While LGBTQ rights are being attacked across the country by a GOP stuck in the 1950s, an increasing number of American cities are embracing queer culture like never before. According to Gallup 2022’s poll, a staggering 71% of Americans say they support legal same-sex marriage. So when choosing a domestic travel destination, you might be surprised by the number of options (and the locations) catering to good ol’ gay fun.
GayCities has picked five overlooked American cities that have emerged as LGBTQ-friendly destinations for your travel radar. All are in otherwise conservative states, making their unique visibility and willingness to wave the rainbow flag even more crucial for advancing equality.
Minnesotan life-long journalist Ricardo J. Brown wrote in his memoir The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s (published in 2001) that LGBTQ life in Minneapolis was “a ruse that kept all of us safe,” conducted in “a fort amid a savage and hostile population.” Unfortunately, this significant glimpse into the gay experience of the mid-20th century was published posthumously, and the ground-breaking author never got to witness the dramatic evolution of culture in his state. Gay travelers today wouldn’t necessarily pick Minnesota to nestle their vacations, but Minneapolis has been celebrating Pride since 1973, and it has voted Democratic consecutively since 1976. The city merges the welcoming attitude of a small town (Haven’t you heard of Minnesota nice?) with urban infrastructure and values. VacationRenter surveyed 720 travelers on the friendliest LGBTQ Destinations in 2022, and Minneapolis tied for seventh on the list. When visiting, don’t forget to visit their famous (and kinky) eagleBOLTbar and The Saloon (particularly on Sunday for their amateur go-go shower contest).
Charlotte, North Carolina
In 2016, North Carolina made national headlines (and criticism) for introducing its “bathroom bill,” cruelly demanding transgender people use public bathrooms in state-run buildings that correspond with the sex on their birth certificates, regardless of how they identify or where they are in their transition. Although North Carolina refuses to pass laws to protect its LGBTQ community better, Charlotte has emerged as a sanctuary in the Republican state for marginalized communities, embracing diversity and queerness. The major commercial city offers legal protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Since 2011, Charlotte Pride’s largest annual event has been held in the heart of Uptown Charlotte, and a yearly parade was introduced in 2013. Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority tells GayCities that in the past decade, the annual event has grown from approximately 10,000 to 200,000 visitors, becoming the largest LGBTQ celebration of its kind in the Carolinas and the city’s largest annual parade. Its queer community also prides itself on offering something to do for gay nightlife every day of the week, including plenty of drag. Some highlights include Charlotte’s oldest gay bar, The Scorpio, the go-to place to shake your hips, Woodshed Lounge, and its highest-rated (with a newly expanded patio due to its popularity), Bar at 316.
Amidst the crucible of American politics, Georgia has emerged as a new battleground state in the deep south. You might be surprised to hear about its potential deviation from its strong Republican past, but that’s thanks to liberal cities like Savannah serving as “bastions of open-mindedness and acceptance” and promoting that ideology to their surrounding neighbors. Visit Savannah tells GayCities you won’t find a lot of gay bars in town, though that’s because its community is so welcoming that LGBTQ+ locals feel no need to frequent gay bars. Despite the lack of specific gay nightlife, Savannah has the largest National Historic Landmark District, haunted tours (it’s one of the most haunted cities in America), and you can visit places that inspired movies like “Forest Gump” and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Make sure to visit River Street for gay-friendly and LGBT-owned boutiques, galleries, bistros, boutique hotels, and the most lively nightlife options.
Despite Alaska’s landscape being frozen in time, its queer community fights to change with the times. The State might have voted conservatively Republican in every election except Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 landslide, but progressive values and gay culture can be found in its capital, Juneau – Also the home of Southeast Alaska LGBTQ+ Alliance, known as SEAGLA. Alaska’s queer natives helped create a community in Juneau that welcomes diversity from all parts of the globe. Juneau is a once-in-a-lifetime destination, offering sightseeing (glaciers, icefields, mountains, igloos, penguins!), so it’s an experience you cannot find anywhere else. This makes increasing its queer culture vital to encourage gay travelers to partake in its mesmerizing icy wonder. Juneau’s alliance group plans to do just that, and the organization says the LGBTQ renaissance is just beginning.
Salt Lake City, Utah
The homeland of Mormonism is the last place you would expect to find a thriving queer scene, but Visit Salt Lake City tells GayCities that 2022 was a record year for the festival, with 75,000+ festival attendees over the week of June 5th. Additionally, the city has a 4.7% LGBTQ population, one of the highest in the nation. There are over 20+ LGBTQ-owned small businesses located in Utah’s capital alone. Its original gayborhood of 9th & 9th was renamed Harvey Milk Boulevard by SLC’s first openly gay Mayor Jackie Biskupski. (4 of the 7 Salt Lake City Council members are openly LGBTQIA, and 4 of the 7 are racial and ethnic minorities.) Bravo bringing the Housewives franchise to SLC should prove the city’s impressive evolution into a progressive religious metropolis. Must-visit gay bars include The Exchange Nightclub, Area 51 (18+), and the Sun Trapp.