Weird science: Is Atlanta the gayest U.S. city?

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imageThe next time we bitch about how Atlanta’s gay nightlife is dying, we can cite a subjective “study” in the Advocate that names our fair city the “gayest,” based mostly on a preponderance of gay bars–among other random factors.

Not so fast, though. Apparently, our gay bars and cruising spots outweigh—or at least, balance out—our lack of LGBT equality in the magazine’s list of the 15 Gayest Cities in America.

Over at The Advocate, “intrepid amateur sociologist Mike Albo searches for America’s 15 gayest burgs—based on a finely tuned (if totally arbitrary) calculus.”

Long ago, gay people settled in our nation’s largest cities. There they spruced up all the property, created every art and fashion movement, and taught entire populations how to dance. … Now a slew of secondary cities are becoming gay epicenters …

This admittedly subjective search reveals spots that are much more pink than you might think. Determined by a completely unscientific but accurate statistical equation, these gayest cities may surprise you. Iowa City, Austin, and Asheville have more gays per capita than the biggies. These cities where everyday gays live—towns and boroughs with a mix of baby carriages, gay bars, and B&Bs—signal the continuing movement of gay people into mainstream American life, which in turn also signals an eventual end to lists like this.

Big conclusions. Maybe we should appreciate our nightlife scene more. Or maybe we should just take a closer look at the facts. “Totally arbitrary” and “admittedly subjective” don’t even begin to describe the Advocate’s “point system” of same sex households per capita, statewide marriage equality, gay elected officials, gay bars per capita and gay films in Netflix favorites.

The Advocate takes away 2 points from Atlanta for a total lack of statewide couples rights. Getting a “negative 2” in the category isn’t so surprising on its surface, but the rating isn’t even an accurate reflection of the writer’s own scoring system, which ignores municipal domestic partner benefits and policies, but does factor the city into its elected officials category (We get a “3,” somehow, based on state and local officials).

And what about other civil rights? There is no category in the Advocate ratings to account for, oh… say, a pre-Stonewall style police raid on one of those gay bars just five months ago.

Our saving grace is our gay bars per capita. Atlanta gets “15 points” (the highest available) based on the (mis)calculation that we have 29 gay bars. Our count shows 33, and 34 if you count LeBuzz in Marietta, which we guess may not qualify as being in Atlanta. More off the mark, the survey was done before the Bodyshop and the Stage Door closed permanently over New Year’s Weekend.

Atlanta’s other big dividends came with 15 points for cruising spots—we couldn’t even begin to calculate them, so how someone in L.A. could is beyond us—and with 14 “points” for the number of gay selections among Netflix users. Even if we just give them the Netflix calculation, which cruising spots gave us the highest rating of 15? We don’t know; the article says they counted the ones listed online.

Maybe accuracy of the counts don’t matter, because we got the highest rating in both bars and hook-up sights. So why did Atlanta get a “5” out of 15 for profiles on dating and hookup websites? Apparently, we’re all at the bars and in the parks instead.

Here’s the nice stuff that the Advocate has to say about Atlanta’s top ranking, which you’ll notice barely mentions the categories of the “study,” brings up several pluses that weren’t part of the tally, and yet ignores big events like the week-long Out On Film LGBT film festival and other successful LGBT businesses such as Brushstrokes, Charis and Boy Next Door:

Georgia isn’t the most gay-friendly state, but Atlanta is undoubtedly our gayest city—with 29 gay bars here, there’s a reason it’s dubbed Hotlanta. Atlanta’s several queer events include one of the nation’s largest Prides in October (returning to Piedmont Park this year) [editor’s note: actually did last year, but that’s OK], and MondoHomo, a May event celebrating art, drag, burlesque, film, and BBQ. The gay epicenter is Midtown, anchored by Outwrite Books, a giant gay bookstore bucking the national trend—by staying in business! Atlanta guys are hunky, the ladies are gracious, the gay sports leagues are seriously well organized, and its housewives (and their gay BFFs, complete with handbags and heels) are now camp icons. And who doesn’t love the sweet lilt of a Georgia accent on a knockout guy or gal?

We appreciate the compliments, but what troubles us most about the final rankings is that Atlanta’s highest scores are in categories that don’t reflect civil rights gains. Netflix, anonymous cruising spots, online sex hookups and bars don’t equate to how proud we’d be if we scored higher in categories that reflect our rights. Atlanta’s other rankings that do equate to out, proud residents:

Same-sex households (“4” points out of 15 for declared census data), the aforementioned negative points for Couples Rights, and a “3” on Elected Officials (U.S. Reps, Senators, Governor and city officials—not state legislators—got a random number of assigned points). The “study” does include the most recent election, so it includes City Councilman Alex Wan, but without legislators in the point system, not Simone Bell.

With the magazine’s oddly selected, ill-measured categories, the list inadvertently–and incorrectly–implies that Atlanta is a great place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live here. Thanks a lot, Advocate.

In short, the study is lacking. Sure, we beat the hell out of Iowa City without even thinking about it, but we still wonder why, with marriage even on the radar in New York and San Francisco and their huge gay populations that also boast huge numbers in the Advocate’s other categories, neither of those cities appear somewhere on the list, and Iowa City came in second only to Atlanta.

We love us some gay Atlanta, and are so proud of our vibrant LGBT community that continues to make small gains in a rights-torn South and does boast so many daily activities that reflect our diversity of interests. And if the Advocate publicity does bring visitors, potential new residents, and helps the local economy, we’re all for it. Hopefully, they won’t read the article too closely.

Ultimately, if the Advocate insists, we’ll take the title. We just won’t hang the full weight of our hats on it.

Photo: the 2009 Atlanta Pride parade


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