Missoula officially landed on the nation’s gaydar last week.
Despite the city’s somewhat checkered track record on gay rights, Missoula was listed in bimonthly national gay newsmagazine The Advocate’s first-ever “Best Places for Gays and Lesbians to Live.” The article contained short profiles of gay-friendly small cities, spotlighting the many LGBT Americans choosing to live outside cities with large, visible “gay ghettos,” such as those in San Francisco or Seattle. The list was compiled from an online reader survey, according to Advocate Editor Anne Stockwell.
“We’re delighted Missoula made the list,” says Stockwell. “Certainly one of our criteria was does the place have an active gay and lesbian community center. Missoula, with a population of 61,000, qualified as a particularly welcoming, great-sized town.”
Western Montana Gay & Lesbian Community Center Board President Mark Heyka says events like the annual Black and White Ball, which raised about $13,000 after expenses this year, draw support from the straight community, and that helps boost Missoula’s image.
“What I think strikes a chord with me is that a lot of larger cities have gay ghettos, where gays gather together and live in the same area,” Heyka says. “Missoula doesn’t have one; it’s just a good place to live for gays in general. We are integrated into a progressive community that is very accepting and open.”
Stockwell said she was not aware of the high-profile crimes apparently targeting the LGBT community in Missoula in recent years. For instance, in October 2005, two straight men were taunted with homophobic insults and then attacked by four men. Responding to the subsequent concern and LGBT community outcry, the city police hired an openly gay liaison officer.
Stockwell said she thinks Missoula’s LGBT residents believe the city is changing for the better and that the survey is an indication we are on the right path.