It’s no secret that megalopolises New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles have robust LGBT life — and we’ve even heard tell of little queer hoods like the Castro and P-Town. This isn’t that list.
By Matthew Breen
There’s the official census with information on same-sex couples as a percentage of the population, then there’s our accounting of the gayest places in the USA — and we know the twain shan’t meet. But do we really need another article telling us that the homos gather in West Hollywood and Hell’s Kitchen? That Northampton, Mass., is still Lesbianville, USA? (Don’t get us wrong, we love those places.) Instead, in our third annual accounting of the gayest places in America — according to our totally accurate if decidedly subjective criteria — we look at the per capita queerness of some less expected locales.
Denver is simultaneously outdoorsy and a rapidly growing metropolis, and its attitude is exceptionally laid-back and gay-friendly. (Screw the antigay zealots in nearby Colorado Springs.) A day spent skiing, fishing, hunting, or camping with the fit locals can lead to an evening dining, clubbing, or camping of another sort. Much of the sporting and social scene is devoted to the ladies of Denver; witness the Capitol Hill neighborhood, girl-watching at There Urban Whiskey Bar (ThereDenver.com), a nosh at Racine’s (RacinesRestaurant.com), and dancing at Charlie’s (CharliesDenver.com).
14. Long Beach, Calif.
How gay is Long Beach? Its pride celebration is one of the country’s biggest, and the Long Beach Pride float seems to make its way to every other Pride event within 500 miles! There are a ton of gay and lesbian bars, restaurants, a big boat suitably named the Queen Mary (QueenMary.com; it’s also haunted, and a hotel). The sunny, welcoming city provides a more relaxed alternative to nearby Los Angeles.
No amount of backwoodsiness from previous and current statehouse residents George W. Bush or Rick Perry can taint the cosmopolitan, countercultural, and friendly nature of this capital city. Bands, barhopping, and barbecue feature prominently here, for queers and others. The lesbian-owned Hotel San José (SanJoseHotel.com) is a minimalist oasis; no fewer than 16 bars offer libations for LGBTs; and Splash Days (au naturel sunbathing and parties over Labor Day), the Austin City Limits Music Festival (late September), and March’s South by Southwest (SXSW) film and music festival keep Austin suitably weird — and gay.
12. Portland, Ore.
Bisexual Sleater-Kinney alum Carrie Brownstein has fun on Portlandia (“Put a bird on it!”) playing with the rep of the city’s hipster, hyper-locavore, hyper-literate, boycott-ready, feminist, fleece-clad denizens. But there’s other fun to be had here too. Visit the arty Pearl and Alberta districts; stay at the Ace Hotel; read at the country’s largest indie bookstore, Powell’s; drink at the Silverado (SilveradoPDX.com) and Red Cap Garage/Boxxes (Boxxes.com); tune in to Out Loud (KBOO.fm/OutLoud), and party at Crush (CrushBar.com), popular with men and women. Oh, then there’s all that nature stuff!
11. Little Rock, Ark.
The River Market District is the main gay area, and many businesses that don’t advertise as specifically LGBT are friendly and open. The compact city has Backstreet (1021 Jessie Rd.) and U.B.U. (TheAquarium.bizland.com) for the over-18 crowd, and those of legal drinking age can check out SixTen Center Street Bar, TraX, Miss Kitty’s/Saloon (all three at TraxNLR.com). But not all LGBT life happens in a bar: According to GayChurch.org, nine of the city’s churches advertise as LGBT-friendly. Amen!
10. Grand Rapids, Mich.
The heart of western Michigan LGBT life is in Grand Rapids, with dancing, drinking, and bingo at the Apartment (ApartmentLounge.net), which has been in operation for over three decades; karaoke at Diversions video bar (DiversionsNightclub.com), and drag shows and go-go boys at Rumors (RumorsNightclub.net). The city boasts one of the Midwest’s best LGBT country line-dancing scenes, with the Grand River Renegades (GrandRiverRenegades.com) offering anyone a dance card on Sundays at Rumors.
We won’t fault you for trying to forget Real Housewife Kim Zolciak’s dip into the lesbian pool — but don’t blame Atlanta if everyone there wants to sample the fun LGBTs have all over town. Lesbian businesses thrive in East Atlanta, and gay clubs go off in Mechanicsville. People coming to Atlanta like to party, and the GayTL delivers with Black Gay Pride in September and Atlanta Pride in October, and the black gay clubs’ second-busiest weekend of the year surrounds the observance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in January. Holla!
8. Knoxville, Tenn.
The state’s legislature has been an unmitigated disaster for our rights, making a law to prevent cities from adopting LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination ordinances (although, happily, the ridiculous “don’t say ‘gay’” bill is dead for now). Nevertheless, Knoxville has defiantly produced a robust gay scene, including the University of Tennessee’s Commission for LGBT People; a welcoming spot for queer, trans, and other marginalized teens at Spectrum Café (SpectrumCafe.org); gay-affirming churches; and thriving nightlife.
7. St. Paul and Minneapolis
It’s technically two cities, but oh, what fun there is to be had here. The region is a draw for upper Midwestern LGBTs, and Minneapolis (pictured) topped this list in 2011 for so many reasons. These two cities can’t get enough of each other: There’s the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus (TCGMC.org), Twin Cities Pride (the 40th annual is June 23-24), and even Quorum: The Twin Cities GLBT and Allied Business Community. Sheesh, just get domestic-partnered already!
6. Ann Arbor, Mich.
You don’t have to be big to have it going on, as this sixth largest city in Michigan does. The area has one of the few clubs in Michigan catering to dykes: Stiletto’s (technically in nearby Inkster) draws in every lesbian in Detroit. But talk about a taste for drama! Just ask U. of M.’s first out student body prez, Chris Armstrong, the target of a smear campaign by nutso assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell. We raised a glass at Aut Bar (AutBar.com) when the kook got the boot.
When Forbes named Seattle the most miserable sports city in the nation, many of us felt a twinge of empathy. No matter; there’s heaps of other stuff to keep us busy, including tons of locavore and cosmopolitan cuisine, funky bars in a robust LGBT scene, Dan Savage, and hookups — or at least the search for them. TheStir.com noted that Seattle ranks among the top cities for residents who list “casual sex” as the type of relationship they’re seeking.
4. Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Booting spring breakers from its shores may have not boosted Jagermeister sales, but it sure has classed up the joint. Add to that a mass exodus from Miami, where a real estate boom priced out many gay clubs (then the boom busted), and you have the recipe for a rising homo mecca in South Florida. The area is teeming with gay bars and restaurants, and a ton of guesthouses and spas that run the gamut from mild to spicy. Lesbians are finally starting to move to Fort Lauderdale too, though most girl bars, like New Moon (NewMoonBar.com), are in nearby Wilton Manors.
3. Cambridge, Mass.
The home of Harvard University likes a smarty-pants, including the nation’s first African-American lesbian mayor, E. Denise Simmons. Though her reign ended in 2009, she is currently in her sixth term on the City Council, which enacted antidiscrimination protections for transgender people in 1997. The town’s Paradise bar (ParadiseCambridge.com) is billed as New England’s only gay club with hot male dancers six nights a week — hey, everyone needs a night off — and the town is right next to a little hamlet named Boston, where allegedly LGBT stuff sometimes happens too.
2. Orlando, Fla.
Besides hosting Gay Days at Disney World, where 50,000 LGBT folks and their kids dressed in red T-shirts invade the theme park the first Saturday in June (and spend $100 million in town), Orlando has more gay softball teams than you can shake a Louisville Slugger at. And residents just got domestic-partnership protections. For non-Mickeyphiles, there’s oodles of homo content each year at the annual Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival (OrlandoFringe.org).
1. Salt Lake City
While those unfamiliar with the Beehive State are likely to conjure images of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, far-less-oppressive-than-it-used-to-be Salt Lake City has earned its queer cred. There are more than a half-dozen hot spots for men and women, including the eco-friendly nightclub Jam (JamSLC.com), though the sustainable bamboo flooring is perhaps less of a draw than the packed dance floor. The Coffee Garden (878 South 900 East) is a gathering spot for those looking for a caffeine fix, the Sundance Film Festival brings LGBT film buffs to screenings downtown, and lesbian-owned Meditrina (MeditrinaSLC.com) is a true wine bar — yes, you can get a drink in this town.
The Best of the Rest
Our Honorable Mentions
16. Washington, D.C.
17. New Orleans
18. San Francisco
20. Salem, Ore.
21. Madison, Wis.
22. Eugene, Ore.
23. Oakland, Calif.
25. Kansas City, Mo.