Gay friendly cities?
October 3, 2012 4:59 AM   Subscribe

Help me evaluate the gay-friendliness of various cities, particularly Houston, TX.

I'm beginning my job hunt now. I'm a mechanical engineer, graduating in the spring. Anywhere I sign with, they're going to relocate me, but the various jobs and programs I'm applying for are based in different cities. As a gay man, one of the most important factors in deciding where to live is how easy or difficult it might be for me to date and have a social life there. What is the best way for me to evaluate that sort of thing remotely?

Several of the jobs are in Houston, TX (lots of oil). Any MeFiers that want to testify as to that city specifically would be great.

TL;DR: How do you figure out if a city is gay friendly, and does anyone have any personal experience with Houston, TX?
posted by nickhb to Human Relations (22 answers total)
My understanding is that the Westheimer/Montrose area is the gayborhood in Houston. The mayor of Houston is openly lesbian (Annise Parker), so I would imagine that makes it a little more LGBT friendly too. Hope this helps.
posted by AMSBoethius at 5:09 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

How to figure if a city is gay friendly: Richard Florida developed a "Bohemian-Gay Index" for most major cities in the U.S. His first book (Rise of the Creative Class) may be a little dated now but it may give you a start.
posted by quodlibet at 5:17 AM on October 3, 2012

Epodunk lists a "gay index" under the essentials section for many cities. There's more detail about how where those numbers came from at the site.
posted by bizzyb at 5:55 AM on October 3, 2012

Well, there's Campus Climate Index which tracks the queer friendliness of college campuses and might be of some use, depending on your age and whether you are interested in dating college students.

Of course a campus and a city aren't the same thing, and Houston schools range from 2.5/5 (U of H, Clear Lake) to 4.5/5 (Rice). But, at the very least, it means that, if you choose to live near the Rice campus, there will be an accepting social group and support system nearby.

There's also the Gay/Lesbian Index Report, which lists the top 20 gayest cities in the USA. It's based simply on how many gay couples there are in the area, not any sort of "friendliness" metric, but it's pretty safe to assume that, where there are lots of gay people there is tolerance and an active community. Houston is not on the list.
posted by 256 at 6:00 AM on October 3, 2012

I live in the gayborhood! Our mayor is the first openly gay mayor of a major US city, she actually lives a few streets from me. If your main concerns are dating and social life, I think you'll have absolutely no trouble here. As mentioned above, Montrose/Westheimer is considered the gay district, but it's mostly dance clubs and really hit it's peak about a decade ago - it's now starting to gentrify. For older gays, I think the Heights is becoming more established, as couples settle down and want to buy homes, etc. There is also a very close lesbian community here.

Honestly, Houston is a big old island of blue in a sea of red. Austin is the same. Both are the kinds of towns where most people are welcome to let their freak flag fly, whether that is artistically, creatively, fashion-wise, lifestyle-wise, whatever. By this I of course mean proper Houston, not any of the exurbs like Katy or The Woodlands.

One other thing — your profile doesn't say where you live now, but the quality of life in Houston is quite high. You could easily buy a 2000sq foot house for $250,000, for example; dining out is cheap and abundant, and in the field you're looking at you'll make more than enough money to thrive here (my husband is also a mechanical engineer). The great thing about Texas is that it's so diverse — there is something here for everyone. And there is also this awesome libertarian mentality among the citizens. I find it's a very live-and-let-live place. Memail me if you have further questions.
posted by Brittanie at 6:00 AM on October 3, 2012 [10 favorites]

I grew up in Houston, and had lots of gay friends and an engineer dad. Brittanie speaks the truth. You'll have no problem with dating or the social scene or long as you stay in the loop. Not that you're going to get hassled in the burbs. I'd worry more about the commute and isolation. If you live in Montrose or the Heights or whatever and work for a consultancy downtown, you'll be fine. But if you work for a petrochemical company or plant on the southeast side, that's gonna suck. Try a dry run commute before signing anything.
posted by lunalaguna at 6:12 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I also agree with everything Brittanie says. I grew up in Houston (my dad is a petroleum engineer) and then lived there after college with my girlfriend (I am also a lady). We lived in Montrose and it was really wonderful. My girlfriend agrees with this and she grew up in DC and previously lived in Boston and Austin.
posted by vakker at 7:15 AM on October 3, 2012

Hi! I'm gay and live in Houston.

All Brittanie says is true - and more.

It really all depends on where you're coming from and what you're looking for. Once upon a time, the "gay social life" would have meant one thing and one thing only. Today, it's like a rainbow hydra, offering very specific experiences to sub-sub-cultures. The good news is that Houston is pretty good on most facets of this multifaceted gay community that is developing.

Are you seeking fancy-schmancy cocktail parties with people wearing pointy shoes and skinny ties standing around art galleries? Good news. We have more artsy fartsy things than you can shake a stick at.

Are you seriously into bear culture? You're all set.

Or are you just a dood who wants to watch some ball and throw back some beers with some other doods and then maybe go fool around with them? Check! (George, Your Country Sports Bar)

Are you a gaymer? You need Houston Gaymers. It's kind of A Thing here.

Maybe you're ready to dive head first into Texas culture and take a gay two-stepping lesson? The Brazos River Bottom is for you.

Is brunch an Olympic sport to you? MeMail me...

The gay things Houston isn't really great on:

Clubs. I mean, if you're looking for a smoke machine and a laser light show and a beat that is going to just tear your shirt right from your sweat-drenched body... eehhhh... Houston might not be the place for you. I've never been super-impressed with the dance club offerings here. (Full disclosure: it isn't my thing, so I'm not sure I'd be super-impressed with any of that world, ever. But my boyfriend does like dancing and enjoys himself when we go out in Houston.)

Some things to consider:

Casual...ness. I went to brunch last weekend with a friend in one of the new restaurants in my neighborhood (seriously, if you like Indian food, get yourself to Pondicheri ASAP), and he admitted that he had finally given in to Houston's casual culture. The origins of this casual culture are up for debate. Wherever it comes from, it's probably here to stay and most of us love it. There has been some erosion on that front, especially in my neighborhood (Upper Kirby) which is modeling itself after every Big City Social Scene thing you can imagine. Last weekend, a friend asked if I wanted to go grab a drink after I was done performing with the symphony, and I said "SURE! Let's meet at St. Genevieve!" When I got there (in jeans, a tshirt and tennis shoes - my uniform) I realized that Saturday nights there had become a sort of ridiculous parade of preening socialites. Had I not suggested that we wander over to The Tasting Room instead, I probably would have been turned away at the door. That's an ABSOLUTE outlier in Houston, but perhaps becoming slightly more frequent. Still very easy to avoid. But available, should you wish to preen.

Equality in the workplace. This is a big deal here in Texas where our relationships don't have legal recognition. Are you thinking about working for one of the Big Oil Companies? Cause Chevron is kind of awesome. Exxon... not so much. Will your employer go the extra mile to actually look our for your needs as a gay employee? The good news is that in Houston, you're more likely to find good benefits than elsewhere in Texas. The bad news is that you're less protected than in other parts of the country/world. It still legal in Texas to fire someone for being gay. We're not a protected class of employees. That said, there are many places (like my employer) which have added "sexual orientation and gender identity" to their Equal Employment Opportunity policies.

Food. No really, Houston is an Eating City and we take our food very seriously. And it's awesome.

Geography. Be careful. Conroe =/= Houston. Galveston =/= Houston. Beaumont =/= Houston. Houston is a huge place, but it has practical limits. Having dated guys in Houston while living in Galveston (I grew up there), I can attest that it is sub-optimal at best. When considering options, take care to check out where they're actually going to be putting you. I wont be snobby and say that you HAVE to live inside the 610 Loop if you move to Houston. There are plenty of places outside the loop where gay folks live and work and thrive. But think very carefully if you're planning to live or work outside the loop.

Culture. Look, this is still Texas we're talking about. And if you're coming from the Godless North, you might be in for a bit of a culture shock. (For the record, I love the Godless North.) One of my friends is from DC and NJ and he likes me precisely because I lived on the East Coast for several years and remind him of the Godless North. The gays here are different than elsewhere. Many of them are religious. REALLY religious. Many of them are politically conservative. NeoCon-Nuke-That-Homeless-Whale conservative. So it'll possibly be different. But it is possible, and not even very difficult, to find like-minded people here.

So what are you looking for? What are you hoping for in a city? Where are you coming from? What are your concerns?
posted by jph at 7:25 AM on October 3, 2012 [10 favorites]

Re: equality in the workplace, both my husband's company and mine recognize same-sex partnerships and provide full benefits to domestic partners, no matter the gender. The state might not (though Austin now recognizes gay marriages) but your prospective employer might.
posted by Brittanie at 7:40 AM on October 3, 2012

One example of a great out-of-the-loop neighborhood (meaning Loop 610): Oak Forrest. But it's still Houston proper, not a burb. But you probably don't want to live anywhere outside of Beltway 8.
posted by Brittanie at 7:42 AM on October 3, 2012

Minor point, but Austin City Council just "endorsed" same-sex marriage; it is still legally barred from recognizing them here in Texas because we have a state constitutional amendment. But that amendment does only apply to state entities, and so Brittanie is right that private organizations are free to provide whatever benefits/protections they wish to, and many do.
posted by jph at 7:57 AM on October 3, 2012

Houston is (as you can see above) famously gay-friendly. So is nearby (by Texas standards) Austin and Dallas. Unfortunately, you should not extrapolate from that that all of Texas is gay-friendly.
posted by ubiquity at 7:57 AM on October 3, 2012

I grew up in Houston, now live in Providence.
AMSBoethius, Brittanie (and I'm sure others, but I can't really speak to gay club culture and the like) are right. Jph also brings up a good point about specific locations -- Houston is pretty sprawling, and there are a lot of areas that are smaller cities that aren't technically Houston but a lot of people just throw in there with it. Katy is another example, though it seems to be more separated due to growth than it was 10 years ago.

But yeah, as others have said, pretty gay-friendly, affordable, and I'm sure you'll find dates.
posted by jorlyfish at 7:57 AM on October 3, 2012

Thanks for the responses, guys! I'm 22, from Miami, and currently in school at the University of Florida, so I'm not totally unfamiliar with southern culture, if not Texas specifically. I'm interested in the club culture to some degree, it I'm not a rave every weekend kind of guy.

The main concerns I have are harassment and workplace equality, along with the ability to just find a date. Jph, I'm sorry to hear what you said about Exxon, they're one of the main Texas companies that are recruiting me (the other is schlumberger). Do they have a bad history with gay employees?
posted by nickhb at 7:57 AM on October 3, 2012

I can attest to Oak Forest 'cause I live there. Yay Oak Forest! We have several gay neighbors. Also, the neighborhood right next door is great...Garden Oaks.
posted by daydreamer at 8:34 AM on October 3, 2012

Re: Exxon, yeah they kinda suck. Sorry.

I can't find anything about Schlumberger on their website, although their page on "Diversity" makes no mention of sexual orientation or gender identity.

I think you should ask the experts on this subject: Out and Equal has a Houston affiliate group, which originally sprang out of the O&G industry here in Houston. So they'll be very well-versed in which companies are good on gay issues and which are not.
posted by jph at 8:38 AM on October 3, 2012

This obviously won't be city-specific, but Human Rights Campaign has a Best Places to Work list in terms of sexual orientation/gender rights.
posted by radioamy at 8:42 AM on October 3, 2012

My gay brother lived in Houston for a while last year and went on roughly two dates a week via (I know! Old-school!)

Lots of good advice in this thread. Houston was the first place I ever went to a Pride parade.
posted by purpleclover at 9:22 AM on October 3, 2012

Schlumberger is still stuck in the "Good Ol' Boys" Oil and Gas culture. They're a service provider. They regularly have to cater to the best and the worst of the energy sector.

While Houston is very gay friendly, most energy companies in Houston aren't going to be. Oil and Gas is one of the last American industries that provide blue collar jobs for rural southern uneducated men. That culture permeates from the ground up. Managers who can't handle hearing sexist, racist, homophobic talk generally leave for other industries. Likewise, you have plenty of stubborn execs who grew up in Midland, TX and still feel left behind by the leaps most of America has made.

If you are open during your interview, you're going to minimize the chances of ending up in a bad fit. I spent college volunteering for liberal causes, so I always mention that's why I didn't have a more business-y internship. As a consequence, I've never had a manager I couldn't be openly liberal with. But you'll need to decide if that's enough for you. There will be other teams, clients, subcontractors, vendors who will range in professionalism. And the least professional will sometimes be homophobic, racist and/or sexist.

How well will you be able to shrug that off? Making good money, having a good social support structure and a community that mirrors my values, I managed just fine. Other folks feel stifled and look for better industries. Others put up with it, but have a lot of baggage. That's something you'll have to decide for yourself.
posted by politikitty at 12:50 PM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I hope you are still checking this, it seems like I am always late to the threads where I have something to add.

I am a Mech E, working in the oil business, living in Houston. (I am not gay.)

I will echo everyone else's comments that I think Houston is a pretty gay-friendly city, especially if you live inside the loop. As others mentioned, Montrose, Westheimer, Washington, Heights are all good areas for young people and will be pretty diverse and accepting.

However, in my experience in the oil industry, I have met exactly one openly gay person, who was working in a refinery outside San Francisco. But I have also never heard the openly "sexist, racist, homophobic talk" that politikitty mentions. The "oil industry" is huge, and you can have a huge variety of experience. Downstream is going to be different than upstream, a technology center or office is going to be different than working in the field.

I actually do have experience working for SLB - just an internship, but I was very impressed with the company. I'm a woman, which can also be hard in the oil industry, and I always felt respected and never felt like it was an "issue." I also worked in a technology center, not the field, but PM me if you want more details.
posted by pallas14 at 4:36 PM on October 3, 2012

Just to throw this in for anyone looking for LGBT Houston info: Out here in suburban Pearland my partner and I (gay male couple) live next door to a lesbian couple with children. There are lots of LGBT and LGBT-friendly people out here, too -- even two out lawyers! out businessowners! -- but we tend to be an older and more settled-down demographic.

For your purposes, I think you'd be happiest in the Inner Loop in one of the younger, hipper areas. However, consider also that Houston has long commutes. If it ends up that you like the city and accept a job with a good gay-friendly employer, consider living close to your workplace (wherever it is) and commuting to where you have fun. You gotta go to work every day, but you're probably not going to F Bar every night.
posted by Robert Angelo at 5:19 PM on October 3, 2012

jph does a good job of summarising Houston, for sure.

If you really, really, really want to get your club on, make plans to have the occasional weekend in Dallas. Oak Lawn is the "gayborhood", and Cedar Springs Rd. is club central. They also have intense Pride and Halloween celebrations that are worth leaving town for (after enjoying the historic Houston Pride, of course).

I haven't explored the scene in Austin, but I do know it seems to be mostly not-a-big-deal to be out in a social fashion during the day, although there have been some incidents with bashing in the party zone near downtown.
posted by batmonkey at 12:05 AM on October 4, 2012

« Older Abu Dhabi or Dubai?   |   Renting bedding in New England Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.