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The most popular gay travel destinations in the U.S. have typically been located on the coasts. Thankfully, times have changed and cities across our great country are on their way to becoming the next San Francisco, West Hollywood or Fort Lauderdale when it comes to being all-welcoming destinations. We should always be grateful for the “gay meccas” that have inspired the rest of the country to be more inclusive of everyone, but it’s now time to also support the second-tier cities that are truly making an effort to attract LGBTQ visitors and residents like never before.
The beautiful Arizona desert is calling! The natural landscape draws visitors outdoors where there is plenty of room to roam and explore the arts and culture scene that makes Tucson an authentic and comfortable place. Phoenix and Tempe also scored perfect scores in the Human Rights Campaign city index but it’s Tucson—the first city in the U.S. to enact a domestic partnership provision way back in the ’70s and also home to the first church to openly welcome gay members—that takes the lead in welcoming LGBTQ travelers.
The city also has an openly gay police chief who has enacted a program called Safe Place. Businesses throughout the community have rainbow stickers in their windows, indicating that they are a shelter from harassment or bullying. In addition, the police have trained business owners to be able to handle all kinds of issues, especially situations that may threaten trans people. Now more than ever, Tucson is a queer-friendly destination.
Now more than ever, Tucson is a queer-friendly destination.
Iowa City, IA
A city of literature that is home to aspiring writers and avid readers, tucked into the seam of a rich riverbed winding through Iowa’s lush land, it may come as a surprise to learn that Iowa was the first Midwestern state to legalize same-sex marriage back in 2008. But it was. And the city in front of this pioneering state is Iowa City, a trailblazer for civil rights. In addition, the first female attorney admitted to a state bar in America was in Iowa City, and some of the first non-discrimination laws in Iowa were started there, leading the way for advancement while leaving behind an important legacy. The town’s progressive nature is intertwined with its largest employer, the University of Iowa. The college was among the first to offer benefits to its staffers’ partners. Incoming freshmen can choose both their preferred name and gender for their student record, and transgender students are housed according to their preferred gender.
Boise could be considered the cultural center of the Gem State with visual and performing arts taking center state and events such as Treefort Festival, which garners a lot of attention.
Despite its majority Republican legislature and a conservative population, Idaho boasts 13 cities with non-discrimination ordinances in place. The state capital harbors the most progressive enclave; its gay community center dates to 1983, and influxes of folks getting priced out of the West Coast have only fed the momentum. There’s also been a gay pride festival in the city since 1990 that continues to grow each year. Most high schools here, and even at least one junior high, have a gay-straight alliance club. Boise State University also has a Pride Alliance and a very active Gender Equity Center.
New Orleans, LA
Located on the Mississippi River, near the Gulf of Mexico, the city is known for its around the clock nightlife, vibrant live-music scene and singular cuisine reflecting its history as a melting pot of French, African and American cultures. Prior to the massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, the 1973 arson fire at New Orleans’ UpStairs Lounge was the deadliest attack on a gay club in US history. Since then, the city has done some historic things. In 1991, New Orleans became the first Louisiana city to pass a human rights ordinance. NOLA’s LGBTQ community has historically been centered around the French Quarter and Tremé, and the far end of Bourbon Street is still a hotspot for gay nightlife. Though there are a handful of gay Mardi Gras krewes, Southern Decadence is arguably the bigger party, attracting up to 200,000 revelers every Labor Day weekend.
Centrally located in North Carolina’s picturesque heartland, Greensboro is a great place to relax and immerse in the over 100 attractions the city has to offer. North Carolina’s ill-fated bathroom bill is expected to cost it nearly $4 billion in business and tourism revenue over the next 12 years, but don’t hold it against Greensboro. Of the Carolina cities Human Rights Campaign rated last year, this one ranked highest for gay-friendliness. A University of North Carolina campus gives the place life, plus a happening bar like Chemistry Nightclub gives it a fun feel. Mellower attractions include the Greensboro Arboretum and the Antique Market Place. A southern charmer for sure.