In the mid-1990s, the travel industry started to pay attention to gay travelers, as many had significant disposable income, especially for travel. Major airlines, tour companies, hotels, and cruise lines began investing in marketing and advertising especially geared to the gay community, placing ads in gay and mainstream publications and media.
Cities also pursued gay market dollars, running ad campaigns to welcome gay travelers and catering to their needs. Today, across the U.S., cities compete to welcome the gay traveler and sponsor events such as Gay Pride celebrations, film festivals, and the Gay Games, which are similar to the Olympics and happen every four years.
Here’s a list of some of the most gay-friendly cities in the U.S. and their major events throughout the year.
San Francisco has long been a mecca for the LGBTQ+ community, ever since the 1960s. The city has the largest density of gay people in the U.S. and has a strong, civic-minded community. The city hosts many annual LGBTQ+ events and celebrations that not only attract locals but visitors, too.
San Francisco Pride
Nearly one million people attend San Francisco Pride, making it one of the biggest LGBTQ+ gatherings in the world. Started in 1970, the festival celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020. In addition to the parade, a host of cultural events take place the last weekend of June, including theater, dance, and film.
What began as a storefront event in 1976 is now one of the most important gay film festivals in the U.S. and the largest in the world. The 10-day festival shows dozens of new films highlighting the best and brightest LGBTQ+ directors and actors. The main screenings are held at an art deco gem, The Castro Theater, one of the last surviving theaters of its kind in the country. Before each screening, an organ rises up from the orchestra pit, and an organist plays show tunes. The Frameline film festival culminates on the Sunday evening of the Gay Pride Festival. Major stars have attended the festival including Alan Cumming, Wilson Cruz, and Jonathan Groff.
Castro Street Fair
The Castro neighborhood has long served as the heart and soul of San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ community. Started by the first openly gay elected official in the U.S., Harvey Milk, in 1974, The Castro Street Fair is a vibrant outdoor affair with performances, dance parties, arts and crafts vendors, and scavenger hunts. Proceeds of the fair are donated to local charitable organizations.
Atlanta has one of the largest concentrations of LGBTQ+ people in the South. Midtown is Hotlanta’s original gayborhood. Beginning at the intersection of 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue, Midtown houses a wealth of gay-owned shops, bars, art galleries, and restaurants.
The Midtown Arts District serves as Atlanta’s cultural hub. Highlights include the High Museum of Art, The Fox Theatre, the Center for Puppetry Arts, and the SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion and Film. Other gay neighborhoods in Atlanta are Downtown/Castleberry Hill and Westside/Atlantic Station. Ansley Hall/Cheshire Bridge Road has a thriving nightlife scene with bars and clubs as well.
The city of Atlanta and the LGBTQ+ community present a large number of events and celebrations all through the year.
Martin Luther King Junior’s Birthday
The black LGBTQ+ community honors Martin Luther King Jr. with an all-out celebration. A gay speaker gives a speech during the important march dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. as part of the three-day “holigay” weekend that has been dubbed Winter Pride.
Human Rights Campaign Dinner
The Human Rights Campaign is a major non-profit that champions gay rights and equal protection under the law. Every May, leading figures and entertainers come together for a black-tie fundraiser dinner in honor of those who strive to make Atlanta a tolerant city. The event raises over $250,000.
Black Gay Pride Celebration
What was once an informal Labor Day weekend house party at a few places has now morphed into the biggest Black Gay Pride celebration in the world. The mass celebration features incomparable parties across the city as well as seminars to empower the community.
New York City
Much like San Francisco, New York has historically been a place where gay people have been accepted and thrived as a community for over 50 years. June 28, 1968, marked the advent of the gay rights movement and liberation. This infamous day was when the Stonewall Riots took place. On this historic day, a group of gay men rebelled against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a popular bar and club in the West Village. The riots paved the way for the first Gay Pride Parade and Festival New York in 1969. Today, almost every major city in the world has a similar event.
The West Village was the first recognized gay area of New York, followed by Chelsea. Now, it has extended to Hell’s Kitchen in the Broadway Theater District as well as parts of Brooklyn and Queens.
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS
When the gay community of Broadway was hard hit by the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s, people in the industry formed Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. This non-profit organization supports men and women across the country with essential medications, healthcare, emergency financial assistance, counseling, and nutritious meals.
It also sponsors fun annual fundraisers, including an Easter bonnet competition, Broadway Barks pet adoption event, and Broadway Bets, a poker game played by the top Broadway stars. In one of the organization’s most lucrative fundraisers, Broadway Bares, Broadway actors and dancers bare some skin in order to raise millions for the cause.
Gays drag their most outrageous fashions and wigs out of the closet for Bushwig, the premiere drag competition, accompanied by a dance, held in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Proceeds go to a transgender charity. There’s also a Bushwig Berlin.
The LGBTQ Center Events
Hosting everything from gay square dance events to recovery meetings, The Center is a gathering place for LGBTQ residents of NYC. This longtime West Village institution offers career services and counseling, family resources, and cultural events. The Center also features an extensive collection of artworks by gay artists including Keith Haring and David LaChapelle, as well as a library.
The LGBTQ community is out, loud, and prouder than ever in the last week of June during the Gay Pride Festival. Locals along with national and international guests gather for one of the largest Gay Pride celebrations in the world. Local and national organizations march in the parade on Sunday. Usually, the mayor of the city marches with them.
Southern Florida has been a longtime destination for gay travelers. Next to the “Gay Riviera” of Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale is the capital gay city. Along with neighboring Wilton Manors, the area boasts 200 gay-owned bars, clubs, restaurants, hotels, and shops. Both cities put on fabulous Pride parades.
A joint venture between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, the OUTshine Film Festival is the leading LGBTQ film festival in southern Florida. Taking place the first week of December at two venues in Miami and two in Fort Lauderdale, the festival attracts leading world premieres of gay films, directors, and actors. In 2020, the festival had a drive-in event and virtual screenings.
Stonewall National Museum And Archives
While technically not an event, the Stonewall National Museum and Archives is the largest gay library and archive in the United States. The collection of historical gay artifacts includes the gavel that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put down in 2011 to end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy against gays and lesbians serving in the military, a tennis racquet used by Martina Navratilova, and the red boots actor Billy Porter wore in the Broadway musical Kinky Boots.
It’s also home to the World AIDS Museum and Educational Center, which features the chronology of AIDS/HIV in the main gallery and art gallery that includes parts of the AIDS quilt, works by Keith Haring, and a basketball jersey worn by Magic Johnson.
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