There are plenty of interesting U.S. cities that didn’t make the top 35 of our first-ever Queer Index, and Memphis was one of them. Well, sort of.
Of course, Memphis doesn’t immediately spring to mind when it comes to LGBT-friendly locales. And indeed, our data placed it 94th out of the 100 most populous metro areas in America according to LGBT livability. Still, after crunching the data, we did discover an interesting find: Memphis ranked No. 1 when it came to the highest number of single lesbians, proportional to the population, at a whopping 40 percent. There are a fair few unattached gay guys as well—52 percent at last count—yet ladies reign supreme, with 2.3 gay women to every gay man.
While the figures suggest that Memphis is a single lesbian’s paradise, resources specifically catering to gay women are lacking. For example, there are only two LGBT-specific sports leagues and a couple of lesbian bars in the area, which seems like a missed opportunity. And more importantly, the city itself is behind when it comes to broader LGBT equality.
Though organizations like the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center are doing great work within the community, they’re facing a hard battle when it comes to reducing the South’s reputation as an intolerant wasteland. There are three active hate groups operating within city limits that no doubt help fuel Memphis’ large number of hate crimes. The most recent FBI Hate Crimes unit statistics show 21 sexuality-specific crimes in 2012 (the most up-to-date data), making it the sixth-least safe city in the U.S. By comparison, San Francisco had 20 documented hate crimes; Chicago had eight.
Certain state politicians certainly don’t help. In March, the Senate Judiciary Committee withdrew a Senate bill backed by Rep. Bill Dunn that proposed to make it legal for businesses and religious organizations to discriminate against gay individuals. The bill was quashed in the wake of immense resistance from Tennessee citizens and allies around the country.
Despite the cons, prominent community members say things aren’t all bad. “I’m not single, but I have lived here since 1977. This is the South, and there is a culture that I’ve learned over the years,” says Debra Kaufman, secretary of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center. “Memphis is, in general, a very friendly city in spite of some of the statistical crime rates and issues; but if you’re not from around here, you’ve got to work your way into that. This holds true in the lesbian community.”