The United States is such a massive country with so much on offer. Where do you start when it comes to choosing where to visit?
Being LGBTQ+ in the United States
The United States has long been at the forefront of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights worldwide. While it legalised homosexuality nationwide in 2003, in many states, homosexuality has been legal since as early as 1962. In many states across the nation, LGBTQ+ people are protected from discrimination in employment, housing and access to public services. Since Joe Biden has become President, he has also pushed forward several federal bills to protect LGBTQ+ Americans. In general, being LGBTQ+ is pretty widely accepted.
Most people assume that the northern states are more accepting than the southern states. In some ways, this is true – southern states tend to vote more Republican, and generally, Republicans tend to be less supportive of LGBTQ+ rights. However, it's worth noting that in many cases, while the southern states are more conservative, that doesn't apply so much in the cities. In Texas, for example, while the state is very conservative, the main cities of Houston and Dallas skew far more liberal, and many LGBTQ+ people love to travel there. As in many Western nations, rural areas tend to be more conservative than urban hubs.
Where should I visit?
The United States is a vast country with many fun and fascinating places for LGBTQ+ people to travel. We've selected the top five destinations for LGBTQ+ people to visit to experience some of the best the US has to offer.
San Francisco, California
San Francisco is the top of many LGBTQ+ people's lists to visit – and for good reason. San Francisco is known as the gay capital of the world because much of the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement in the US began there. It was home to Beat poets like Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs in the 1950s, the first LGBTQ+ person in public office, José Sarria, in the 1960s, gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk in the 1970s, and many more since.
Today, the city’s famed Castro District is the hub of the LGBTQ+ community in the city and has several fascinating historical sites to visit. The GLBT Historical Society Museum is a must-visit, documenting the city’s rich history of championing LGBTQ+ rights. The Rainbow Honor Walk holds rows of plaques recognising LGBTQ+ individuals who made substantial positive impacts during their lives. The Pink Triangle Park is a memorial honouring LGBTQ+ victims of the Nazi regime. If you want to brush up on your LGBTQ+ history, there is plenty on offer here. Plus, the district is not short of evening entertainment, with LGBTQ-friendly hotels and bars like Qbar, Hi Tops Sports Bar, or the SF Eagle Biker Bar all within the Castro district.
The city also hosts unique and exciting LGBTQ+ events every year, and there really is something for everyone. In October, Castro Street holds the historic Castro Street Fair, which dates back to 1974, when Harvey Milk brought LGBTQ+ businesses together in the community. San Francisco Pride is hailed as the largest gathering of LGBTQ+ people and allies in the country and is held at the end of June every year. June is also when the city holds the famous Frameline Film Festival, the world's largest and oldest LGBTQ_+ film festival. In November, it hosts the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival, the oldest trans film festival in the world. In February, there is also a wine weekend just a short way away in Sonoma called Out in the Vineyard. Whatever you're looking for from your travels, you'll probably find it in San Francisco.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Fort Lauderdale is hailed as the LGBTQ+ capital of Florida, and if you visit, you'll see why. The city reportedly receives over 1 million LGBTQ+ visitors every year, so you can be sure it's a safe and supportive travel destination, whether you're LGBTQ+ or not. Fort Lauderdale has earned itself a name as an LGBTQ+ hotspot in part due to its thriving nightlife and party scene. Still, if that's not for you, there's plenty of other attractions that make this an excellent destination to have on your list.
The gay district of Fort Lauderdale is called Wilton Manors, which holds over 30 gay bars and clubs frequented by LGBTQ+ travellers and locals alike. One of the top spots is Rosie’s Bar and Grill, which serves incredible dishes, many of which are named after American pop stars and gay icons. Flip Flops Dockside Eatery and Hunters are also tourist go-to’s. If you’re more into daytime activities, the city is also home to the Stonewall National Museum and Archives and the World AIDS Museum, which dive into the history of the LGBTQ+ community both in the United States and worldwide. If you like shopping, head to Out of the Closet, a gay thrift store where you’re bound to uncover some treasures for a bargain price.
The city also has no shortage of LGBTQ+ events throughout the year. Their official pride event is held every October, which includes a parade, parties, food festivals and events catering to everyone. Wilton Manors also hosts its own Stonewall Pride Parade and Festival in June. The city also hosts its own Outshine GLBT Film Festival, showcasing LGBTQ films every October, which also airs in Miami every April. The Southern Comfort Transgender Conference happens in Fort Lauderdale every September, with author talks, pop-up shops, entertainment and workshops aimed at the trans community.
One lesser-known US LGBTQ+ hotspot is Provincetown in Massachusetts, but don’t be put off by its somewhat lacking reputation. Massachusetts was the first state to legalise same-sex marriage in the US in 2005, 10 years before it would be legalised nationwide. Provincetown is home to more same-sex couples than any other city in the United States and is hailed as one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world. It’s situated at the tip of Cape Cod, around two hours’ drive from Boston.
Provincetown has the oldest gay bar in the entire country, The Atlantic House. A nautical-themed bar and nightclub all-in-one, this historic site should definitely be on your "to visit" list if you're holidaying on the East Coast. Most tourists visit in the summer for its many LGBTQ+ events. Provincetown Pride is held every June, with other LGBTQ+ tribes also hosting festivals throughout July. Also during the summer months, the town hosts a Women’s Week and the Tennessee Williams Theatre Festival.
Another reason many visit Provincetown in the summer is because of the picturesque location. Cape Cod is well-known for its sandy beaches, quaint seaside atmosphere and beautiful walks. For those interested in US history in general, it’s also an interesting destination as it was the site of the Mayflower’s landing in 1620, when the British first landed in America.
Fire Island, New York
New York is well-known as the epicentre of much of the civil rights movement in the United States. However, it's worth venturing out of the city to visit Fire Island, credited as the US's first gay and lesbian town. Two hours from New York City, the island has a small population of just 310 people, most of whom are gay men, but its reputation as an LGBTQ+ safe haven attracts thousands of visitors each year.
The island is comprised of two main hamlets: Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines. Both are popular among LGBTQ+ travellers, but each has its own distinct personality. Fire Island Pines is the party hub of the island. In July, it hosts two huge parties called Invasion of the Pines and the Fire Island Pines Party. Cherry Grove is known for being more down to earth and relaxed, for visitors who want to experience the island’s culture, without the relentless partying. Both are home to numerous LGBTQ+ beaches, bars and hotels, so whichever side you choose, you’ll be well served.
Despite being known for its party scene, Fire Island is also a perfect destination for nature lovers. Unsurprisingly for an island, beautiful beaches are not hard to come by, and in the summer months, there are often water sports and boating or sailing trips. The island is also home to the Sunken Forrest. It is an ancient maritime forest situated between dunes and is a location any nature lover will enjoy. It's the habitat to much of the island's best bird-watching and wildlife as well.
While Philadelphia isn’t often thought of as one of the US’s main LGBQ+ hubs, it is worth visiting. The LGBTQ+ quarter of town, nicknamed ‘the Gaybourhood’, is central to the city, boasting numerous LGBT-owned businesses, restaurant and hotels. One of the quarter’s most famous establishments is the Giovanni’s Room books and thrift shop. Giovanni’s Room is the longest-running LGBTQ+ bookstore in the nation, having first opened in 1973.
Philadelphia has a rich LGBTQ+ history dating back to the early 1900s. In the 1950s, Sansom Street was known as a meeting place for LGBTQ+ people in the jazz bars and coffee houses that were frequented by the similar Beatnik crowd to San Francisco. It is home to one of the first LGBTQ+ specific publications, Drum, in 1962 and hosted many of the country's earliest protests and demonstrations for LGBTQ+ rights. Some of the key historical sites to visit include Independence Hall, where the country's earliest recurring gay rights demonstrations were held in 1965, the Arch Street Meeting House, where the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights was planned, and the Old City, which holds the William Way LGBT Community Center alongside the city's first LGBTQ+ coffee house.