Photographed by Winnie Au.
You can probably guess which American city has the largest percentage of LGBT residents, but would you believe Columbus, Ohio is in the top 15?

A newly released Gallup study ranked the 50 largest metropolitan areas based on the number of people who answered "yes" to the question, "Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender?". According to the survey results, San Francisco has a higher percentage of self-identified LGBT residents — 6.2% — than any other city, followed by Portland, OR and Austin.

While it's not surprising that the home of the Castro District or Portlandia would attract LGBT residents, several cities located in die-hard conservative states, like Salt Lake City (#7) and Louisville (#11), are also major hubs for the LGBT community.

The data can't pinpoint exactly why so many cities at the top of the list ended up there, but cities and states with more legal protections and general social approval for LGBT residents are likely to attract not just LGBT people, but those who are comfortable coming out.

While the study found that a majority of the cities with the fewest self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender inhabitants are in the South, there is still reason to be optimistic. Courts have approved marriage equality across the South — including in Alabama (home to Birmingham, the lowest-ranked city on the list), where a judge struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage in February.
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Based on the Gallup study, this could be good news for people who live in Birmingham but might still feel uncomfortable opening up about their lives. As more states allow same-sex marriage, and social stigmas weaken, more people might be willing to talk to pollsters about such deeply personal topics as sexuality and gender identity. And, as LGBT communities grow in urban areas beyond New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, more young people might decide to stay close to home after they come out.

The study is the most comprehensive look at the sexuality and gender identity demographics in U.S. cities since data has been collected, but it doesn't include everything. Individuals on the gender or sexuality spectrum who don't identify by one of the four survey categories may not have responded, and it used a narrow definition of what qualifies as a metropolitan area. But, the study suggests that the definition of an LGBT-friendly city is already broad and expanding.


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