Springfield, Massachuestts was chosen as the Advocate’s second most LGBT friendly city in America this January, beating out other big names like St. Louis and Seattle. The Advocate publishes a list of America’s Gayest Cities every year, and chose Tacoma, Wash. as this year’s winner. Springfield was the only New England city chosen besides Providence, R.I.
New England residents and LGBT officials were excited by the news.
“It’s great that a Mass. city occupies such a high position on the list,” Sue Hyde, Director of the Creating Change Conference and staff person for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said. “It’s a welcome recognition for the work they’ve been doing for the last three decades to make Springfield ever more inviting and friendly.”
The Advocate based its scoring on a point system that awarded points to different LGBT friendly attributes, from the number of transgender protection laws to how many Pottery Barns a city had. With six elected LGBT officials in local government, a roller derby league, and a natural lead with Mass’s same-sex marriage equality law, Springfield took second place out of fifteen.
“I think the message we’re trying to get across to people is that Springfield is a good place to work, live, and visit,” Jim Leydon, Communications Director for Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno’s office, said. “It’s demographics show a very diverse span of people…age, sex, race…it kind of sets us up that the area is a very conducive place for anyone of any walk of life, not just LGBT.”
But not everyone supported Springfield’s newest title.
Out Now Inc., an organization specializing in assisting LGBT youth, reported several cases of discrimination against gay teenagers in Springfield.
“We don’t necessarily think it’s true,” Jennifer Higgins, Community Organizer with Out Now, said of the ranking. “Youth after youth comes in here struggling with violence in schools because of sexuality or gender identity in their homes. We’ve had incident after incident of people being attacked or yelled at. We don’t think it’s a very supportive community.”
In December 2011, a gay man was brutally attacked by a group of teenagers in Springfield. The news was widely reported, yet was not mentioned in the Advocate’s summary of why the city was given second place.
“I can speak for all of Out Now when I say [the ranking] made it seem like Springfield solved problems that it hadn’t,” Higgins said. “We were almost offended by it.”
The Advocate declined to comment.
With a population of roughly 153,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it could be argued that the actions of nine teenagers do not speak for all of Springfield.
“[Mass] cities tend to be more progressive and more open to equal rights,” Linda Demarco, President of Boston Pride Committee, said. “But I do think that it’s a large city, and they’re bound to have certain things happen.”
But Higgins’s personal experience with the city and the alleged anti-LGBT incidents offers a very different perspective.
“Progress is different than us being the number two city,” Higgins said. “We’re basically working to build up a better movement in our city. But I don’t think that we’re there.”