By Dave Hughes
December 7, 2015 –When it comes to choosing a place to live during retirement, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people want the same things that everyone else wants – someplace safe, reasonably priced, agreeable climate, cultural and recreational amenities, and good healthcare. LGBT people, however, have a few additional factors to consider. Those include: how tolerant an area is, the presence of a gay community, and healthcare providers that are welcoming towards LGBT people. Sadly, instances in which LGBT patients are treated poorly and same-sex partners are denied visitation rights or decision-making rights in hospitals and nursing homes are still all too common.
How can straight people benefit from a list of LGBT-friendly retirement cities? First, most of the criteria used to select these cities are the same ones that are important to most retirees. Second, a city’s acceptance of its LGBT citizens is a good indicator of how accepting it will be for people of all diverse demographics, such as ethnic minorities or religious minorities. Areas with rich diversity tend to offer more culinary choices and broader cultural offerings than areas with more homogenous populations.
To select these cities, I started with the criteria that were rated most important by readers of my blog, RetireFabulously.com, collected from a year-long survey.
Healthcare, Safety, and Cost of Living were three of the most important categories for my straight readers, as well. (See survey results here.) Recognition of same-sex marriage also scored high among LGBT readers, but now that marriage equality is the law in all 50 states, this criterion is obsolete. Still, there’s wide variation in acceptance of LGBT people across the country, so to identify the more gay-friendly places I turned to the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index (MEI). In it, HRC rates cities and municipalities of various sizes on laws, policies, and inclusivity of LGBT people who live and work there. Many of the cities I have selected below scored a perfect 100, and the others scored at least 87.
HRC also produces a Healthcare Equality Index that rates factors such as hospitals’ policies for same-sex visitation and spouse recognition, equal employment policies, and diversity training. This data is spotty since many hospitals did not provide responses, but it provides some visibility into areas which have welcoming hospitals.
You will notice that almost all of the places profiled below are larger cities. That’s no accident; my survey also indicated that LGBT people are more likely to prefer larger cities over smaller cities and towns than their straight counterparts. That’s because larger cities are more likely to have established gay communities with businesses, churches, and organizations that serve LGBT people. Cultural Amenities rated higher for LGBT respondents as well, and those are available to a greater extent in larger cities.
The Ten Best Cities for LGBTs
Without further ado, here are ten great retirement places for LGBT people – all of which would make excellent choices for most straight retirees as well. They are presented in order of their HRC MEI score first, then by lowest cost of living.
Phoenix, Arizona – Phoenix and neighboring Tempe both scored 100 on the MEI. The Phoenix area offers low cost of living and house prices, good healthcare, lots of sunshine, delightfully warm winters and many retirement communities for those who choose to go that route. On the downside, summers get excessively hot, and the crime rate is slightly above average.
Austin, Texas – While most of Texas is quite conservative, Austin is a relatively liberal enclave that prides itself on being “weird” (in their words). House prices are a little high, but Austin scores average or better in all other regards.
Columbus, Ohio – Columbus has a thriving gay community, a decent arts scene, and low cost of living and housing. It gets cold in winter, and crime is a bit on the high side. Cincinnati scored well too, but has slightly higher crime.
Madison, Wisconsin – Madison was the #1 retirement city in the Milken Institute’s extensive “Best Cities for Successful Aging” report. It scored 100 on the MEI, is highly rated for healthcare, but gets very cold in winter. Madison enjoys a low crime rate, with one curious exception: one out of 30 citizens is a registered sex offender.
St. Paul, Minnesota – St. Paul scores better than its twin city, Minneapolis, in several areas: crime rate, cost of housing, and LGBT-friendly hospitals. Of course, both cities get very cold in winter, and both have higher-than-average cost of living. Minnesota is also a high-tax state.
Tampa, Florida – Tampa and nearby St. Petersburg score 97 and 100, respectively, on the MEI scale and average or better across the other categories, but Tampa’s crime rate is significantly lower than St. Pete’s, giving it the edge.
Dallas, Texas – Dallas is a bit more cosmopolitan than Texas overall (although it’s still not what you would call liberal), and it has a strong gay community. Dallas scores well on LGBT-friendly hospitals and low cost of living.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – Pittsburgh has been working hard for the past couple decades to modernize and revitalize itself as a great place to live, and the results are starting to show. While still not a gay mecca (its MEI is score 90 but it suffers with regard to LGBT-friendly hospitals), it scores better than average in cost of living, real estate, healthcare and crime rate.
Las Vegas, Nevada – Las Vegas has the lowest MEI score of these cities, with a still-respectable 87. Cost of housing is average, but all other metrics are good. Las Vegas offers lots of sunshine and warm temperatures in a desert environment very similar to Phoenix.
Asheville, North Carolina – Asheville is the only city here without an MEI rating, not only because it’s smaller but also because North Carolina is one of three states which prohibits cities from passing laws which provide more non-discrimination protection than state laws. But Asheville is artsy, progressive, scenic, and it is one of the most gay-friendly cities in the southeast, so I wanted to include it in order to offer at least one choice in the region.
It’s worth noting that many of these cities (Phoenix/Tempe, Austin, Columbus, Madison, and Minneapolis/St. Paul) are home to large universities, which offer cultural amenities and adult learning opportunities that are beneficial to retirees.
What’s not on the list, and why?
Many of the cities that scored 100 on the MEI, including many with large, well-known gay communities, were removed from consideration due to their high cost of living and housing. All of California, Seattle, Portland, Honolulu, Washington DC, and most of the northeast were eliminated for this reason. High crime rates kept Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Orlando, and Tucson off the list.
Cost of living data comes from city-data.com and numbeo.com. Data for house prices (which includes all forms of housing) also comes from city-data.com. Crime data is based on FBI statistics, as reported by city-data.com. The LGBT-friendliness of cities and hospitals comes from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), as described above. Healthcare scores come from HealthGrades.com and the Milken Institute’s “Best Cities for Successful Aging” report.
About the Author
Dave Hughes created RetireFabulously.com to help you envision, plan for and ultimately enjoy the best retirement possible. Most articles focus on the non-financial, “lifestyle” aspects of retirement. Dave’s new book, “Design Your Dream Retirement: How to Envision, Plan for, and Enjoy the Best Retirement Possible” is now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Dave lives in Chandler, AZ with his husband, Jeff, and their furry family members, Missy and Maynard.
For further reading
LBGT Retirements: What to Look for, and What to Look Out for
Comments? Is the community you live in or are considering a good place for LGBT retirement? What makes it good or bad? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.