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6 Surprising Places It's Great To Be Gay (Dallas, Texas?)

It's not just coastal urban areas that can be safe havens for LGBT people.

When most people think of the best places to live if you're lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), the immediate tendency is to hone in on urban places. And certainly, there's something to be said for living in places that offer a sense of community and safety.

As a Southerner, however, I know that tendency often overlooks places outside of coastal metropolitan locations – places that offer some of the best glimpses of American life, but that are off the beaten queer path. The list below is one take on some of the best places to be queer in the U.S., taking into account culture, history, law and geography.

6) Dallas, Texas. The Lone Star State has a long history of entrenched bigotry – to the extent that the Texas Republican Party's platform includes reprehensible statements about imprisoning LGBT Texans in order to uphold the moral fabric of the state. But, despite the seething bigotry that rages within the legislature and state party politics, Dallas shines a beacon of hope for queer Texans.

The city's laws aren't perfect, but they offer some anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. And the prevalence of gay bars in the city – encompassing everything from Latin to gender-queer to dance clubs to country-western – is really an oasis in the midst of a thick fog of bigotry. There's a vibrant moneyed gay community that puts a lot of resources into creating a backbone to support the burgeoning LGBT youth community as they navigate Texas' longstanding fear of change. Make no mistake – Dallas isn't a queer utopia and there is still a real need for conversations along the lines of race and class. But the city's gay bar culture is one of the most vibrant and most diverse in the country.

5) Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta has a deeply rooted queer culture that, combined with good old Southern hospitality, really has a unique flair. While Lexington and Louisville have cultivated queer spaces that provide community and support, Atlanta has carved out some pretty prominent and “out” queer spaces. From Five Points to Piedmont Park and beyond, Atlanta has a relaxed queer vibe – and one of the most spectacular collection of Pride parades around.

For those who enjoy “porch culture,” Atlanta offers not only the downtown area as pretty queer-friendly, but also offers multiple queer-identified suburbs. So if downtown living/visiting isn't your style, look for suburbs like Decatur (home of Eddie's Attic, an amazing music venue regularly hosting queer Southern rockers like Michelle Malone, Kristen Hall, and Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls). And with strong progressive organizing happening throughout Georgia, Atlanta is really a great place for queer folks to live, work, organize, and play.

4) Lexington/Louisville, Kentucky. OK, this might be cheating a bit since Lexington is my hometown, but there are huge advantages to being queer in Lexington or Louisville. The rest of the state is challenging, but recent progress in both towns has really stepped up the ability to be out and comfortable in the two largest cities in the state.

In many Southern states, the LGBT community has carved out unique safe spaces for themselves that are pretty remarkable to experience. It's hard to describe, but going to a gay bar in Kentucky is a pretty powerful experience – the community is remarkably courageous and self-assured, and has created a queer Southern hospitality that just has to be experienced to be understand. And don't assume that this queer Southern hospitality is just a bunch of folks sitting around drinking sweet tea – Lady Gaga's recent appearance at a gay bar in Louisville showed just how outrageous queer spaces in Kentucky can be.

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