Best Cities for Diversity
For the ninth year, the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Federation Institute united to create the Municipal Equality Index. The MEI, as it's called, looked at more than 500 cities across America to review those most open to diversity based on non-discrimination laws, policies and services benefiting LGBTQ people.
Of the 506 cities reviewed, 94 earned perfect scores of 100 on the index. Another 25 percent of cities scored over 91. However, the average score was 64, and 25 percent scored less than 45. Twelve cities even received a score of 0 (disappointing, we know).
Not only is this information beneficial to residents but to travelers looking for more inclusive communities in which to visit. Because there were several cities across the U.S. that had such high scores, we decided to highlight the 19 All-Star states for LGBTQ diversity and mentioned the top cities in those states.
The Worst Cities for Diversity
Before diving into the cities that are the most welcoming, here are the 12 cities that received a 0 score from the MEI. You may want to skip these on your next road trip:
- Florence, Alabama
- Jonesboro, Arkansas
- Southhaven, Mississippi
- Cape Girardeau, Missouri
- Cary, North Carolina
- Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
- Moore, Oklahoma
- Clemson, South Carolina
- Mitchell, South Dakota
- Pierre, South Dakota
- Ladero, Texas
- Rock Springs, Wyoming
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is home to the University of North Carolina, the first public university in the country. It's also the state's only top-scoring city, with a rank of 86 landing it on MEI's All-Stars' list.
Apart from the university, this college town is home to the North Carolina Botanical Garden, the Morehead Planetarium & Science Center and the Ackland Art Museum, which provide exhibits and events both entertaining and educational. And don't miss a visit to Franklin Street for a lively area of shops and restaurants.
Deep within central Oklahoma, the MEI All-Star Norman scored 92 points for its diversity. Located just 20 miles south of Oklahoma City, it's not a suburb but a quaint city in its own right.
This is Oklahoma State country, and college towns will appear on this list again and again. But you don't need to be a Sooner to enjoy the city. There are museums, theaters, art galleries and nature centers.
Just one point shy of 100, Missoula, Montana, is another college town that is a gem of the Old West. Within its restored buildings dating back to the 1800s, you'll find a Historical Museum filled with artifacts from the town's beginnings. In the modern age, the Missoula Art Museum is home to contemporary art.
Of course, the Wild West wouldn't be complete without outdoor environments to enjoy, and here there are trails found in Rattlesnake National Recreation Area & Wilderness as well as the Sentinel and Jumbo mountains.
South Dakota's Brookings is heads and tails above the rest of its cities with its score of 100. (Although Sioux Falls received a 62.) The fourth-largest city in the state has just over 22,000 people but is a lively and artist community.
From its Residential Historic District preserving its early settler homes to the Downtown Urban Canvas of murals found across town, Brookings is a charming place to be. Plus, the McCrory Gardens botanical garden and arboretum as well as several tranquil parks throughout the area help visitors get away from it all.
Alabama's most populous city, Birmingham, received a 100 rating and lots of MEI praise. Nicknamed the Magic City for its tourism offerings, its claim to fame is its James Beard Award–winning restaurants.
There is something for everyone in this Alabama hub, including an array of theaters, the McWane Science Center and outdoor explorations in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
It should come as no surprise that New Orleans scored 100. This extremely diverse and exotic town is renowned around the world for its Cajun and Creole heritage.
Bourbon Street, located in the heart of the historic French District, is typically the first stop for visitors, taking in the voodoo shops, museums and, of course, bars that help keep parties going into the wee hours of the night. Mardi Gras parades cruise down this street in February, where purple, green and gold beads are strewn by the thousands.
The city is more than this party vibe, however. The quiet strolls through its Garden District, a steamboat ride down the Mississippi River, musical festivals around town and stately plantations just outside its borders make it forever popular.
Alaska may be remote, but its two largest cities, which hold the majority of the state's population, both land on the All-Star list. Juneau, a stop among cruise ship passengers who travel the Inner Passage, scored 88 points.
Farther north, however, Anchorage, received 92. The gateway to Denali National Park, the city filled with glaciers and parkland welcomes all.
Kansas is home to two MEI All-Stars: Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City, and Lawrence. Home to the University of Kansas, Lawrence scores the highest at 98 points and is another college town to make this list. On campus, you'll find a natural history museum and an art museum, the Spencer Museum of Art, which hosts contemporary and indigenous art.
With 93 points, Overland Park lures big businesses with big campuses (think Sprint). For things to do, the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, Museum at Prairefire: American Museum of Natural History and the authentic frontier farm, Deanna Rose's Children's Farmstead, are key places to visit.
West Virginia also has two cities on the All-Star list, one of which is its capital — a great sign for the state's diversity.
Charleston, with a score of 92, is no match for Huntington, which scored 100 points. Nestled on the Ohio River, Huntington is part of the Tri-State area that includes Kentucky and Ohio. Public parks like Ritter Park and Harris Riverfront Park entice visitor and residents alike to enjoy the town.
Kentucky is home to three MEI All-Stars, all of which are in the north and create a trifecta of cities to visit. Lexington received 95 points, Covington received 96 and Louisville, a perfect score.
The largest city in the state, Louisville also lies on the Ohio River just across from the Indiana border and is home to the annual Kentucky Derby.
Located directly north, Indiana's three biggest cities create another welcoming triangle for diversity.
The capital city, Indianapolis, offers the most things to do on a vacation and scored 89 points. Terre Haute, a college town on the Illinois border, was just one point above. But it's Bloomington, yet another university town filled with students, that received 100 points.
No matter, all three are home to museums, theaters, parks and historical sites worthy of a visit.
The Midwest continues to dominate with Missouri's biggest cities all scoring well for LGBTQ travelers. The lowest score is a 94, in Kansas City, which is still in the country's top 25 percent.
But Columbia and St. Louis nailed 100s. While St. Louis is famous for being the Gateway to the West, Columbia is an exciting college town — home to the University of Missouri — and features museums, botanical gardens and parks.
Georgia's top two cities for diversity are Atlanta, which earned a perfect 100 score, and Decatur, which earned an 86. Of course, Decatur follows in the footsteps of other college towns on this list. Home to both Devry and Emory universities, Decatur is doing particularly well with diversity in leadership and city employment.
Atlanta, however, had great marks across the board. The city even has a director of LGBTQ affairs. Dubbed "Yaas-lanta," we love the fact that the new "Queer Eye" reboot on Netflix was first set here. Of note, Atlanta also happens to have the largest Pride Festival in the Southeast.
Arizona is notorious for its transplant cities, drawing people to the desert state for year-round sunshine, dry air and warm weather. Perhaps this is the reason all four of its largest cities are highly ranked for diversity?
Flagstaff, the lowest-ranked of the bunch, still comes in high with 88 points and helps make Arizona an All-Star state. This gateway to the peaks of the San Francisco mountains is home to skiing and Arizona's tallest mountain.
But the other three cities in Arizona all scored 100 points and are some of the most welcoming and diverse cities in the country. Tempe, Tucson or Phoenix — take your pick!
Tempe is great for outdoor adventures and has the Tempe Center for the Arts for cultural events, while Tucson's desert hikes and 350 days of sunshine bring people to its southern location. Still, it's Phoenix that often gets the tourists, and its adjoining Scottsdale features five-star resorts, world-class golf, high-end shopping and a food scene that may require a loosening of the belt before returning home.
Another southwestern state with arid weather beats Arizona as an All-Star with its four biggest cities all peaking at 100 points.
The only major city that didn't make the cut is Houston. Its 76 points seem weak in comparison, although the score is still above the nationwide majority.
Yes, this means Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio each scored 100 points — which is quite a feat for the Lonestar State. Texas may be known for its cowboys but is still an LGBQT-friendly place to live and travel.
Dallas and Fort Worth, to the north, are in close proximity to give you a two-in-one for things to see and do. You'll find museums of art, history and science along with a zoo, botanical gardens, aquarium and parks here.
Or, head south to the college town of Austin, found in Texas Hill Country with a great lake and energetic music scene. Travel even farther to San Antonio, where dining on its famed River Walk is simply a must-do.
Back in the Midwest, Michigan has six cities that rank high in diversity and give the state its MEI All-Star status.
The capital city of Lansing has the lowest score, 86, and Grand Rapids has a 92. The nearby lake community of Saugatuck is particularly welcoming for LGBTQ communities and is quite charming to boot.
However, the real support can be found to the east, with East Lansing, Ferndale, Ann Arbor and Detroit each receiving 100 points.
East Lansing, home to Michigan State, and Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, bring the college-town vibe with educational exhibits and events widely available.
Big-city Detroit has been working on its comeback and is filled with museums and sightseeing spots. Its suburban city of Ferndale is also a popular LGBTQ hotspot and is known for being the most progressive in the Detroit area.
Nearby and yet again another Midwestern state, Ohio boasts seven cities with scores 87 and higher. From north to south, east to west, the entire state is considered progressive and LGBTQ friendly.
With 44 points, Dublin makes a sad showing of the eight cities ranked by MEI. But located on Lake Erie, Lakewood is the next lowest score that is nearly double in score, practically canceling it out.
The remaining cities of Ohio reviewed are sparkled in their openness to LGBTQ. Toledo, 98 points, Akron, 99 points, and 100-point scores for Cleveland, Dayton and Cincinnati give Ohio much pride.
And there is so much to do across the state, from its amusement parks to its museums, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to the NFL Hall of Fame and its scenic parks like Hocking Hills State Park and Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Ohio's neighbor, Pennsylvania, had eight of its 10 cities make the All-Star list. Only two cities didn't make that list — Carlisle, which still had an impressive 86 points, and Harrisburg, the state capital.
Harrisburg's 69 points may be disappointing but still beats the national average, so there is hope, especially when the state's two biggest cities — Philadelphia and Pittsburgh — both earned 100 points.
Besides Philly and Pitt, Pennsylvania's cities are welcome centers for LGBTQ. The scores? Erie: 80. Wilkes-Barre: 90. Reading: 91. Allentown: 100. State College (home of Penn State University): 100.
And a mecca for the LGBTQ community is New Hope (89 points), situated on the Delaware River just across the border from Lambertville, New Jersey, (98 points). This river town is a Manhattan weekend getaway with pre-Broadway theater "tests" and an array of activities and events.
The real all-star for LGBTQ is Florida. Nine cities appeared on MEI's All-Stars with twice that number reviewed.
Daytona Beach, Cape Coral, Hialeah and Point Saint Lucie had the worst showing, however, with 30, 49, 40 and 53 points, respectively.
Pembroke Pines had 73 and, surprisingly, even Miami came in lower at 75 points.
Florida is a big state, though, and in spite of some low numbers, cities near those that are not-so-diverse make the effort towards change. Miami Shores (82 points) and Coral Gables (91 points), for example, neighbors Miami. The latter happens to be home to the University of Miami. The University of Florida in Gainesville and Florida State University in Tallahassee also earned 95 and 100 points, respectively.
In the North, Jacksonville has 82 points, and then the rest of the state's big cities — Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Wilton Manors (a suburb of Fort Lauderdale) — all score 100.
Of course, travelers can expect that Florida sunshine and white-sand beaches in almost all the cities they visit.