• Elaine Zedack and Julia Pascale

Finding Community: Prioritizing inclusive, diverse, and safe neighborhoods for LGBTQIA+



As joyful Pride celebrations take place around the country this month, it can be easy to forget that not all communities are equally accepting of LGBTQIA+ neighbors. Recently, Fourth Economy analyst Julia Pascale developed a StoryMap to note the most accepting areas of the country for the LGBTQIA+ community to live. Whether you’re a member of the queer community, or an ally, knowing this information is critical to understanding safe zones and planning for more inclusive communities.


Just because the largest metros may be the most visibly queer-friendly, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best places for members of the LGBTQIA+ community to establish their home. For example, the queer neighborhoods of Los Angeles, San Francisco and the birthplace of Pride — New York City — are recognized worldwide, but in comparison to the overall populations of these cities, same sex couples make up a lower ratio to heterosexual couples than other cities in the United States. Now, despite the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015, only 22 states have enacted explicit protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identification. While some states on the map have local protections in place, they may also be facing anti-LGBTQIA+ bills in their current legislature.


However, even in states facing anti-LGBTQIA+ bills, thriving queer communities can still be found. Florida and the Rust Belt are areas of the country that, while not having explicit state protections, do have affordable, queer-friendly cities. Historically, queer neighborhoods were referred to as “gay ghettos” and were in more rundown enclaves where it was cheaper to own a house or business. Today, these neighborhoods are often seen as a benefit to the surrounding town, as they establish businesses, revitalize areas, and, as is the case with the Castro district in San Francisco or the West Village in NYC, could become tourism draws. A queer-welcoming community needs to strike the right balance between acceptance among residents and being a physically safe environment for all. This means establishing local protections. As with any neighborhood, the residents must, at a minimum, feel safe.


“The LGBTQ community will identify a town or neighborhood, will turn it into a safe haven for themselves,” says David Siroty, spokesman for the National Association of Gay & Lesbian Real Estate Professionals. “Then businesses and beautification will follow. Over time, the neighborhood improves and it becomes popular with everybody. The LGBTQIA+ community is looking for a lot of the same things that anyone would look for: walkability, entertainment, and culture. But they’re also looking for safety and areas where they can live without discrimination.”


Below, we’ll discuss three cities - outside of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City - that have excellent potential for a member of the LGBTQIA+ community looking to find an inclusive, diverse, secure, and lively place to call home.

Philadelphia

The Gayborhood, located within the Washington Square West neighborhood, is extremely LGBTQIA+ friendly. Though Pennsylvania does not have state protections, Philadelphians have a history of participation in the LGBTQIA+ rights movement. In 1965, local activists began staging annual Reminder Day protests, which were some of the first major LGBTQIA+ rights demonstrations in the country.

OutFest, an annual celebration of National Coming Out Day in the Gayborhood, features drag shows, music and lots of partying, further solidifying this area of the city’s well established reputation for being an open and supportive community. With the average monthly rent being just over $1,000 and the average home price being under $300,000, the Gayborhood is also a surprisingly affordable community for a major city.


Photo credit: Bradley Maule via Hidden City


Atlanta

Although the South is not widely recognized for supporting their LGBTQIA+ neighbors–Georgia does not offer state protections–however, the city of Atlanta do have local protections in place to address sexual orientation and gender discrimination.

With three major queer neighborhoods, and several other smaller pockets, this city has options! Young, gay professionals may enjoy the Downtown neighborhood. Those looking for a culturally- and artistically-focused neighborhood would do well to explore “Atlanta’s original gay neighborhood” of Midtown. East Atlanta is an up and coming queer neigborhood with a few popular LGBTQIA+ haunts, including the famous Mary’s — a gay karoke bar. A city with one of the largest black populations in the country, Atlanta hosts the first and largest Black Pride celebration, elevating the unique experience of black members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The cost of living varies between each neighborhood, providing a range of opportunities for LGBTQIA+ community members to accommodate their lifestyle and income needs.

Photo credit: Gene Phillips, Courtesy of ACVB & AtlantaPhotos.com via Trip Savvy.


San Diego

California is a state that does have protections for the LGBTQIA+ community. While San Diego has a higher cost of living — the average home cost is just below $800,000 and the rental median is almost $2,000 per month — they also have two great “gayborhoods” of their own. The Hillcrest neighborhood has been described as the heart of the LGBTQIA+ community in the city. Well-established, Hillcrest features several LGBTQIA+ bars, clubs, and other queer owned businesses, including “the first gay brewery in the world,” Hillcrest Brewing Company.


North Park is a younger queer neighborhood with a trendy and eclectic array of businesses focused on, or owned by, LGBTQIA+ identifying residents. While North Park is still finding its footing as a gay neighborhood, it is undoubtedly on track to becoming one of the most interesting neighborhoods in the country.


Photo credit: San Diego Blog


What can my community do?

As cities and regions across the United States realize the importance of providing a welcoming environment for their LGBTQIA+ neighbors, there are steps they can take now to establish distinct, welcoming areas.


Emphasis on local protections must be the first priority so those within the LGBTQIA+ community can live comfortably, no matter the neighborhood in which they choose to live. Other simple ways to distinguish a gay friendly neighborhood include: displaying the rainbow Pride flag year round as part of the streetscape, educating the local community on LGBTQIA+ identities, working with already-established allies and queer community members to determine a strategic plan for the future, and establishing annual community Pride celebrations.


To build a future full of inclusivity and diversity, every community must provide safe conditions for our LGBTQIA+ neighbors to live and thrive, without exception.


 

To learn more about building equitable communities download our Equitable Development Toolkit