Gayest Cities in the Bible Belt
Dixie Land may not be known as a bastion LGBT-friendliness, but there are places in it where Southern Comfort does extend to gays.
In January, the Barna Research Group, a religious research firm, ranked 96 U.S. cities by what portion of their residents recently read the Bible and think it’s accurate - or what percentage is "Bible-Minded."
Although most top-ranking spots were in the Republican-leaning South, SFGN found that some of these cities have sizeable gay populations comparable to places like New York City or Washington, D.C.
SFGN compared the Barna data to Census data that shows what portion of a city’s households contain unmarried partners of the same sex. Then, it ranked the most Christian places by their percentage of same-sex, unmarried-partner households to figure out the Bible Belt’s gayest spots.
The Barna data looks at Designated Market Areas (DMAs), which are areas where the population receives similar radio and TV stations. SFGN used Census data on large cities and core cities within those DMAs.
From the data, it seems the gayest of the most "Bible-Minded" places is Atlanta, where about 1 in 49 households contain a same-sex couple. That rate is comparable to Portland, Oregon (about 1 in 50 households have a same-sex couple), Minneapolis (1 in 50), and Washington, D.C. (1 in 52).
Bishop Jim Swilley, who is head of Church in the Now, and who came out in 2010, opines that part of the reason Atlanta is relatively gay-friendly is because so many different kinds of people move through and to the city (its airport is the country’s busiest).
And with an increasingly diverse population comes a more tolerant attitude toward different people, said the 55-year-old Atlanta native, whose church is based outside the city and has a church within it.
"Maybe if I’m more comfortable with someone who speaks another language, I would also be more comfortable with someone who identifies with a different sexual preference," he told SFGN. "No matter how different you are, you can find someone just like you around the corner."
While lots of people-traffic might be a characteristic of gay-populous cities, relative isolation doesn’t seem to deter the 2nd-gayest city in the most "Bible-Minded" places: Asheville, N.C.
Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 1 in 58 Asheville households contain a same-sex couple. That rate is comparable to Santa Fe, New Mexico (where about 1 in 60 households have a same-sex couple), Boston (1 in 62), and Denver (1 in 65).
Reverend Jasmine Beach-Ferrara works for Asheville’s United Church of Christ, and is Executive Director of Campaign for Southern Equality. 37-year-old Beach-Ferrara, who is gay, thinks that city-dwellers’ attitudes are to keep more to themselves. "There’s a little bit of a live and let live sensibility, that government shouldn’t intrude on personal lives."
Asheville has several LGBT-friendly churches (including the UCC and the Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church). UCC Reverend Joe Hoffman added that in a number of Asheville churches, "a person who is LGBTQ can hold any position without any problem."