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Cincinnati – once known as “the Queen of the West” or “Porkopolis” (we have a thing about pigs), this old German city on the beautiful (read: dirty) Ohio River is slowly emerging as a pretty hip place to live. We’re pretty down-to-earth here – heck, the city itself is named after Cincinnatus, a Greek guy who could have been a dictator but preferred to be a farmer – but don’t let the Midwestern sensibilities fool you into thinking Cincy is boring. It’s actually a lot more diverse than many other Midwestern cities, and has quite rich history, architecture, and art scenes.
Claire: I have lived in Cincinnati my entire life (minus a few months in Berlin) and it’s been a wonderful place to call home, both growing up and as a young adult. It’s an incredibly livable city: decent cost of living, many beautiful neighborhoods, just the right size for knowing your way around but still finding more to explore. Most people are incredibly friendly and will strike up a conversation in the grocery store or on the street, whether they know you or not – this is the thing I miss most when I go other places. Well, that and the chili.
Caroline: As a Cincinnati transplant after living in sunny south Florida for 22 years, I immediately assumed life in the Midwest would be a drag with its general lack of ocean access and that thing called winter. But after moving to the Queen City for graduate school, I knew pretty immediately that I had fallen in love. Cincinnati has a lot of your standard Midwestern city things: good beer, fall, and old beautiful houses, but it also has many unique things. So many that Claire and I had a really tough time narrowing this guide down to what we think are Cincinnati’s greatest hits. After moving here without knowing anyone, I am constantly amazed at what a wonderfully diverse queer community I’ve discovered and found a place in.
As for that queer community in Cincinnati – it’s there, and growing, but somewhat decentralized. Like many Midwestern cities, there’s a definite lack of queer visibility and specifically queer establishments, so it can be tough when you initially move here, or if you’re growing up queer here (especially if you live in the ‘burbs). That said, the city isn’t very outwardly hostile, and once you find a pocket of queer friends to start connecting you to others (one thing this guide will hopefully help you do!), we think the ‘Nati can be downright grand.
Because we certainly don’t know all that the city has to offer, we sent out a survey to other Cincinnati queers and got a lot of great responses. We’ll mention the survey a couple times when we talk about things that many of our friends brought up.
The Most Necessary Nati Neighborhoods
Cincinnati is quite a maze of neighborhoods, owing to the fact that it was originally built next to the Ohio River and then later expanded up into the hills surrounding it. Below we’ve listed just a few neighborhoods you’ll want to be familiar with, though there are tons more to explore.
It’s also good to be aware of the sociological divide between “The West Side” (stereotypically blue-collar, sports-loving, German-Irish and Catholic) and “The East Side” (stereotypically white-collar, wealthy, with a sushi place on every corner), which is divided by Interstate 75. People who have lived their entire life on one side are mostly unaware of anything happening on the other side, or even how to get there. This guide focuses on the East Side because it includes downtown, the main arts scenes, many queer-friendly businesses, both major universities, and also because both authors are more familiar with the East Side. West Siders — hit up the comments below to help us fill in the gaps!
Downtown & Over-The-Rhine
Downtown includes the always-busy Fountain Square, a host of stores and restaurants, and the whole riverfront area, with the new “The Banks” developments between the stadiums and recently beautified parks. Over-the-Rhine (or OTR) is the part of downtown north of Central Parkway, and includes Music Hall, the beautifully redesigned Washington Park, and a new bunch of trendy shops, restaurants, and bars on Vine and Main streets.
Hip, progressive, and diverse in every way, Northside is Cincinnati’s unofficial gayborhood because of its welcoming attitude towards LGBTQ people. It is especially known for its excellent independently-owned stores and restaurants, and is a popular place both to live and play among Cincinnati’s “alternative” crowd.
An area that actually includes several neighborhoods (Clifton, Clifton Heights, University Heights, Corryville, Avondale), Clifton is home to the University of Cincinnati, the historic Ludlow Gaslight District, Burnet Woods Park, and large swathes of residential areas —some wealthier than others. Clifton is urban through and through, with a different feel and a different in each different neighborhood.
Hyde Park & Mt. Lookout
Full of gorgeous historic homes, green areas, and with patches of eclectic shopping and dining opportunities, both of these neighborhoods are definitely home to wealth. Hyde Park is also a popular area for young professionals who move to Cincinnati for work.
Oakley, Pleasant Ridge, Madisonville, Kennedy Heights
Here are more middle-class neighborhoods on the East Side, each with their own personality and historic flavor; these are generally noteworthy as good residential areas. Claire: I could go on for days about particular Cincinnati neighborhoods, so if any Autostraddlers are looking to move here and looking for something specific, feel free to message me!
For the Ladies who Love to Learn
In Cincinnati there are two large universities: Xavier University (Catholic, Jesuit) in Norwood/Evanston and the University of Cincinnati (public) in Clifton. Other universities include the small Catholic Mount Saint Joseph on the West Side, and the two-year Cincinnati State Community & Technical College in West Clifton.
Both of your humble authors can attest that UC is an incredible school with a lot of momentum behind it right now. One of the most beautiful campuses in the nation architecturally, UC is headed by charismatic, get-shit-done president Santa Ono (he has 20,000+ twitter followers and is friends with me on Facebook). UC has been rated one of the best-quality universities in the country for its price, has a quite diverse population, and has oodles of excellent programs to pick from.
Most importantly for you college-bound queers and graduate-student queers, UC has a strong LGBTQ community and many allies among administrators and staff. Student groups include UC Alliance (a social group open to anyone of any orientation), Colors of Pride (fostering multicultural connections and providing a space especially for people of color), and GenderBloc (a radical queer group especially concerned with education and support regarding gender issues, including genderqueer and transgender activism). UC also has its own LGBTQ Center in 565 Steger Student Life Center, which works closely with the UC Women’s Center (571 Steger) to provide students with all kinds of support, information, and advocacy within the university setting. Whenever I have dropped by these two Steger offices, the staff and students there have been super friendly and helpful and made me feel right at home.
While the Musketeers may be the Bearcats’ crosstown rivals, we’ll still admit Xavier is an excellent school and has a ton to offer. Xavier has recently nearly doubled the size of its campus and added a ton of gorgeous new buildings, and many of its programs are ranked highly in the nation.
Xavier is a Catholic university, but is nonetheless headed in positive directions on LGBTQ issues and community — it was the first Jesuit university to offer a welcoming statement to the LGBT community without a state mandate, back in 2000. The Xavier Alliance student group is a social group, but also has been consistently putting on large successful events to raise awareness and educate the community about LGBTQ issues, including bringing in high-profile speakers such as Judy Shepard, Esera Tuaolo, and Kate Bornstein.
“The Mount” is a tiny Catholic university on the West Side. It doesn’t have a large queer community or very public addressing of LGBTQ issues, but our gay friends there tell us they feel accepted and supported nonetheless. There is an LGBTQ group called PALS (under the office of Mission and Ministry) which seeks to bring awareness to the MSJ community, attends different events, and is looking to expand in coming years.
The Quest for Queers
When we first wrote a draft of this guide almost two years ago, we began this section by talking about Guerilla Queer Bar, a monthly event that happens in many cities. GQB allowed us both to meet some of our first queer friends here. Unfortunately, that Facebook group has grown somewhat inactive and become more of a bulletin board for queer items. However, there are a number of other ways to meet queer humans in Cincinnati. And the most significant social group for you young queer humans, that we know of, is one near and dear to our turquoise-with-pink-accent-bleeding hearts.
We hosted a meetup for Autostraddle readers in February of 2014. Others had tried before (hi Laura Wooley!) but something made the meetup group take off this time. Today our Facebook group has 200+ humans who all really want to be your friend and hang out. We have events quite regularly – multiple things each month and occasionally multiple things a week. There’s always a variety of stuff happening, and if you’re shy, someone will undoubtedly be happy to meet up with you one-on-one first so you can have a friend when you come to a meetup.
Pride in Cincinnati may be less outrageous and wild than Pride celebrations in bigger and more liberal cities, but still it’s exciting and fun, and there are many families and groups of all ages who come to wave the rainbow flag. There are usually events happening all week throughout the city, culminating in the parade through downtown which leads to the festival at Sawyer Point (a big riverside park). The number of political candidates who march in the parade, as well as the 2011 election of Chris Seelbach, our first openly LGBTQ City Councilmember, are hallmarks of growing acknowledgement of LGBTQ issues in local politics.
The Cincy Straddlers themselves marched in the Pride parade this year, and it’s an understatement to say that we had a ton of fun. It felt great to be seen, to publicly shout our love for Autostraddle and each other, and to just waltz among rainbows and crowds of happy people. Southwest Ohio can feel like a pretty conservative place, depending on which circles you run in, so just seeing the amount of support swelling around you at Pride is so powerful.
Besides the official Pride celebrations in the spring, the large amusement park Kings Island (just north of Cincinnati) holds a popular “Pride Night” each fall with a portion of the ticket sales going to benefit the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Cincinnati, and many bars and clubs host other events in conjunction that weekend.
Cincinnati has a very active chapter of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN Greater Cincinnati, firstname.lastname@example.org), which works to promote safe environments in area K-12 schools, particularly for LGBTQ* youth. GLSEN hosts various events throughout the year including a Safe Space Soirée and Youth Prom every spring. Claire: I volunteer with GLSEN and it’s an incredible organization and group of individuals to work with. I highly encourage you to get involved – there’s all kinds of opportunities for volunteers: working directly with youth, being a point person or trainer for schools and organizations so they can access GLSEN’s resources, policy work and advocacy, etc.
The Cincinnati chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays hosts several events and speakers each year, in addition to holding its regular meetings for socializing and safe-space, confidential discussions. PFLAG also awards several scholarships to Cincinnati college students each year.
Here are some of the resources available to trans people in Cincinnati. Many folks involved with these groups are Straddlers, so if you’re looking for more information on any of them, you can reach out to us!
- The Heartland Trans Wellness Group: Health, social wellness, support, and advocacy organization that provides community programming and professional consultation.
- The Cincinnati Trans Community Group: Community group for trans people and their partners, family, and friends. Includes private online Facebook discussion groups in addition to in-person events.
- The Transgender Wellness Program at Central Clinic: this program offers mental health and support services to Ohio residents enrolled in Medicaid. They’re accepting of all identities, intersectionalities, and have a comprehensive treatment philosophy focused on autonomy, body positivity, and education.
- Crossport: A support group for transsexual and crossdresser folks.
Also affectionately known as “Gay Softball,” this well-established league for adults has been providing fun for LGBT people and their allies for over 20 years. They have competitive, intermediate and recreational divisions for folks of all different sporting-intensities. Although I don’t know anyone personally who’s played, I’ve heard the name of this group in a number of different contexts and it seems a great way to socialize and meet other queer folks.
This is simply something that we must mention in this guide, since it is how Caroline and Claire first became friends and how many of the Cincy lesbians and queers who took our survey told us they first found LGBTQ friends here. OkCupid and Facebook (especially through groups and events) are some of the best ways to get a foot in the door when it comes to making queer friends — and don’t give up even if you strikeout the first few times. The queer community here is working on better ways to be visible and to find each other, but in the meantime, person-to-person and online networking is the norm. (And either of the authors will be ecstatic to help other Autostraddlers if you’re still feeling lost after reading this guide, just send us a message.)
For every other queer resource in Cincinnati you could possibly want besides this Queer Girl City Guide, check out this awesome listing from the Gay Chamber of Commerce.
Next: Where Can A Gal Get Her Groove On?, Essential Eating Establishments in the 513 and Caffeinated Queers