From LA to London and Berlin to Bangkok, there are pockets of cities all over the world where LGBTQ+ people have made a home for themselves since the historic Stonewall Riots in 1969 and even longer ago. If you’re looking for a getaway where you can live and love in the company of like-minded LGBTQ+ friends, look no further than these rainbow-filled destinations.
Often nicknamed the ‘gay capital of the world’, LGBTQ+ people have lived and thrived in San Francisco since before the start of the 20th century, with the first notorious gay bar opening back in 1908. The Castro, the city’s ‘gay neighbourhood’ (though at this point, gay culture in San Fran stretches far wider than that), emerged in the 1960’s and 1970’s post-Stonewall, and the city has been in the record books for gay ‘firsts’ ever since: first gay softball league, first gay university, first gay film festival and the first openly gay politician, Harvey Milk, in 1977, to name a few.
If you’re in the market for some learning, look no further than the LGBTQ+ History Museum in The Castro and the Walk of Fame featuring names of notable LGBTQ+ people. The Mission, on the other hand, is the historic home of San Fran’s queer Latinx population and is also popular with lesbians. Wherever you choose to spread your gay roots in San Francisco you’ll be sure to see pride flags abound and queer culture everywhere you look.
Germany’s capital is the proud home to LGBTQ+ culture by the bucketful, somewhat surprising considering the city’s recent history of persecution and separation. But LGBTQ+ people have had a happy home in Berlin since the early 1920’s when Schöneberg, the world’s first ‘gay village’, popped up and allowed its inhabitants to flourish alongside a permeating queer artistic expression that still makes its mark on the city today.
If you’re looking for gay nightlife, the best places, surprisingly, aren’t in the district of Schöneberg – the hotspots have been shifting east for several years now. To experience Berlin’s real gay culture, head to the bars in Neukölln and Kreuzberg; there’s SchwuZ, with its themed evenings like Madonnamania or the wild and risque atmosphere of Kit Kat. The biggest party, however, is undoubtedly the two-week Pride celebration, which has the city rainbowed and dragged-up to the nines for event after event. In between all the partying, be sure to schedule a visit to the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism, to pay respect to all those who lost their lives during the Holocaust.
For years now, West Hollywood has been an epicentre for gay culture, with up to 40% of its population currently identifying as LGBTQ+. This city at the base of the Hollywood Hills was the first majority-gay municipality in the USA, and, as you might imagine, has quite an extensive list of gay bars, clubs, cafes, restaurants and events. A trip here can combine all the glitz and glam of Los Angeles – Beverly Hills, Hollywood Boulevard, Santa Monica and Venice Beach – with a sizzling dose of gaiety and merriment the LA way.
The Abbey, possibly the world’s most famous gay nightclub, should absolutely be on your list, but make sure to check out the smaller, more local-frequented places and events too. Head to the raucous drag queen bingo night at Hamburger Mary’s, or for something a bit more toned-down, time your visit to coincide with One City One Pride, the 40-day long LGBTQ arts festival that showcases themed interactive, performing and visual arts.
Referred to as the ‘San Francisco of the UK’ and the ‘gay capital of England’, Brighton is pretty much as queer as it gets if you don’t want to leave the UK (though Manchester may disagree). With the UK’s biggest Pride Festival taking place every August and Kemptown, the city’s gay village, chock-full of gay bars, clubs, hotels, you’ll feel right at home.
Brighton’s bohemian vibes permeate everywhere, but nowhere more than The Lanes, where you’ll find vintage shops stuffed to bursting with a combination of hidden treasures and useless tat, record shops and vegan cafes. The city’s biggest and most disorderly nightclub is Revenge, right on the corner by the seafront, but for the real Brighton gay vibes, check out Lip Sync For Your Life at Bar Revenge on Tuesdays, where local wannabe-queens and kings go head to head for the crown, and various queer cabaret and comedy shows at Caroline of Brunswick.
The Big Apple might be famous worldwide for its yellow cabs, torch-bearing lady and Broadway theatre, but for the LGBTQ+ community, New York is the birthplace of not only gay rights but also drag culture and Pride, the yearly celebration we all know and love so very much. Be sure to visit the Stonewall Inn, the place “where Pride began…and now the place where Pride lives”, and pay respect to the brothers, sisters and all those in between who have lost their lives over the years for our right to be out and proud today.
New York was also the birthplace of another phenomenon now well known across the world thanks to the likes of Ru Paul’s Drag Race; Ball Culture. Balls were the original showcase of drag, where queens would ‘walk’ in various categories ranging from ‘extravaganza’ to ‘femme queen realness’, as seen in the iconic 1990’s documentary Paris Is Burning – the library is open, darling. Find a ball to attend, head to a drag bingo at the Stonewall Inn, or visit the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, the world’s first dedicated LGBTQ+ art museum.