LGBTQ Travel in the US - Is it Safe?

There is a vibrant gay community and culture across the US but are all places LGBTQ friendly? Our expert Ed Salvato from Man About World shares his advice to help you plan your trip.

Photo © GettyImages/BrigitteMERLE

LGBTQ Americans enjoy most of the same rights as non-queer citizens though these rights were granted only relatively recently. Sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex has been legal nationwide since June 2003. All states license and recognize marriage between same-sex couples since June 26, 2015. Pride celebrations that year were particularly jubilant.

The United States lags behind a number of Western nations in the rights it grants queer citizens. There is no federal law outlawing discrimination nationwide leaving residents of some states unprotected against discrimination in employment, housing, and private or public services. Yep, you can still be fired, denied housing or refused service for being gay in some parts of the country. As a result, LGBTQ persons in the United States may still face some challenges not experienced by non-LGBTQ residents, particularly in the Deep South and rural states with large conservative populations.

Safety Concerns for LGBTQ Travelers

Although acceptance of LGBTQ rights and LGBTQ people has risen in recent decades — particularly dramatically among younger Americans — there has been an increase in reports of homophobia and transphobia during the Trump era paralleling a lamentable rise in right wing nationalism. The current U.S. administration has reversed some protections afforded to LGBTQ people during the Obama administration including its highly publicized ban on openly transgender military service members.

There has also been an alarming increase in reports of anti-trans murders and other violence especially those perpetrated against younger American transwomen of color. However, there are few, if any, reports of anti-gay or anti-trans violence perpetrated against visitors.

Queer Friendly Places

There are many queer-friendly places in the United States and very few that LGBTQ travelers should avoid. For the most part big cities are more accepting and welcoming of diversity than rural places, though it’s more complex than that. There are parts of big cities where local out gay people may not wish to demonstrate even mild expressions of affection like handholding — for example, parts of the South Bronx in New York or South Central Los Angeles; though it’s unlikely any visitors would find themselves in these places.

Counterintuitively, while Indiana has a reputation as a conservative rural state where you probably won’t want to sport a pink Mohawk and kiss your lesbian partner on the lips in public; South Bend, Indiana has a very popular out gay and married mayor who’s running for the Democratic nomination for president of the U.S. There are breathtakingly beautiful national parks in the American wilderness that actively promote to LGBTQ travelers. So queer visitors are encouraged to keep an open mind and do their research; a warm welcome may await in surprising locales throughout the U.S.

Here are just a few of the many destinations with a significant LGBTQ local population where queer visitors can find many venues, activities and events of cultural interest and where they’ll find lots of other queer people.

New York City

It's the number-one tourist destination for queer visitors to the U.S and it’s no surprise with vibrant LGBTQ-popular neighborhoods and nightlife; over a 1,000 historic sites of interest to queer people; a thriving performing arts culture with numerous productions large and small with very queer themes; and gay people everywhere. The Big Apple, especially the area around Stonewall, is a must-visit for all gay travelers who are remotely interested in queer culture.

San Francisco

Usually number one or two for LGBTQ visitors, San Francisco is a true queer mecca. Gay people live everywhere, and despite years of gentrification, the Castro still remains one of the gayest neighborhoods in the U.S.

Chicago

Chicago is both a regional and national draw for gay visitors. Everyone refers to the gayborhood as “Boys Town” affectionately — even the gruffest looking male taxi driver. Lesbians are more likely to make their home in Andersonville.

Fort Lauderdale

Tourism officials in Fort Lauderdale make a huge concerted effort to reach out to all segments of LGBTQ travelers including often-ignored trans travelers, same-sex parents with children and lesbians. Fort Lauderdale’s destination marketing organization attributes $1.5 billion annually in terms of revenues generated by LGBTQ visitors. It's more laidback than nearby Miami (which is more popular with party-seeking younger gay men) and is one of the few cities getting gayer as queer retirees flock here for the convivial spirit and warm weather.

Other LGBTQ Friendly Places

Here are a handful more of the many other urbane hot spots where queer travelers will feel super welcome:

  • West Hollywood and San Diego, California
  • Miami, Florida
  • Louisiana, New Orleans - Home to the 4th highest concentration of LGBTQ people in the country and the South's biggest gay celebration
  • Boston and Northampton (especially for lesbians), Massachusetts.

In a sign of changing times, Tulsa, Oklahoma; Cleveland, Ohio; Houston, Texas; southern Illinois; and other “Red State” cities are also eagerly promoting themselves as LGBTQ welcoming.

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