LGBTQ+ Travel in the US – Is it Safe?

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There is a vibrant queer community and culture across the U.S. but are all places LGBTQ+-friendly? Our LGBTQ+ travel expert Ed Salvato shares his advice to help you plan your trip.

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LGBTQ+ Americans enjoy most of the same rights as non-queer citizens though these rights were granted 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 26 June 2015. Pride celebrations that year were particularly jubilant.

The United States lags several Western nations in the rights it grants queer citizens. It wasn’t until June 2020 that the U.S. Supreme Court said the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, queer people are still fired, denied housing or refused service for being gay, lesbian or transgender 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 areas with large conservative populations.

Safety concerns for LGBTQ+ travelers

Although acceptance of LGBTQ+ rights and people has risen in recent decades – particularly dramatically among younger Americans – there was 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 of the protections denied to LGBTQ+ people during the Trump administration, but there continues to be 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-LGBTQ+ or anti-trans violence perpetrated against visitors.

Queer-friendly places to go in the USA

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 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 had a very popular out gay and married mayor, Pete Buttigieg, who ran for the Democratic nomination for president of the U.S. and currently serves as the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. 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 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 queer people everywhere. The Big Apple, especially the area around Stonewall, is a must-visit for all 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. LGBTQ+ people live everywhere, and despite years of gentrification, the Castro remains one of the queerest neighborhoods in the U.S.

Chicago

Chicago is both a regional and national draw for LGBTQ+ visitors. Everyone affectionately refers to the gayborhood as “Boys Town”— even the gruffest looking male taxi driver.

Lesbians are more likely to make their home in Andersonville. Note that in 2021, the neighborhood officially changed its name to Northalsted to promote inclusion, but not everyone is on board with that, and you’ll hear both names used.

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 queerer as retirees flock here for the convivial spirit, warm weather and lower cost of living compared to other big North American cities.

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
  • New Orleans, Louisiana – home to the 4th-highest concentration of LGBTQ+ people in the country and the South's biggest queer celebration
  • Boston, Provincetown and Northampton (especially for lesbians), Massachusetts
  • Palm Springs, California – holds an annual LGBTQ+ White Party, Pride Festival and The Dinah, a celebration for lesbians.

In a sign of changing times, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; 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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