The 10 Best Cities to Live in for LGBTQ People
Not for fifty years, perhaps, have Bob Dylan’s words been as apt as they are now: ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’. This is especially the case in the global acceptance of sexual diversity. Since the 1990s, those who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer have been able to identify as being LGBTQ – a blanket term that, although not comprehensive, serves its purpose of inclusivity as well as possible. And over the last 20 years in particular, a growing number of countries have been either opening up their doors to members of this group, or at least making current residents feel at home.
There are many things to consider when weighing up a city’s LGBTQ credentials. Legal protection is paramount, as are legal rights (which you can view across any US state on this equality map). Tied into this is the readiness of any city’s population to accept and embrace members of the LGBTQ community – social acceptance, in other words. But professional and economic opportunities are also important, not to mention the culture, the festivals, and, of course, the nightlife.
On the whole, the world has become a much more open place. But unfortunately, there are still those cities in the world where its inhabitants are more inclined to stone anyone of the LGBTQ community (or, at the very least, incarcerate them) than to welcome them into their society. And while it’s important that a city offers its thrills, there’s only so much you can reasonably be expected to take. So until Pyongyang, Tehran, Baghdad, Moscow, and Riyadh sort their acts out, here are the world’s 10 best cities to live in for LGBTQ people.
10. Tel Aviv, Israel
It may come as a surprise that a Middle Eastern country has made it onto our list at all, given the pervasiveness of sexually discriminatory religious ideologies in the region. But Israel is remarkably advanced. At least in terms of LGBTQ rights, the Israelis have learned an important historical lesson: they have a duty, as victims of horrific persecution themselves, not to persecute others over their differences.
Israel’s record when it comes to LGBTQ rights is impressive. And, although the country as a whole may still be lagging behind its European and American counterparts, its second city is not. Regarded by some as the gayest city on earth, Tel Aviv is though to have an LGBTQ population of between 10 to 20 per cent. It has a thriving gay scene, culminating in the annual, weeklong Tel Aviv Pride event (this year between 4 – 9 June). And it’s no exaggeration to say that during this month it’s almost impossible to find a heterosexual male, much to the misery of heterosexual women throughout the city.
Tel Aviv would have ranked much higher on our list if it hadn’t been for one thing. It’s in Israel. Regrettably, the rest of the country doesn’t share Tel Aviv’s liberal outlook: a Pew Research Survey showing that only 40 per cent of the country views homosexuality as socially acceptable. Still, it’s an improvement on the rest of the Middle East. The second most LGBT-friendly city was Lebanon, with a woefully low 18 per cent.
9. Montreal, Canada
Unsurprisingly, Canada scores much higher in its population’s social acceptance of homosexuality – doubling Israel with an impressive 80 per cent. Also unsurprisingly, given Canada’s well-deserved reputation for cultural liberalism and inclusivity, it ranks consistently highly among the world’s best LGBTQ cities.
The epicenter of Montreal’s LGBTQ scene is its Gay Village, a haven of cafés, boutiques, and restaurants, awash with all the colors of the rainbow and situated just a stone’s throw from the waterfront. It really gets going at night, with many bars and clubs staying open until 5am.
One thing to note, however, is that Montreal can feel oppressively geared towards French speakers. Not only does this limit you when it comes to chatting someone up (although sometimes who needs words…), but it can severely limit your work options. Still, if the city’s joie-de-vivre gets too much for the Anglophones (or ‘gaynglos’, as they’re called) among you, Toronto’s only an hour’s flight away. And besides, some say it’s better anyway.
For those of you who haven’t been to Montreal, you could describe it as a kind of Disneyland Paris. It’s quasi-European in terms of its café culture, its linguistic diversity and its architecture. But all you need to do is visit both Notre Dames, and you’ll see it can also seem forcedly artificial. Oh, and it gets brutally cold in the winter too. This isn’t me wanting to trash Montreal, but for those of you who don’t want the Disneyland version there’s always the real thing.
8. Paris, France
Having produced such world-famous cultural exports as Michael Foucault and Christian Dior, France can pride itself over its illustrious LGBTQ heritage. And nowhere is this heritage more on display than in the city’s capital. Sexual liberty (egalité, fraternité) is sown into the very fabric of the city: gay and lesbian subcultures being an integral – if unspoken – part of the city since the 18th century.
It wouldn’t be until the late 1990s and early 2000s that LGBTQ culture really became part of Paris’ mainstream. In 2001, the city elected its first openly gay mayor, Bertrand Delanoë. Twelve years later, LGBTQ marriages were legalized (though not without protest among some sections of Parisian society). But overall the French are amongst the most tolerant in the world – 77 per cent viewing homosexuality as socially acceptable.
Turning to the city itself, even a short sojourn in the city of love will convince you of its LGBTQ credentials. Its most famous gayborhood, Marais, is actually straightening itself out, trading gay bars for boutiques and shopping centers to the dismay of some. But Gay Paree has infinitely more to offer than Marais. The city’s awash with monuments to its LGBTQ past: from the memorial to a gay couple burned to death in front of the Hotel de Ville in 1750 at the intersection of Rue Montorgueil and Rue Bachaumont, to the last gay urinal – meeting places for 19th century homosexuals and prostitutes – on the Boulevard Arago. There’s also a bakery in Marais that sells penis-shaped baguettes, naturally.
7. London, UK
Anyone who’s seen the critically acclaimed movie “The Imitation Game” will know that, until quite recently, Britain was institutionally intolerant of homosexuality. The movie shows the British government’s treatment of Alan Turing: the man who cracked the Nazi’s Enigma code, making perhaps the single biggest contribution to ending the war. What was his reward? Chemical castration – deemed the best ‘cure’ after he was tried and found guilty of consensual homosexual intercourse in 1952.
It wouldn’t be until 1967 – very much the twilight years of the ‘swinging sixties’ – that consensual sex between males in private was decriminalized. And this damning statistic wouldn’t be so damning if it weren’t for the sheer hypocrisy of the British ruling classes: they themselves having been raised on a diet of institutional buggary in the dormitories of Eton and Harrow.
Fortunately, times have moved on quite significantly. British society is now one that recognizes and embraces its LGBTQ community in legal terms. In 2013, former Prime Minister David Cameron passed his same sex marriage bill through parliament, legalizing civil unions in England and Wales (with Northern Ireland yet to follow suit). But it also goes beyond mere tolerance to genuinely celebrating the contribution LGBTQ people make to the country: something recognized annually during LGBT History Month which lasts throughout February.
The 2017 edition of London’s annual Gay Pride Festival will start on 24 June with the main events taking place on July 8. But all year round, you can find things to do in London’s two main gayborhoods: Soho and Earl’s Court.
6. Brussels, Belgium
No longer just a world leader for producing quality beer and chocolate (though these are unquestionably among the perks of living there), Belgium is now widely considered one of the top countries for LGBTQ people to live in. Same-sexual activity was legalized back in 1795, 35 years before the Belgium state even existed! In 2000, this politically progressive powerhouse of a country granted domestic partnerships to same-sex couples. Three years later it passed legislation legalizing gay and lesbian marriages (only the second country to have done so at the time), and in 2007 it allowed transsexuals to legally register under their preferred sex.
There are certainly financial reasons why Belgium is such a favorite. Not only does it offer a very high standard of living, it’s also recently been considered to be the third best European country for LGBT employment. But there’s more to life than money, and Belgium’s capital offers a vibrant, colorful, and year-round LGBTQ scene, particularly around the Grand Place, Rue du Marché au Charbon and Plattesteen.
And the scene extends well beyond Brussels. There’s really little to distinguish between Brussels and Antwerp. The latter has a slightly longer LGBTQ tradition, and enjoys a reputation as ‘an open-minded city, a real haven’ whereas the former has all a wealth of events, including the annual Gay and Lesbian Pride.
But regrettably Belgium may have had its heyday. Levels of acceptance may have been remarkably high 10 years ago, but recent waves of refugees from Syria and elsewhere seem to be sowing seeds of distrust among its population. The LGBTQ community holds pride of place; prized by its government; a shining example of liberalism for the rest of the world. The real test in future years will be how Belgium deals with extending such rights as those currently enjoyed by Belgium’s LGBTQ community to incoming groups who have no rights of their own.