The truth can now be told -- despite annual legislative skirmishes, entrenched LDS views (and a state constitutional amendment) against same-sex marriage, and church-endorsed programs to change gay men into straight ones -- Salt Lake City is still a great place to be gay. It is so great, in fact, that the nation's oldest continuing LGBT publication, The Advocate, ranked Salt Lake No. 1 in its recent "Gayest Cities in America 2012" list, beating out Seattle and San Francisco, for Pete's sake.
The article acknowledges that few American cities can beat out established big-city hot spots. This is a list where a great scene exists in "less-expected" locales. And it's not scientific, like these findings of The Gay and Lesbian Atlas are, (which excludes Salt Lake City and Utah).
But we'll take The Advocate's word for it. Of Salt Lake City, the article states:
"While those unfamiliar with the Beehive State are likely to conjure images of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, far-less-oppressive-than-it-used-to-be Salt Lake City has earned its queer cred. There are more than a half-dozen hot spots for men and women, including the eco-friendly nightclub Jam (JamSLC.com), though the sustainable bamboo flooring is perhaps less of a draw than the packed dance floor. The Coffee Garden (878 S. 900 East) is a gathering spot for those looking for a caffeine fix, the Sundance Film Festival brings LGBT film buffs to screenings downtown, and lesbian-owned Meditrina (MeditrinaSLC.com) is a true wine bar — yes, you can get a drink in this town."
One of the first things I learned about SLC when visiting many years ago -- via a gay waiter -- was that SLC was a great town to live in if you were gay. I almost laughed at the notion. But he went on to say that SLC offered all the basics: jobs, affordable housing, a wide-ranging arts calendar and a surprisingly vibrant club scene. There was an intangible he failed to mention: community. This man eventually died of AIDS and was cared for until the end by family, friends and co-workers.
The community is nurtured and informed by the Utah Pride Center, a veritable hub of local LGBT life and sponsor of the city's annual Pride festival -- one of the summer's liveliest gatherings.
City Weekly published "Born to Run" July 6, 2011, by Darin Jensen. Jensen grew up gay in Utah but left, believing he would find acceptance and tolerance outside the state. Back for a visit decades later, he was brought to tears while attending Salt Lake City's Pride festival. He began to see all that had changed since he'd left.
"I was amazed by the number of obviously not-queer people who came out to celebrate the diversity of Utah," he wrote. "I had some idea of the turning tide toward tolerance in Utah as I had noticed, while driving around the valley, how many people proclaimed their support for gay rights as human rights, by tagging their cars with the Human Rights Campaign’s blue and yellow equality sticker. In California, this sticker mostly marks the cars of queer people as a symbol of their beseeching for equal rights. But in Salt Lake City, the sticker on so many allies’ cars is a proclamation: 'I—we—stand for equality!' "
Richard Florida, who wrote about The Gay and Lesbian Atlas' top 20 cities in an article for The Daily Beast, defends such lists, saying they point to a more open-minded and innovative society. "A visible LGBT community is the proverbial 'canary in the coal mine,'" he says, "signaling openness to new ideas, new business models, and diverse and different thinking kinds of people—precisely the characteristics of a local ecosystem that can attract cutting-edge entrepreneurs and mobilize new companies."
So, hey, we're Number One. Outside of City Creek Center's grand opening, which will likely be very gay, it might be the best news of the first quarter.