Thursday, June 22, 2017 This Week's Paper

Tacoma tops list of America’s gayest cities

// The Advocate’s fourth annual list includes three Washington cities in the top 5

A newly released, and admittedly subjective, poll by one of the nation’s foremost LGBT magazines praises the City of Destiny for its inclusiveness, support for marriage equality, activism and…number of roller derby leagues in town?

The criteria that The Advocate used for the publication’s fourth annual “Gayest Cities in America” list provided quite a range – from the number of gay rugby teams in town to the number of anti-discrimination laws in place. The poll examined each city’s shopping possibilities (one point each for the number of Whole Foods, West Elm or Pottery Barn stores in each city) and the number of LGBT elected officials in office or elected in 2012, along with other factors that may or may not impact quality of life.

Heavy hitters such as San Francisco and New York City did not make the list, but the poll was designed to favor small- to mid-sized cities and reflect communities that are often under the radar but still working hard to get on the map. Eligible cities must have a population of more than 150,000, and each city’s total points were divided by the population within city limits.

Although Tacoma is unfortunately lacking in the Pottery Barn department (or Whole Foods, for that matter), Tacoma Weekly discovered that members of our city’s vibrant, politically active and integrated LGBT community are far from shocked by T-Town’s position at the top of the list.

“It’s really heartwarming to see how Tacoma ranked in this poll, and to say that we have a great quality of life for all people in Tacoma, including gay people, is not surprising to me,” said Tacoma City Councilmember Ryan Mello.

“It’s so exciting for Tacoma to be highlighted as not only a tolerant and accepting community, but also as a community where gay and lesbian people can thrive, now as a single person, as part of a committed relationship, or as a business owner or employee.”

According to the Tacoma Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, this designation could easily attract tourism dollars, as trends continue to show that gay travelers look to visit communities known for being gay-friendly.

“Tacoma is a destination that attracts many niche markets and receiving recognition as the Gayest City in America by The Advocate may help us stand out in the gay-travel market,” said TRCVB Director or Marketing and Communication Bridget Baeth. “Our vibrant arts culture, museum and fine dining make our destination a great choice. Gay travelers typically have higher disposable incomes, spending more money per trip and traveling more often, which would benefit our city.”

Two other cities in Washington are sitting pretty in the Top 5, with Seattle at No. 5 and Spokane at No. 3.

Local and state politicians from Tacoma have long supported causes and legislation promoting equal rights for all. “Our representatives are very active and involved, and even if they are not LGBT, they’re very supportive,” said Brock Leach, owner of popular hotspot The Mix.

The Mix lives up to its name by catering to anyone and everyone providing a place where all people feel welcome. “From my experience and talking to people, the gay community is very well-integrated in Tacoma,” Leach added. “We had a vision at the Mix to provide a place that doesn’t have any separation between groups, and that’s how we want to stay.”

The number of community resources available to LGBT members also gave T-Town an advantage, with organizations such as the Oasis Youth Center and Rainbow Center. The organizations are currently discussing partnerships that could even further expand their reach in the community.

Michelle Douglas, executive director of the Rainbow Center, believes Tacoma is becoming a destination city in its own right in part because of recognition like that from The Advocate. “It speaks to the hard work we’ve done in this community,” she said. “Tacoma was the first city with nondiscrimination laws, and we’ve had a long history of being inclusive of LGBT rights.”

Local attorney and Tacoma resident John Cummings is not surprised by the city’s recognition simply because of the amount of political activism he has witnessed at all levels. “Tacoma is a very accepting community and we don’t have the divisions between people who identify as gay, lesbian, transgender or questioning,” he said. “We had a really strong group of people working on Referendum 74 (for marriage equality), and we’re big on outreach efforts that improve the community as a whole.”