Where should my brother and his same sex-partner live?
November 22, 2016 7:10 PM   Subscribe

My brother, a US citizen, has been living in Southeast Asia for over ten years and has a same-sex partner. They were married in the U.S. about two years ago, and are applying for a green card for the partner. They intend to move to the States next year as soon as that process is completed. But having not lived here for so long, he is not sure where a good place for them would be. He has asked me to help them find a region to move to.

His partner, who presents as a woman, is a call-center manager. She speaks excellent English, dresses to the nines, and has a very charming, gracious personality. My brother has been an ESL teacher for several years and has a masters (but not in education).

Where in the U.S. could they find good job prospects for these fields and reasonable costs of living? He has already ruled out California, the PNW, and the Northeast as too expensive.

A warmer climate is also a plus, as his partner has lived in a tropical place all her life and doesn’t do cold weather well.

My concern is that his partner is a trans person of color from a Muslim country who will be speaking English with an accent. I am really, *really* concerned for her safety. My brother does not seem to grasp the seriousness of the situation here with regard to the incoming administration and how it might affect his and his partner’s life here. In many ways, his head appears to be stubbornly in the sand—for reasons too numerous to go into here. His primary focus has been on where they can find jobs with a reasonable cost of living. I have told him that he needs to consider the culture of tolerance where they are thinking of living. Texas, for example, would be sub-optimal.

He is convinced that job prospects are the most important thing, more important than the potential for acceptance in the community. I’ve tried to impress on him that with his partner’s being trans and a POC from a Muslim country—even though she does not practice the religion and does not wear a head covering—means she is more at risk for confrontation, assault and discrimination, and that no job is worth that risk.

Any suggestions would be helpful. Thank you!
posted by You Get A Favorite For Being A Snowflake to Work & Money (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
At this point I feel like if they won't move to CA, Massachusetts is the only other relatively safe bet, followed by New Mexico maybe. I don't know if Massachusetts is much cheaper than even the cheapish parts of Southern California, and the problem with New Mexico is their economy, and so job options, are not absolutely bustling.

Anywhere with a cheap cost of living is going to be a red state, unfortunately.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:18 PM on November 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

For what it's worth, Texas wouldn't necessarily be as terrible an idea as you think. I transitioned in Austin and it was fine. I had trans friends in San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston. All four cities have decent-sized trans communities. Houston is also incredibly racially diverse. It's true that it's not an ideal place to be trans, but the cities are absolutely liveable for trans people — as most large cities throughout the country would be.

The trouble with Texas is that it doesn't have any state-level trans antidiscrimination laws. (There are city-level ones currently; the state is trying to overturn them, which sucks ass.) If you're looking for a state that does have legal protection for trans people, take a look at this map. Maryland and Colorado seem like they'd be worth considering if you're looking for warm.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:27 PM on November 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

New Mexico is mentioned. Santa Fe in particular is lgbt friendly. The mayor is openly gay. And as Lyn Never states, the economy ... yeah ... not so much.
posted by allelopath at 7:35 PM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ruling out entire parts of the country because some parts of them are too expensive seems foolhardy. San Francisco, Portland, Manhattan, and Boston are probably too expensive, but that doesn't mean that they couldn't live in Oakland, CA, or Eugene, OR or Ithaca, NY, or Northampton, MA. The last two are probably ruled out because of weather, but there are options that are not only in big cities.
posted by Betelgeuse at 7:49 PM on November 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

If cold weather isn't totally a deal breaker (which, like, I totally get it if it is), Minneapolis seems like a good place! There's a significant immigrant community (primarily Muslims from Somalia, but also Hmong and Karen refugees) with growing influence in the city as well as a strong LGBT+ community. It's also very liberal (the city itself and politically the state is basically a liberal haven in the Midwest) with a vibrant economy...and the wages and cost of living are reasonable. Winters really suck of course, but Minnesota in the summer is a wonderful, wonderful place to be.
The only other states I've lived in are Massachusetts (Northampton could be a reasonable choice, but it is small and also cold) and Wisconsin (DON'T!!), so I can't offer much other advice directly. Best of luck to them!
posted by giizhik at 8:00 PM on November 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

Thirding New Mexico. I just moved back. We voted blue, we have more artists per capita than any other state, and we're on the upswing in terms of becoming one of the hip places to move to. Now is the time to get in, while the cost of living is still extremely cheap. Santa Fe is maybe not so cheap, but where I live, you can get a completely remodeled 1950's, 1400sq ft cottage for $65-$75K. We have a lot of call centers, actually. And being near the border with Mexico, I would think there would be a fair number of ESL teaching jobs.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:01 PM on November 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

When I was 19 with no strong ties to any particular locale and was trying to decide where to move, I made my decision based in large part on studying a map of minimum wage laws.

I would expect to see a strong correlation between high minimum wages and places you'd be relieved to see your brother and his partner living.
posted by aniola at 8:04 PM on November 22, 2016

There was an Ask a couple of days ago about blue oases in red states. That's probably a good place to start.

Finding a job as a call center director should not be hard. There are call centers everywhere. ESL teachers are not exactly everywhere, but in most big cities. The southwest or Florida would probably have a higher demand than, say, North Dakota.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:20 PM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Transgender protections are paramount considering the political climate; I am shortlisting these places in considering where I might want to live in the future. I would just work from this list and ignore anywhere else, frankly. That said:

Denver, CO?

--State-level trans protections, specifically health care non-exclusion and non-discrimination in hiring, housing, and public accommodations
--Reasonably affordable; more so than either coast-- I have family there, and have discussed house prices. Basically, you can get three times the house for a third the money compared to San Francisco or NYC.
--there are people of color in Colorado; Denver seems welcoming of multiple communities though it's whiter than much of California. I've met a lot of people of color, people with accents, etc, but that may be just a fluke of who I hang out with. I don't think anyone would be in danger as a gay couple, as a trans person, or an immigrant of color-- not more so than other liberal places.
--Weather is really nice most of the year, except it snows in the winter (but not as heavily as other places in the upper Midwest or Northeast.) Most houses and businesses are heated and insulated.
--Gorgeous outdoor settings if you like outdoorsy stuff; lots of hiking, biking, swimming, rafting, etc. Lots of cultural events, art, museums, great library system. Good food, lots of nice restaurants.
--You probably need a car to have true convenience and to live in a cheaper neighborhood, but the buses and trains in Denver are efficient, mostly on time, and reasonably priced.
--It's a mile high, literally, and some people have trouble with the elevation.
--The minimum wage is $8.31, slightly higher than Federal.

I am familiar with Denver because I have family there and have visited frequently, so I feel I can speak to it. The other place that comes to mind is Jersey City, NJ, which is reasonably cheap compared to the rest of the tri-state area, but has access to all of the benefits and diversity of NYC, and is a convenient commute to quite a few places where there might be jobs. I haven't really lived there, though.
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:21 PM on November 22, 2016

What about Miami? Hot and though it is Florida, it's sort of the non-Florida part of Florida. Seems like a fairly liberal and progressive city, but maybe do a little research first.
posted by Toddles at 8:35 PM on November 22, 2016

I would also say the Twin Cities, but for the winter, which is really just a thing that keeps it from being San Francisco or Portland here. I might even have a potential lead for a starter job for your brother's partner.
posted by padraigin at 8:40 PM on November 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Honestly I live in a pretty conservative place for my area and our local gas station is owned by a couple exactly like this and I have never heard one thing about it. I think that any place with a low crime rate that's not totally backward would not be terribly dangerous relatively. There are hate crimes in CA too.
posted by fshgrl at 8:58 PM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Many parts of California are indeed expensive but if they're renting and not buying, there are parts of the Bay Area (Martinez, Vallejo, Concord, Richmond, Hayward, some parts of Oakland) that are affordable, with relatively easy access to San Francisco. There are also pockets of Los Angeles where you can find a cheap rental, and LA is more affordable than the Bay Area in general. If job prospects are particularly important to them, I'd try to live within reasonable commuting distance to a bigger city.
posted by blackcatcuriouser at 9:05 PM on November 22, 2016

Never been there, but I keep hearing wonderful things about Houston from people with some of the same requirements your brother and partner have and who have also lived in southeast Asia.
posted by Gotanda at 9:27 PM on November 22, 2016

Cheaper yet and still California is my hometown of Fresno. It has a huge migrant/immigrant/refugee population, very diverse, tons of folks learning or speaking ESL, and a decent LGBQT scene (my high school - a largely minority, low-income, urban school - was the first high school to elect a trans prom queen). The population is half a million, the weather is hot (but not humid), tons of sunshine, and they are a 2-4 hr drive or train ride from LA, SF, Yosemite, King Canyon, Sacramento, etc.

I can't imagine anyone batting an eyelash at your brother and his wife. If they want a run down of neighbourhoods just MeMail me.
posted by jrobin276 at 9:42 PM on November 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

Midwestern (flagship state) college towns are typically fairly liberal and relatively diverse while having a lower cost of living than big cities and are good targets for people who want to live somewhere liberal, but smaller and cheaper than Chicago or New York or San Francisco. Most of them are cold, though!

"I’ve tried to impress on him that with his partner’s being trans and a POC from a Muslim country—even though she does not practice the religion and does not wear a head covering—means she is more at risk for confrontation, assault and discrimination, and that no job is worth that risk."

Living in a small midwestern city, I would not consider your brother's partner at risk of assault or confrontation; possibly it would rise to the level of polite freeze-outs at the neighborhood block party, and it might be difficult to find their social circle, but I would not consider them at any elevated physical or property risk (beyond the normal risk level of whatever neighborhood they settle in w/r/t burglaries, etc.). Social isolation and the occasional stink-eye's not nothin', but I would be shocked -- honestly shocked -- if it rose above that level in my area. (Partly because in a small city, everybody knows everybody's business and everyone knows who the bigots are and it really complicates your job prospects when everyone in town knows you can't work with/sell to/serve $minoritygroup appropriately). And yes, I'd be worried about discrimination if they were looking for jobs at Ye Olde Country Store, but the big hospitals, the Fortune 500 companies, the school systems, and (yes!) the call centers (which are owned by big national companies) reflect a more diverse and mobile employee base, especially among white-collar employees. There are little local companies with 100 employees who almost all grew up within 50 miles of town, but the hospital (by far the biggest local employer) has employees from all over the world, of every background imaginable. (I mean, come on, the local Catholic hospital celebrates Diwali, it's not 1950 up in here.)

I would definitely look for states with laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity which, lo, here is a convenient map! In states without those laws, big cities often have their own non-discrimination laws, although those can be subject to attack by unfriendly state legislatures sometimes so aren't quite as sturdy.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:45 PM on November 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

WA State has important trans protections in place, and while Seattle is horribly expensive, there are other cities where the cost of living is a bit lower. Plus, the culture on the west side of the state is pretty accepting of trans folk. How about Olympia, WA? Vancouver, WA? Tacoma, WA?
posted by spinifex23 at 10:10 PM on November 22, 2016

Western Massachusetts is MUCH cheaper to live in than the eastern part. There are call centers out here too.

As part of a married Gay couple, I am very grateful that I live here!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 5:42 AM on November 23, 2016

Nthing Western MA, particularly around Northampton, for all the reasons mentioned above. Some of the super rural areas around here will be not as good, but the bigger towns like Northampton/Easthampton/Amherst etc are all good options.
posted by john_snow at 6:49 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

If New England is on the table, you've actually got a lot of options. Every state in New England has antidiscrimination laws that protect trans people, and MA, VT and CT all have regulations requiring insurance to cover trans-related health care.

I agree that Western Mass is a good place to look. If your sister-in-law isn't hoping to get surgery covered by insurance (or if she can find an employer who covers it even though they aren't legally required to), definitely also consider Providence, RI, which is a nice city with a low cost of living. Hartford and New Haven are less nice in some ways but could also be viable options. (I know there's a good deal of call center work in Hartford, centered around the insurance industry.) My hunch is that the job situation in Vermont won't be great for the sort of work that they do, but I could be wrong about that. Maybe also Portland, ME?

Similarly, if cold is ok, upstate New York could be an option. NY has good antidiscrimination laws and good insurance regulations, and outside the NYC area a lot of it is quite affordable.

(And nthing the Twin Cities as another cold-weather option.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:16 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I dunno, I think it's pretty reasonable for an ESL teacher and a call center manager to make an affordable cost of living a priority. People saying that Oakland (!) is affordable to people like that are unrealistic -- it's one thing to rent for a few years, but it's tough to set down roots in the Bay Area without some serious money. And maybe this is easy for me to say as a straight white guy, but I'm skeptical that the incoming administration is really going to change much with regard to local acceptance of trans people.

If warmth is important, I think it is reasonable to consider the larger, low cost of living cities in the Southeast and Southwest: Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Nashville, Albuquerque, Phoenix, etc. Lots of diversity and cultures of tolerance within those islands of blue.
posted by crazy with stars at 10:16 AM on November 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

I agree with crazy with stars. And I can't say I'd recommend Richmond or Martinez to a foreign couple of any orientation as particularly safe, crime free or accepting of alternative lifestyles in any way.
posted by fshgrl at 6:31 PM on November 24, 2016

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