For years, LGBTQ progress has been steady and promising. From the legalization of gay marriage to the prominent White House recognition of Pride Month, we’ve covered some important ground, and we’ve done so very quickly. However, those achievements happened under the Obama administration, and sadly, the tide has turned against us. We’re currently in the midst of a hostile climate.
At times, it seems Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a personal vendetta against our community, most notably demonstrated when he lifted federal protections for LGBTQ workers last October. LGBTQ hate crimes have been on the rise for the last two years. And whether or not devout Christian business owners have the right to turn us away is actually up for discussion.
If you don’t live in a liberal hotbed like New York City or Los Angeles, it can feel like you’re more at risk for discrimination or violence each day.
In this climate, where are American’s safe spaces for LGBTQ people? If you’re queer, what cities can you call home? Where can you confidently buy a wedding cake without being denied service? Where can you walk down the street, hand in hand with your partner, without fear of being attacked? Where can you be yourself and be accepted?
It’s tempting to write off every red state as off-limits, but this conversation requires more nuance.
Of course, there are the no-brainer cities. San Francisco has long been associated with the gay liberation movement, is home to the historic Castro district, and has the highest concentration of LGBTQ residents in the United States. It’s even at the forefront of new LGBTQ undertakings like the forthcoming queer workspace, Yass. California cities like San Diego, L.A., and Palm Springs rank high on the list as well. Seattle and Portland are equally progressive. And there’s New York, a city that’s home to queer-dominant neighborhoods like Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea, and hosts the country’s largest Pride parade.
But big city living isn’t for everyone. Some queer people are finding refuge in blue counties…in the heart of red states.
Last March, Thrillist highlighted the most queer-friendly cities in every red state in America. Among them, low-key metropolises like Tucson, Boise, Indianapolis, New Orleans, and Kansas City led the way with progressive protections for LGBTQ citizens. For example, Indianapolis launched the Open for Service initiative in 2015, after then-Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. The site hosts a directory of businesses that don’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
The New York Times also highlighted “the worst (and best) places to be gay in America” last August. The piece dove deep into the states leading the charge in LGBTQ protections, exposed those that aren’t, and shined a light on cities like Austin, Texas, where elderly LGBTQ people are being welcomed with open arms.
The latter piece, about our community’s retirees, is also something to keep in mind when searching for safe spaces. It’s important to think long-term. What’s gay-friendly for you now may not be the place you’ll want to call home later in life, either as you start to build a family or settle into retirement. The best places for LGBTQ retirement don’t necessarily align with blue state concentrations or the best statewide protections. Among them are Atlanta, Phoenix, Orlando, Columbus, and Salt Lake City, as named by U.S. News and World Report.
As we talk about safe spaces and the best places to live in the United States, we have to change our perception of what that means. Is a safe space an entire state? Is it a place with rainbow flags flying at the state line? Is it the most progressive place in the entire country? Or should we think smaller? Is it the tiny community, with a population of 50,000 people, that allows you to live in peace?
We must look for cities that stick their necks out for our community, despite their more conservative neighbors in nearby cities and counties, or the prevailing sentiments in the states. Look for these progressive, tolerant hidden gems, as these are the places that push for what’s right, refusing to follow the state’s herd mentality. The safe spaces of today, and tomorrow, are those that break free from groupthink. All it takes to find them is a little research and an open mind.