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5 surprising places to visit in unexpected states

These cities proudly wave their rainbow flags in the face of adversity and discrimination.

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Despite widespread attacks on LGBTQ rights from a Republican Party stuck in the ’50s, more and more American cities are welcoming queer culture with open arms. Seventy-one percent of Americans in a Gallup 2022 poll said they were in favor of same-sex marriage being legal. You might be surprised, then, to find so many domestic travel options (and actual locations) that are geared toward good, old-fashioned gay fun.

Five previously unnoticed U.S. cities that have emerged as LGBTQ-friendly destinations have been selected by GayCities. They are all in states that are notoriously homophobic and anti-gay, making their outspokenness and willingness to wave the rainbow flag that much more important.

City of Minneapolis, Minnesota

In his memoir The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s (published in 2001), life for the LGBTQ community in Minneapolis was described as “a ruse that kept all of us safe,” occurring in “a fort amid a savage and hostile population,” according to Minnesota native and lifelong journalist Ricardo J. Brown. This groundbreaking look at the gay experience in the middle of the twentieth century was published after the author had passed away, so he never got to see the state’s cultural shift for himself. Today’s gay tourists might not think of Minnesota as a vacation destination, but the city of Minneapolis has held a Pride parade every year since 1973 and has voted Democratic without fail since 1976. Combining small-town friendliness (Haven’t you heard of Minnesota nice?) with big-city amenities and ideals, this metropolis is a model of progressive living. According to a survey of 720 travelers conducted by VacationRenter on the best LGBTQ-friendly travel destinations for 2022, Minneapolis came in at joint seventh place. Don’t leave without checking out the Saloon and the infamous eagleBOLTbar (particularly on Sunday for their amateur go-go shower contest).

North Carolina’s Charlotte

North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” which demanded transgender people use the bathrooms in state-run buildings that correspond with the sex on their birth certificates no matter how they identify or where they are in the transition, received widespread attention (and criticism) in 2016. Despite North Carolina’s refusal to pass laws to better protect its LGBTQ community, Republican-led Charlotte has emerged as a safe haven for marginalized communities thanks to its welcoming atmosphere and celebration of diversity and queerness. A lack of legal protection for those who are transgender or question their gender identity is not an issue in the country’s largest commercial city. Uptown Charlotte has been the site of Charlotte Pride’s largest annual event since 2011, and the first annual parade was held that same year. According to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, the event has grown from drawing around 10,000 people a decade ago to over 200,000 people today, making it the largest LGBTQ celebration of its kind in the Carolinas and Charlotte’s largest annual parade. Its queer community is also proud to host a variety of gay-friendly nightlife options, including plenty of drag, seven days a week. Attractions include the Scorpio, the city’s longest continuously operating gay bar; the Woodshed Lounge, a popular spot for hip-shaking; and the highly regarded Bar at 316, which has recently expanded its patio to accommodate the increasing number of customers.

In the city of Savannah, Georgia

The state of Georgia has become a flashpoint in national politics, positioning itself as a key swing state in the American South. You might be surprised to learn that the state is moving away from its staunchly Republican roots, but that’s because liberal cities like Savannah are acting as “bastions of open-mindedness and acceptance” and spreading their values to the surrounding communities. According to GayCities, Savannah does not have a particularly large gay bar scene because its residents do not feel the need to frequent such establishments due to the city’s warm reception of the LGBTQ+ community. Savannah may not have gay-only bars, but it makes up for it with the largest National Historic Landmark District in the country, haunted tours (it’s one of the most haunted cities in America), and locations used in films like “Forest Gump” and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” River Street is home to some of the most exciting bars, clubs, and restaurants in the city, many of which cater to the LGBT community and are owned by members of that community.

City of Juneau, Alaska

Listening to Sarah Palin’s mouthpiece might lead one to believe otherwise, but Alaska is home to progressive values and a thriving queer community. Though the state has consistently voted Republican, Juneau, the state capital, is home to the Southeast Alaska LGBTQ+ Alliance (also known as SEAGLA), despite being founded by Democrats. Anchorage, Alaska, the state capital, is a welcoming place for the state’s LGBTQ+ natives. Juneau is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as it features unparalleled scenery (glaciers, icefields, mountains, igloos, penguins!). Increasing its queer culture is crucial to attracting gay tourists who can appreciate the region’s mystical frozen beauty. Alliance members in Juneau intend to do just that, and they believe the renaissance of the LGBTQ community is just getting started.

Utah’s Salt Lake City

Despite the stereotypes, Mormon country has a thriving queer scene, with over 75,000 people attending the festival in the week of June 5th, according to Visit Salt Lake City’s report to GayCities. The city also has a high percentage of people who identify as LGBTQ (4.7%, to be exact), making it a leader in this regard nationally. In the state capital of Utah, there are more than 20 LGBTQ-owned businesses. First openly gay mayor of Salt Lake City, Jackie Biskupski, renamed the street that once served as the neighborhood’s gayborhood (9th & 9th) to honor Harvey Milk. Four of Salt Lake City’s seven council members identify as members of the LGBTQIA community, and four of the seven are members of underrepresented groups. The fact that Bravo is bringing the Housewives franchise to SLC is further evidence of the city’s transformation into a progressive religious metropolis. The Exchange Nightclub, Area 51 (18+), and the Sun Trapp are three excellent gay nightlife options.