Updated: Jan 25, 2021
Laura Begley BloomSenior Contributor
Between June Pride month and the Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold a federal law protecting LGBTQ workers from discrimination, there’s a lot to celebrate in the LGBTQ community right now. But based on a new study ranking the best and worst US states for gay-friendly travel, there’s still work to be done. The travel company OutOfOffice.com has created the US LGBT+ Travel Index, which ranks the states, revealing the best—and worst—destinations in America for gay travel.
“We want to be known as thought leaders in the LGBT travel sphere and so it's important we conduct original research,” says Darren Burn, director of the UK-based OutOfOffice.com. “With so many customers of ours being based in the USA, we wanted to make sure that we gave them safe domestic travel options.”
To determine the best and worst states for gay travelers, the site analyzed a number of factors including legal protection for LGBT+ people, LGBT+ population, cost of travel, things to do and overall happiness.
Topping the US LGBT+ Travel Index as the best state for gay travelers is California. “It was not too surprising to see California come out on top,” says Burn. “The state is generally considered one of the most progressive US states and it is home to LGBT travel havens such as San Francisco. It’s also packed full of beaches and fun things to do, so it's an ideal holiday choice for everyone.”
Washington state and Minnesota came in second and third on the list. According to Burn, all of the top three ranking states have crime laws in place to protect against hate or bias crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. “They also have some of the highest levels of LGBT population, though Oregon is actually the highest at 5.6%,” says Burn. “Unfortunately, all three of these states are some of the more expensive travel options.”
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Burn says he was surprised by New York’s ranking. “Before we conducted the research I thought New York would rank higher,” says Burn. “But including happiness was important for us and some other states just have better wellness ratios than New York because of its hectic way of life.”
At the bottom of the US LGBT+ Travel Index is Alaska. “Alaska ranked low with particularly poor scores for safety. The safety element was based on hate crime protection as stated in the State Equality Index,” says Burn. “Alaska does not have any laws in place to protect people against hate crimes based on sexual orientation. Alaska also ranked low as it is an expensive state for travelers to visit based on the Cost of Living Index.”
In the contiguous states, Alabama was the worst on the list. “Alabama has one of the lowest LGBT populations in the US and also does not have the relevant hate crime protection in place,” says Burn. “Alabama also ranked low for things to do, according to the Most Fun States Index, and ranked low for overall happiness in the World Population Review happiest states data.”
Burn points out that the lowest ranking states don't have laws to protect against LGBTQ hate crimes and they also have some of the lowest levels of LGBT population in the country. But whether LGBTQ travelers should avoid visiting the lowest-ranking places entirely is very much a personal decision, says Burn. “Whether an LGBT traveller chooses to visit such a location is a personal choice for them to make,” Burn says. “In terms of precautions we would simply advise being sensible and taking the usual safety precautions.”
Here, Burn gives his thoughts on the five best states on the US LGBT+ Travel Index and the five worst states on the list. You can see the entire ranking of all the states here.
The 5 Best States for Gay Travelers
California: It's not too much of a surprise the Golden State is in the top spot. The city of San Francisco has the highest LGBT population across US cities, and it is well known as an LGBT travel hotspot—pulling in visitors from around the world. California is generally considered one of the most progressive states and it has hate crime protection in place to protect against hate or bias crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Washington: Washington has one of the highest LGBT population rates at 5.2%. The state has full LGBTQ+ legislation in place. The city of Seattle is the city with the second highest LGBT population, following San Francisco in top place. The city is well known for its LGBT equality and pride, having celebrated the city's LGBT culture at Gay Pride Week since 1977.
Minnesota: Minnesota has the lowest LGBT population within the top 10, at only 4.1%, but in spite of that, Minnesota is known for being liberal and accepting, which is one of the reasons it is a great choice for LGBT travelers and why it ranks as the third happiest state in all of the US. The city of Minneapolis is known for pioneering LGBT equality. In 1975, Minneapolis was the first city in the US to pass a non-discrimination ordinance.
Colorado: With an LGBT population of 4.6%, we may have expected to see Colorado more mid-table, but its cheap costs and its scores for being one of the most fun and happiest states in the US, alongside its equality laws, landed it in fourth place.
New York: Ranks as the third most fun state in the US and 14th for overall happiness. New York is known for being a smorgasbord of people from all different walks of life and is generally viewed as one of the most open and liberal states, which of course makes it a good choice for LGBT travelers. The state has all relevant hate crime laws in place and has and an LGBT population of 5.1%.
The 5 Worst States for Gay Travelers
Alaska: As with all of the lowest-ranking states, Alaska does not have hate crime protection in place to protect LGBT people. The state has a low LGBT population rate of 3.7% and the state is not generally well-known for its LGBT acceptance.
Alabama: One of the southern states, Alabama has one of the lowest LGBT population rates at 3.1% and doesn't have hate crime laws in place to protect LGBT people. Alabama has often come under negative headlines in relation to LGBT rights, such as the comments from one of the state's mayors in June 2019. In some ways Alabama is seeking equality through rights such as LGBT adoption and the right to change gender.
West Virginia: West Virginia has a surprisingly high LGBT population at 4%, but sadly these people are not protected by hate crime laws. Perhaps this is one of the reasons this state has the lowest overall happiness levels.
Arkansas: Arkansas has a low LGBT population of 3.3%. In January 2019, the proposed LGBT protection put forward by the state's most liberal city, Fayetteville, was overturned by a state judge. Arkansas does not provide protection against LGBT hate crime and bias.
Montana: Montana does not have hate crime protection in place for LGBT people, which can present challenges for LGBT travelers that others wouldn't face. At just 2.9% Montana has a very low LGBT population.