For lesbian and queer women, community is everything, which makes picking the right place to live extremely important. There’s a reason why lesbians flock to Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York like their lives depend on it. But there are a ton of other lesser-known (and more affordable) cities that are super lesbian-friendly and full of queer culture.
We hand-picked 14 of the best cities for lesbians to live in 2019 that aren’t LA, SF or NYC. We picked each city based on two measures: first, the LGBTQ-friendliness of its laws and policies, and second, its LGBTQ+ population density.
For the first measurement, we used the Municipal Equality Index, a score calculated yearly by the Human Rights Campaign. Each city is scored out of 100 based on the quality of its non-discrimination laws, services, and leadership, all of which make life safer for lesbians and other queer folks.
For the second measurement, we used a 2015 survey by Gallup, which measured the percentage of adults who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender in 50 U.S. cities. There’s strength in numbers, so simply determining how many queer people already live in the area is one way to figure out whether it’s the city for you.
Some of the cities on this list are small, while others are large. Some are in states with queer-friendly laws while others are in… Kentucky. The lesson? There is no shortage of cool cities for lesbians. A total of 78 cities scored a perfect 100 on the MEI in 2018, and some of them might surprise you.
As one of the biggest cities in the country, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that Chicago has a bustling queer women’s scene and an MEI score of 100. Vivian Gonzalez, Art Director at the Center on Halsted, tells GO that Chicago’s scene is comparable to that of San Francisco or New York. That’s “thanks to the really hardworking and dedicated queer women in our community.”
“We have space curators of different backgrounds that cater to all the lesbians,” she adds. Like many major cities, Chicago doesn’t have a lesbian-specific bar, but it does have a ton of regular events specifically for queer women.
“My favorite thing is that no matter who you are, you find community in all these spaces because the producers do an outstanding job of making sure people feel welcome, loved, and affirmed!”
Per Gallup’s survey, Austin has the third highest LGBTQ+ population density in the country! It has an MEI score of 100 and an extremely active lesbian community.
“Lesbian women in Austin can connect with one another through a variety of groups, events, and activities that take place throughout the year,” Tammy Shaklee, an Austin-based LGBTQ+ relationship expert, tells GO. There are monthly dance parties and an annual Lesbian Prom, for starters.
“Active members of the Austin Lesbian community also host smaller events such as regular coffee house meetups, book clubs, and other gatherings that are accessible to all,” Shaklee adds.
Austin is a gorgeous city that’s known for its outdoorsiness, and there are plenty of lesbian hiking groups, boat parties, and other gay nature activities if you’re so inclined.
New Orleans, LA
New Orleans may be a small city, but it’s well-known for its strong queer scene and it consistently shows up on lists of top LGBTQ+-friendly cities in the country. This city is super gay – take it from me, I live here! The lesbian and queer community here has been around for a long time, and though there’s no gay district per se, there are welcoming spaces for all types of queer women, from roller derby to dance nights. We have not just one, but three LGBTQ+ parades throughout the year (this is the home of Mardi Gras, after all), including Southern Decadence and the Gay Easter Parade.
This unique city has one of the highest LGBTQ+ population densities in the country, per Gallup. Policy-wise, it has an MEI score of 97, which is pretty dang impressive for a tiny city in Louisiana.
Philadelphia has a whole neighborhood called the “Gayborhood,” so you can deduce from that that it’s very gay and very inclusive. The city features a range of gay bars, including one that specifically caters to queer women (Toasted Walnut). But far beyond the Gayborhood, thousands of Philly’s queer women enjoy the city’s LGBTQ+-friendly culture and policies. It has an MEI score of 100, and the city values intersectionality, too.
“Philly is where the inclusive Pride flag with black and brown stripes was created, and it’s where sheroes like Gloria Casarez and Anita Cornwall fought for the inclusion of black and brown women,” Evan Thornbug, the Deputy Director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, tells GO. The Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs is also run entirely by queer women of color.
Portland has the second highest LGBTQ+ population density in the U.S. after San Francisco. It also has an MEI score of 86, which, while not perfect, is pretty high and includes anti-discrimination laws for employment, housing, and public accommodations.
“Portland is a great place to be a lesbian/queer womxn,” says my friend Sarah Orizaga, a Portland resident. “Mainly because there is almost constant assurance that, regardless of where in the city you go, you will see yourself reflected in the other people around you. It’s like a constant state of acceptance.”
Super-chill lesbians who are not into labels and snobbery will particularly appreciate this city.
“I’ve also noticed that lesbians in Portland are way more laid back about the ‘queer scene’ than in other west coast cities,” Orizaga says. “Basically, it’s not a big deal. You don’t have to be one certain ‘type’ of lesbian. There’s no lipstick/dipstick stereotype to perpetuate.”
Tampa isn’t exactly famous for its gay and lesbian community — if you’re looking in Florida, you might default to Miami instead. But Tampa has an MEI score of 100, while Miami only scored a 55. Tampa also hosts one of the largest events for Equality Florida, an organization that advances civil rights for LGBTQ+ folks in the state.
“Tampa is filled with people that march to the beat of all types of drummers,” Mark Puskarich at Equality Florida tells GO. The city offers advocacy groups, nightlife, health care resources, and other perks for queer women.
“Though not widely known for this, Tampa is home to one of the largest juried LGBTQ film festivals in the world,” Puskarich adds. “This annual event brings together the LGBTQ community to laugh, cry, learn, and remember.”
Louisville is another smaller city with a seriously impressive lesbian scene considering that it’s in Kentucky. It has had an MEI score of 100 for the past four years in a row, and the city’s queer-friendliness isn’t new. Louisville has long been a leader of LGBTQ+ rights in the South. They were one of the first cities to pass a Fairness Ordinance prohibiting employment discrimination — the city just celebrated the 20th anniversary of its groundbreaking ordinance in January. Louisville also has a high LGBTQ+ population density; it ranks 11th on Gallup’s survey.
Columbus has an MEI score of 100 and a high LGBTQ+ population density of 4.3%. The city is a “great choice” for lesbian and queer women, leading LGBT Expert Kryss Shane tells GO.
“The city laws include ‘sexual orientation and gender identity’ in the non-discrimination laws and there are many accepting people and companies,” Shane explains.
“The Pride parade is the second largest in the Midwest and the six universities provide a largely liberal belief base. Most religious organizations not only accept all people, they have signs and rainbow flags to indicate this to all members. Low cost of living is also helpful since so many LGBT+ people have lower income levels or higher bills for medical and mental health costs.”
Providence features an MEI score of 100, a welcoming spirit, and a lively queer scene. Resident Lulu Locks says she loves the city for its amazing restaurants, nightlife, unique events, walkability, and easy access to both Boston and NYC.
“Providence is a cozy little haven for everyone,” says Locks, “in comparison with other cities, my wife and I always feel like regular folks around here. We always feel safe and there is easy access to diverse communities.”
The city has something to offer all types of queer women, too.
“Whether you are active, an activist, a mom or career-driven, there is always a great circle to settle your life into,” Locks says.
Atlanta is a hub of gay nightlife, and despite being in the middle of a conservative southern state, it has an MEI score of 100, thanks to the city’s non-discrimination laws for employment, housing, and public accommodation. According to Gallup’s survey, 4.2% of the Atlanta population identify as LGBTQ+. The city has a diverse and active queer community that is particularly welcoming for Black queer folks. It also features one of the oldest lesbian bars in the Southeast, My Sister’s Room.
Yes, there are other LGBTQ+ safe havens in California aside from San Francisco and Los Angeles! Sacramento is an often underrated yet super queer-friendly city in northern California. Sacramento actually managed to score a total MEI score of 104, thanks to several bonus points. The city has an LGBTQ+ district, Lavender Heights in Midtown, where gay-owned restaurants, cafes, bars, shops and other businesses reside. It’s a short drive down to the Bay Area, but it’s drastically more affordable.
Denver has the “most vibrant LGBTQ scene in the Rockies,” per Denver.org. The city has an MEI score of 100, and it manages to seriously challenge the limits of restrictive Colorado state laws. The LGBTQ+ density is just below Los Angeles on Gallup’s survey, and the city also has an extremely progressive and accepting culture with an active gay community. They have a major Pride festival and also an annual GAY RODEO, which is pretty much a dealmaker!
Seattle has a high LGBTQ+ population density of 4.8%. It has an MEI score of 100, and both the state and the city have non-discrimination laws and openly LGBTQ+ elected officials. The city is home to the longest-living lesbian-owned bar on the west coast, Wildrose, as well as several de-facto lesbian bars. There’s also a news outlet just for lesbians(!), appropriately named the Seattle Lesbian.
Stamford, CT or Hartford, CT
Mom lesbians and/or lesbians who are ready to start a family, this one’s for you! Stamford and Hartford are two great options in Connecticut that are relatively close to one another. Stamford has an MEI score of 100, while Hartford has an MEI score of 91 and a high LGBTQ+ population density. The state of Connecticut boasts great queer-friendly policies for building a family, including joint parent adoptions for same-sex couples.
There are definitely more than 14 great cities for lesbians to live, but we couldn’t possibly list them all! So – your turn! Which other cities would you recommend?