For people in the LGBTQ+ community in the United States, choosing where to live hasn’t been as straightforward as it has for straight people, historically speaking. Deciding where to live and travel continues to be a point of concern for many gay and queer folks.
At Pride Palace, we support the LGBTQ+ community 365 days of the year. By offering different merchandise to help others express their pride and support, we want to align with organizations and cities that reflect our values and feel similarly. We offer a platform for the LGBTQ+ community to share their stories and resources to learn more about Pride month and the unique individuals that make up the rainbow community.
The cities described below closely align with our values. From wide-scale Pride events to vital community resources, these cities are some of the most gay-friendly in the United States. A gay-friendly city does not always have a large or growing population of LGBTQ+ individuals, though that is a good indicator that it will be more gay-friendly than other areas.
The most important factors that determine how welcoming a city can be is typically based on these characteristics:
Higher educated population
Younger age demographic
Left-leaning and more progressive political beliefs
Gay-friendly and gay-owned establishments, such as bars, inclusive churches, and community centers
Social and political activism focused on gay issues
Gay social groups and activities, such as Pride festivals
Elected gay politicians and community leaders
In a study conducted by Pew Research, the cities below have the highest population density for people who identify as LGBTQ+. This was a factor when determining which were the most welcoming, but more importantly, these cities hold year-round Pride events, showing support and amplifying gay issues. Every year, the Human Rights Campaign, or HRC, scores cities by how supportive they are of the LGBTQ+ community. Leveraging all of these factors, here is a list of the top gay-friendly cities in the United States:
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
This city has been nicknamed the "gay capital of the world." San Francisco has a rich progressive history, from being the home of the Summer of Love in 1967 to hosting their very own annual Trans Pride Event. Its annual two-day Pride event has over 50,000 visitors from all over the world.
Famous San Francisco tourist spots that are notably gay-friendly are Mission Dolores Park, the Castro District, and Juhu Beach Club, to name a few. San Francisco is a great city for tourism and visiting, but the skyrocketing cost of living may keep it out of some lists as an ideal place to live.
"Keep Portland Weird" — this city's famous slogan celebrates the diverse communities that make up its whimsical and progressive culture. This pacific northwest city has over 5% gay population, which is higher than the national average! It is notably a progressive city and hosts many gay events, such as film festivals, Pride festivals, and a slew of gay bars and establishments. Portland's gorgeous waterfront park is the venue of the three-day Pride festival.
The first city to legalize same-sex marriage deserves a spot on this list. When political decisions actively align with progressing gay rights, the city likely welcomes gay travelers and transplants. Their week-long Pride festival decorates the streets in rainbow flags and signs on businesses and from street lights every year. This famous festival boasts thousands of attendees every year, and many decide to stay. Their well-known gay neighborhoods are South End, Savin Hill, and Melville Park.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
One of the country's largest gay events is Southern Decadence, which is hosted annually by the great city of New Orleans. This event began in 1972, and what started as a bon voyage party has transformed into a six-day event. There are performances, parades, and plenty of drag queens to set off the festivities. In addition, the nightlife in New Orleans is world-renowned. Lavender Line is the gay counterpart to Bourbon Street and boasts gay bars back to back, many with a rich history.
This Pacific Northwest emerald gem is one of the most publicly supportive cities. Capitol Hill, the gay capital in Seattle, has numerous gay-owned businesses and has an iconic rainbow crosswalk. Walking through this neighborhood, you will see plenty of Pride flags and signs outside of homes and businesses. In addition, Seattle hosts a Trans Pride celebration, one of the few cities to do so!
Their neighboring city, Tacoma, also deserves a shoutout. In 2017, Tacoma was deemed the most gay-friendly city in the United States due to the number of elected gay officials, gay public spaces, and events. In recent years, there also has been an influx of younger transplants to the Seattle and Tacoma area due to the lower cost of living and the burgeoning tech industry.
With a nickname like "America's Gay Riviera," Miami deserves a spot on this list as well. This beach city is known for its thriving nightlife, tourism, and art scene. However, what makes it stand apart is its dedicated LGBTQ+ welcome center for gay travelers called the Miami Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce! Businesses can be awarded a "Pink Flamingo Certification" if they can guarantee a great experience for this community. This conscientious effort to create a safe and enjoyable time easily puts Miami on the map.
Orlando also has a thriving LGBTQ+ culture. It has the third-largest community in the U.S. and has year-round Pride festivals such as Disney's Gay Days and Come Out with Pride events. Both of these celebrations are unique to Orlando. Come Out with Pride began to honor the 49 lives lost at the gay nightclub Pulse in 2016 with a mile-long parade in Downtown Orlando.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Many cities in Southern California, including Long Beach and Anaheim, are considered high on the gay-friendly list. They host several Pride events and festivals throughout the year and lean "blue.” There are multiple gay neighborhoods, which, as mentioned, are a great indicator that these cities are not just enjoyable to visit and site-see; they are good candidates for living.
In 2020, both Los Angeles and Long Beach received perfect scores on the HRC scale, while Anaheim scored 87, up from 80 in 2017.
WASHINGTON D.C., DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
The country's capital is home to the city's largest Pride festival called Capital Pride. The city's first gay bookstore, called Lambda Rising, was established here as well. There are plenty of historical LGBTQ+ sites and establishments that make D.C. gay-friendly and welcoming to gay travelers.
Capital Pride has more than 200 floats every year and, in past years, has hosted over 200,000 parade-goers and visitors from across the country.
Pittsburgh is an excellent option if you are interested in not just exploring but finding a new place to live. The low cost of living, growing tech scene, and community revival after their steel industry collapsed all make for an enjoyable place to live. As a visitor, gay patrons can experience the lively gay nightlife.
The demographics of each of these cities is what you would expect of your typical “progressive” city. The majority of the population is young, highly educated, and voted blue in the last election. Overall, the U.S. adult gay population is estimated to be about 4.5%, which only includes those who were comfortable enough to report.
Final thoughts: Traveling is a luxury many of us indulge in, and some would say, is crucial to living a well-rounded, cultured life. It can take hours of research to make an itinerary and see what a city has to offer. However, for gay travelers, a bit more effort has to be put in. Not all cities are welcoming to and of LGBTQ+ individuals and consider it an offensive and abnormal “lifestyle choice.” These misinformed opinions have real and harmful consequences.
Thankfully, many organizations understand this struggle and put in the effort to make travel experiences enjoyable for all people. As the fight for LGBTQ+ rights continues and more voices are heard, more cities host Pride celebrations and establish resources to serve and assist gay individuals. If you are interested in exploring more of the United States, think about this list and see what aligns with your travel style.