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The Geography of Queer Folks

Where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other queer folks live and move has long been of interest to some researchers.
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San Francisco's Castro District. (Photo: torbakhopper/Flickr)

San Francisco's Castro District. (Photo: torbakhopper/Flickr)

The pollsters at Gallup released a survey today that's the most detailed estimate yet of where gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and other queer Americans live. San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; and Austin, Texas, top the list. Before this, estimating America's gayest regions had been difficult because the United States census didn't ask people their sexual orientation, the New York Times reports. But that doesn't mean researchers didn't try. In fact, here at Pacific Standard, we've seen many impressive attempts at measuring queer-friendly cities and their effects.

One of our favorite measures is the Advocate's yearly "Gayest Cities in America" ranking, which includes interesting cultural measures besides population data. For example, the Advocate's 2014 survey counted whether cities had LGBT elected officials, highly reviewed gay bars, and gay rodeos. The criteria, the Advocate staff wrote, is "designed to uncover the hidden factors that give a city its queer cred." It may not seem very scientific, but it captures important markers that plain population numbers miss.

So gays are good for cities. Are cities good for gays? It depends, of course, on what they're looking for.

Many researchers have noted cities' attempts to seem queer-friendly, no matter their numbers, and not necessarily just to attract queer folks. Having residents who are diverse in ethnicity and sexual orientation makes cities seem cosmopolitan, which is "one of the most desirable forms of contemporary cultural capital," Dereka Rushbrook wrote in 2002. Around that time, cities researcher Richard Florida famously developed his Gay Index as a measure of the openness of cities and thus their draw for "creative class" workers such as professors, writers, researchers, and engineers. In 2009, Florida published a study finding gay and bohemian neighbors increase housing values.

So gays are good for cities. Are cities good for gays? It depends, of course, on what they're looking for. Yesterday, we published a census-based analysis identifying where same-sex female and male couples live. They differ a bit, sociologist Lisa Wade reports, another fact that's obscured in the Gallup data. Lesbian couples are more likely than gay ones to live in rural areas, in part because they seek different things from their hometowns. For example, lesbian couples are much more likely than gay couples to be raising children, the costs of which might be lower outside of cities. Cities are not all great news for gay men, either. A recent case study of 48 gay-identified men found moving to big cities relieved "place-based minority stress," but also reinforced some men's insecurities, low self-esteem, and sexual risk-taking. Of course, many folks move back and forth between more and less densely populated regions and derive a lot of their sense of identity from having lived in both.

The geography and migrations of queer folks have long been interesting to at least some researchers. We're looking forward to seeing what they'll be able to do next with Gallup's more detailed measures.