kleenex if you invite him over for a Nora Ephron flick on movie night.
15. Pittsburgh, Penn.
16. New Orleans, La.
17. Denver, Colo.
18. Tacoma, Wash.
19. Lexington, Ky.
20. Portland, Ore.
21. Las Vegas, Nev.
22. Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
23. Tampa, Fla.
24. Akron, Ohio
25. Boston, Mass