The Ten Best Places In The World To Be Gay

San Francisco
The junction of Castro and 18th Street is known as “the gayest four corners in the world”, but in fact the whole of this laid-back West-Coast city is a welcoming environment for gay men and women. San Francisco’s reputation as a centre for tolerance dates back to a time when navy ships would off-load any suspect homosexuals in the harbour.
In the early 1970s disgruntled gay New Yorkers began to move here after the Stonewall riots, and Armistead Maupin immortalised the city’s queer life in his Tales of the City. Now that California is one of only two states in the US which permits same-sex marriage, San Francisco has become a favourite venue to get hitched.

Things have changed enormously since the first Mardi Gras march was held in Sydney in 1978. Homosexuality was illegal in New South Wales until 1984, and many of the 53 protestors who were arrested lost their jobs when their pictures appeared in the newspapers. Such things are unthinkable now that lesbians and gay men are integrated into every sphere of Sydney life and Mardi Gras is a three-week long festival and the biggest dance party in the country. Oxford Street began developing as a queer district in the 1960s and today is the most visibly gay area of the city. But same-sex marriages are still not enshrined in federal law.

New York
The city of Quentin Crisp and Judy Garland is surely the gay capital of the world. It’s a place where lesbians and gay men of all ages and races are so integrated into work and political culture that their sexuality is often the least significant thing about them. Obvious gay districts include Greenwich Village, where the Stonewall riots of 1968 began; upmarket Chelsea; and the seedier East Village. Across the East River, Brooklyn is now home to many arty gay men and lesbian families. Tolerance is the norm, but it pays to take care in remoter areas like Harlem and Central Park at night – same-sex marriage is illegal in New York State.

This little Aegean island became famous in the 1960s for the tolerance and vibrant nightlife it offered to gay men and women. Despite competition from party islands such as Ibiza, it still attracts hordes of gay tourists who enjoy the queer camaraderie of its clubs and beaches. The island is named after Mykons, the grandson of Apollo, and the nearby island of Delos, birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, is one of its main attractions. Homosexuality was legalised in Greece in 1951 and male prostitution became legal in 2006. But the fact that the roots of homosexual history are usually traced back to ancient Greece is surely part of what draws gay people to Mykonos.

The city of Proust and Piaf is a natural environment for a flourishing queer life. A commercial gay quarter is now well established around the elegant Marais district, but a darker and more risqué same-sex nightlife can be found in seedy Pigalle and as far away as the Bois de Boulogne (read Rupert Everett’s memoirs for eye-popping details). Women are particularly well catered for in Paris, with chic lesbian bars such as the Alcantara Café and events such as a women-only film festival and a lesbian cultural archive. Gay pilgrimage sites in the city include the graves of Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein, both in cemetery Père Lachaise.

This city’s reputation for its tolerant attitude towards gay life can be traced back to the years of Franco’s dictatorship, when homosexuality was illegal in Spain but found a happy pocket of acceptance here. These days the whole spectrum of queer culture – from smart young men and women to the glamorous transsexuals depicted in Almodovar’s film All About My Mother – is visible on the streets, particularly in the broad boulevards of the Eixample and the atmospheric alleys of El Raval. Modern Spain is making up for the dark years, and now has some of the most progressive legislation in the world for same-sex couples, including equal rights of marriage and adoption.

In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. Not surprisingly, queer life has blossomed in this sexually liberated nation, and nowhere more so than in the cultural capital of Amsterdam. The city has its own Pink Point, an information centre for gays and lesbians situated near the Anne Frank House, and next to it a monument dedicated to the promotion of gay rights – the Homomonument – unveiled in 1987. Amsterdam’s first gay hotel, the Golden Bear, has been open on Kerkstraat since 1948, and the city’s queer culture is most visible in this street and around Rembrandtplein.

Queer life was rich and tolerated for centuries in the British capital until the fall-out from Oscar Wilde’s trial sent gays into hiding for nearly 100 years. In the decades since homosexuality was legalised in 1967 equal rights legislation and high-profile campaigns have turned London into one of the most prominent gay-tolerant cities in the world. The scene is highly visible in Soho, but gay life is integrated across most districts and has hot-spots in Brixton, Hampstead, Hackney and Vauxhall. Now that same-sex couples can become civil partners and adopt children, queer families have become a feature of many London districts.

In 1989 Denmark became the first country in the world to recognise registered partnerships between same-sex couples, and this was just the latest progressive move in a country which has a long history of tolerance. Queer life is totally integrated in the small, sophisticated capital, Copenhagen, which has its own gay centre and archive, a wide range of bars and clubs (including Jailhouse, where staff are dressed in police uniforms) and beaches along the harbour front. There is an annual gay pride march and a gay film festival, and in 2009 Copenhagen will host the World Outgames – a serious athletics competition for gay men and women.

It may have taken 75 years, but the German capital once again enjoys the kind of open gay scene that Christopher Isherwood described so evocatively in his 1939 memoir Goodbye to Berlin. Perhaps the painful period of Nazi rule and division makes the city even more attractive to people with alternative lifestyles – you have to be unconventional to want to live here. The magnificently restored 19th-century buildings, the grand boulevards and the famous park and woodlands make the perfect backdrop for queer culture. The mayor of Berlin is gay, the Kit Kat club still exists, and Europe’s first exclusively gay old people’s home – the Asta Nielsen Haus – opened in the city this year.


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