Which States Are the Most LGBTQ+ Friendly?

A new report ranks the most LGBTQ+-friendly states in the country, with California taking the top spot.

In many states across the country, members of the LGBTQ+ community are arguably less safe now than they were in recent years as a result of rising intolerance, vilification, and new anti-LGBTQ+ bills continuously being signed into law. But a new study outlines some of the remaining safe corners of the country for queer and trans folks.

The report, conducted by Emisil.com, found that the most LGBTQ+ friendly state is California, followed by the District of Columbia in second place and Vermont in third.

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The report ranked the states based on LGBTQ+ population, the number of LGBTQ+ community centers, and information about legal rights and protections outlined in the State Equality Index.

According to the report, California possesses 46 CenterLink LGBTQ community centers, 14% of the adult population in the District of Columbia identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and Vermont has the highest average number of community centers per 100K queer people, at 5.1.

“For queer and trans adults living in the friendliest states, they may feel more secure in their communities, which can lead to higher acceptance, physical and mental well-being, and social connectedness,” says Paul W. Thomas, Ph.D., a therapist specializing in the LGBTQ+ community at Octave.

Report details

Rounding out the top 10 friendliest states in the report were New York, Colorado, Nevada, Delaware, Washington, Oregon, and New Mexico, respectively.

New York has 22 CenterLink LGBTQ+ community centers and over 1.6M adults identifying as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, making for an average of 1.33 community centers per 100K queer people.

Colorado, meanwhile, has the second-highest percentage of queer adults, at 11%.

Nevada also has a high LGBTQ+ population, with 10.6%, though only three CenterLink community centers give the state an average of 0.91 centers per 100K queer people — which is five times less than Vermont.

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Delaware has a high average of community centers, with 2.73 per 100k queer people. Meanwhile, 10% of the adults in Washington identify as LGBTQ+.

Oregon’s LGBTQ+ demographic is similar in numbers to Nevada, but the state only has two community centers, bringing the average to 0.45 per 100K LBGTQ+ population.

In the final spot, New Mexico has an LGBTQ+ population of almost 200K people and two CenterLink community centers, making its average one center per 100K queer people.

The status of legislative support in all 10 states was described by the State Equality Index of 2023 as ‘Working Towards Innovative Equality,’ the best out of four possible categories.

Anti-LGBTQ+ bills and their impact

But while some states are working towards equality, a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced across the country last year — prompting the Human Rights Campaign to officially declare a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people in the United States for the first time ever.

According to the State Equality Index of 2023, 571 anti-equality bills were introduced in state legislatures, and 77 were signed into law. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is currently tracking 522 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the 2024 legislative session.

Many of these bills focus on non-binary and transgender youth, particularly on gender-affirming care — with this form of medical care banned in states including Utah, Wyoming, Louisiana, Arizona, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and more.

Some states, such as Oklahoma, Texas, and South Carolina, have also considered banning care for transgender people up to the age of 26.

“Beyond having a community where it’s safe to make connections, queer and trans adults need legal rights and protections because it’s challenging to build a life if everything you have worked hard to establish can be undermined or jeopardized by a court ruling or policy change,” Thomas tells Healthnews. “Not feeling protected by the law can have a significant impact on the psychological functioning of people with marginalized identities.”

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The potential impacts include diminishing personal agency, complicating relationships, and creating or exacerbating symptoms of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, he explains.

The importance of studies like this

In light of diminishing safety and protection for the LGBTQ+ community in the U.S., studies such as this one are all the more necessary, says Carlos M. Flores, LMFT — another Octave therapist who specializes in the LGBTQ+ community.

“On the heels of the 55th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the 8th anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, it can feel that many U.S. states are still not a safe space to exist for those who identify as part of this community,” he tells Healthnews. “A point which has recently been driven home by some state governments in their attempt to enact and codify laws that have effectively oppressed members of this community.”

Studies such as this one, which aim to map out the more safe and tolerant parts of the country for marginalized communities, are not new to minority communities who have long experienced bigotry and oppression, he says.

One of the biggest examples of this is Victor Hugo Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guidebook that was created for African American motorists identifying “sundown towns,” which were openly discriminatory and physically violent, as well as accepting and tolerant towns.

Similarly, the realities that many LGBTQ+ individuals may face throughout the country range from unintentional inconsideration to flat-out hostility depending on where they live and travel, he says.

“Studies like these that identify community resources, safe queer spaces, and the places that offer protections offer hope to those who live in communities that lack these resources,” he says. “They provide a template for the cities that do not yet have the infrastructure to provide such security to their LGBTQ+ citizens.”

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