2. San Francisco, USA
Topping a recent list of the top LGBTQ-friendly cities in the US, San Francisco really does have it all. The State of California has been offering same sex marriage licenses since 2008 (though with a notable and lengthy hiatus between November 2008 and June 2013). And with 6.2 per cent of its current inhabitants identifying as LGBTQ, San Francisco lags only behind Tel Aviv when it comes to number crunching.
The “gay capital of the world” or “original gay-friendly city” as it’s been called in its time is home to the now universally recognizable rainbow flag. Commissioned by Harvey Milk – the first openly gay person elected to public offices, and a character since immortalized in the 2008 movie “Milk” – the flag was designed by Milk’s friend Gilbert Baker for San Francisco’s 1978 Pride parade. San Francisco’s LGBTQ roots run deep – so much so that there’s no clear-cut distinction between the city’s gay and straight culture and nightlife. That being said, the city does offer a multitude of rainbow-tinted events sure to suit every taste.
The Castro Street Fair, founded by Harvey Milk, has been running in the Castro district since 1974. It sees the gathering of hundreds of artisans, craftspeople and vendors mingling against a backdrop of live music and dance performances. There’s the Pink Saturday street party and the Dyke March – two coinciding events held annually the Saturday night before San Francisco Pride. And then there’s the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival. With an annual attendance of around 60,000, this world-famous Bay Area event gives power to the audience, who vote for the best feature, best documentary and best short film to visualize and promote LGBTQ themes.
1. Berlin, Germany
I don’t want to mention the war. I really don’t. But I’ve done it now, so here it goes: Germany has an abysmal historical legacy for its treatment of people who would now fall under the category of LGBTQ. The treatment of homosexuals in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust represents the pinnacle of human cruelty, persecution, and unbridled hatred. It’s also masked a much richer history that saw a broad toleration of Berlin’s LGBTQ community during the 1920s.
Germany’s has been a burdensome legacy. But it’s perhaps this legacy, and the drive of subsequent German generations to distance themselves from the atrocities of their forefathers, that make Germany – particularly its capital Berlin – what it is today.
Berlin is now universally regarded as the gay capital of Europe. It has the world’s largest selection of gay sites, including a gay museum and a gay memorial. The latter is particularly moving: recognizing its tainted history, the Federal Republic of Germany has monumentalized in writing its intent to safeguard the rights of gay men and lesbians, and to set a standard for the rest of the world.
But Berlin doesn’t just excel in its LGBTQ culture (though this seamlessly entwines with its hetero/cis culture). In its art, film, music, theater, you name it – Berlin is a cultural juggernaut. Its nightlife is possibly the best in the world. Spend an entire weekend raving at arguably the techno’s coolest club – Berghain in eastern Kreuzberg – and you’ll be hard pressed to disagree. So, with Berlin coming out top of our list, it seem that whichever way you look at it, it’s Deutschland Deutschland über alles.
There are many criteria for measuring a city’s LGBTQ credentials. Same-sex marriage is still a hot topic in today’s word, and a country’s choice to legalize it symbolically speaks volumes about their commitment to treating their citizens equally. But it’s not the only measure of a country’s progressiveness: adoption rights; the rights of transgender people to register under their preferred gender without need of surgery; the right to donate blood; the right to access IVF – all of these determine a country’s fitness to reside a proud LGBTQ community.
And to have such a community is a blessing. Research shows that countries that discriminate against the increasingly socially and economically mobile LGBTQ community discriminate against them comes at a cost – not just to families and small companies, but to national GDP. But, as we’ve said, it’s not about money. It’s about building bridges between people and communities, creating cohesion, and throwing down barriers. In short, it’s about creating the conditions for happiness, wealth, and prosperity. After all, if Bob Dylan’s words are anything to go by, we’re going to need this now more than ever.