Here’s What Happened When I Tried to Write a “10 Best Cities for Trans Women” List

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By now, it’s become pretty normal to see website after website and magazine after magazine make lists of “America’s Gayest Cities” or the “Top Ten Most LGBT-Friendly Cities,” or even “The 21 Most Lesbianish Cities in the US” every year, so it seemed to me like making a list of the Ten Best Cities for Trans Women would be the next logical step. As a trans lesbian, those lists help me some, but just imagine how great a list of the Ten Best Cities for Trans Women would be! While I knew it would take some work, I was ready and excited to look up statistics and trans-friendly laws and talk to other trans women to find out what cities belonged on my list.

That was the mindset I had when I started working on this project, back before summer even started. I started looking at which cities had non-discrimination ordinances and other laws and policies in place to help trans people. I looked at Refinery29’s article about which states are the most trans-friendly, I looked at a list of the Top Ten Trans-Friendly Colleges and Universities, I looked at the HRC’s Municipal Equality Index (not saying that the HRC hasn’t had a pretty rocky history with trans women, but this had some helpful stats) and I looked at the LGBT Map’s Snapshot: Transgender in America infographic.

I felt like I was starting to get somewhere, even if most of the information was on a state-by-state level, and not city-by-city, and I had really no way of telling if or how these policies were being implemented. These reports also didn’t give me a good idea about what the actual communities were like. Were there trans support groups, community centers, trans-friendly doctors or trans community events? Plus, I wanted to make sure that the trans women who actually live in the cities I was looking at thought that their cities were good places to live. Who better to tell me the Best Cities for Trans Women than trans women themselves, right?

I had some idea of the cities I wanted to look at, and so my next step was to find trans women in those cities and ask them if they thought their city should be on the list. I made posts in four different popular trans women Facebook groups asking for women to tell me why their city was particularly good for them, and put out similar calls on Tumblr, Twitter and in articles on Autostraddle. I did this multiple times over several months. I heard back from four people.

While I did hear some good things from trans women about Seattle, New York City and Los Angeles, others I heard from weren’t exactly singing the praises of the cities they live in. Jess from Portland told me that while she thinks “there is a good atmosphere and the people are nice,” she’s never felt like there were very many resources for a trans woman like her. Lexi Adsit said a couple positive things about the Bay Area and then pivoted into a less positive outlook on her community.

I also want to recognize that we’ve lost a number of trans women of color throughout the years from Gwen Araujo to Brandy Martell and most recently Taja DeJesus. I also want to acknowledge that while we have a lot of organizations that offer resources such as API Wellness Center, Tri-City Health Center, and the Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative, that most of these programs are funded for HIV positive clients. So for those girls who continue to come to the bay thinking it’s a gold mine of resources, many of the service providers I’ve worked with have wanted to send a message that that is not the case and to be careful before completely uprooting your life and moving here. Especially with the increased gentrification we’re facing losses in nonprofit organizations and community institutions that have historically provided these institutions.

It seemed like reaching out to individuals wasn’t going to help me as much as I had hoped.

When I tried to do a similar thing by reaching out to individual trans groups in the cities that I was thinking of including, the response was similarly sparse. This time only three groups got back to me. I had statistics, maps and infographics from a dozen different sources, but without input from other trans women I wasn’t comfortable touting these cities the top ten anything. I was starting to get somewhat pessimistic about the project at this point, but it wasn’t until I reached out to some national organizations for help that the whole thing turned on its head.

Eli Erlick from Trans Student Educational Resources painted the brightest picture, but even hers was mixed at best. “In terms of education, trans students only have the explicit legal right to access programs and facilities with their own gender as approved by state legislature in California (which, may I add, is often not adhered to),” she told me. Erlick then added her personal take on some California cities.

On a personal note, living near the Bay Area and then living near Los Angeles… the least I can say is that The L Word has lied to us. It’s far from a queer/trans haven. LA is certainly a difficult place for trans activism as well. The lack of public transit makes it hard to travel to events and mobilizing people within such a large geographical area is also incredibly difficult. This is especially true for trans women who are disproportionately discriminated against and have a lower income on average. The Bay on the other hand has an amazing community and is better to travel within but is unfortunately being gentrified to a point where it is uninhabitable by many trans people, especially those of us working with nonprofits. California may be one of — if not the — best state for transgender people to live but it is far from being a safe place for all of us. Like all other states, there’s still a long way to go.”

When I contacted the National Center For Transgender Equality, Vincent Villano told me that they’d be happy to answer some questions, but added that he “would just note, however, that NCTE acknowledges a vast difference between cities/states that are livable versus cities/states that have laws and policies that protect trans people in everyday life. Additionally, there is very little city-specific data out there to objectively evaluate livability of cities for trans people. Therefore, Arli [Christian, another person I talked to from the same organization], can focus her comments on the kinds of laws and policies that help improve life for trans people, without judgement or reference to the ways trans people experience life in specific states.” When I talked to Christian, she was very helpful in telling me about some policies that cities and states can set in place to help trans women, but made sure to add “I don’t think we can weigh in on which states are doing the best to enforce these laws, as that is a very subjective measure.”

Jill Marcellus from the Transgender Law Center gave the depressing reply, “Thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately, there really is no ‘safe’ city for trans women, and we’re a little concerned about giving false hope by representing any city or state as a haven.” She also suggested that instead of making this list, I should focus on individual programs, events and arts, as “there are both great things and terrifying things happening in all cities.”

All of this was extremely relevant information. The problem is that it’s relevant to another type of article. I definitely don’t want to give the impression that the TSER, NCTE or TLC, or any of the individual people I talked to weren’t helpful or willing to talk to me or anything like that —  they all definitely did the right thing. They’re all organizations that I’d definitely recommend to anyone looking for ways to help trans women and they definitely helped me. It just turns out that they didn’t help me figure out the ten best cities for trans women, instead they helped me to figure out that really, there is no list of the Ten Best Cities for Trans Women to be made.

By far the most disheartening thing to happen while I was working on this project was finding out about the murders of nine trans women in less than two months this summer. This wave of horrific violence aimed almost exclusively at Black and Latina trans women reminded me, and many other trans women, that no matter how many trans women are on TV and no matter how many non-discrimination ordinances are passed, Trans Women of Color still aren’t safe in any city in America.

I would really love to be able to help trans women figure out which cities are going to be the best ones for them, and some of the links I provided earlier might be able to do some of that, but really, it would be a mistake to advertise these cities as something that they’re not. The non-discrimination laws and policies found in some cities and states are important, but laws and policies don’t mean much when they’re not being enforced, and they don’t mean much when trans women of color still aren’t safe. Sometimes I’m really happy with the progress that we seem to be making when it comes to helping trans women not just survive, but thrive. Other times, like when I was working on this project, I’m reminded just how far we really have to go.


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Mey is a bisxual Latina trans woman living in Los Angeles. Her areas of expertise include comic books, witches, trans issues and pop culture. She has an English Degree, a cat named Sawyer, a twitter that she uses a lot and a tumblr that she only uses occasionally.

Mey has written 433 articles for us.

44 Comments

  1. Thumb up 1

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    Would you consider setting up another outreach or poll? I think this is really important and would love to get friends involved to spread the word.

  2. Thumb up 16

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    It’s so easy to deem places “good” or “bad” based on statistics, policies, reputations or whatever else, but it’s such a different picture when it comes to actual implementation and attitudes. I’m really sad that you couldn’t make a definitive list, but I’m so grateful that you wrote what the process of trying was like.

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      I think in general lists of the “top 10 cities for _____” are often oversimplifications that aren’t able to take into account all the factors that they should. Some of this is because it’s harder to measure things like implementation and attitudes, but also because being a good city for trans women (or lesbians, or young adults, or whatever group of people) can mean really different things to different people. Also, different neighborhoods within a city may be really different.

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        yeah when we’ve made our lesbianish cities lists, what I find is that i can do all the research in the whole wide world and everything i study and write down and all the numbers i crunch can be totally eradicated by even just ONE human being i know from that city telling me about their life there. also i’d do all the numbers and see that a city i know from first-hand experience is really queer-lady-friendly and i’d bump it up despite numbers/research revealing that it should be lower. which’s why we started the queer girl city guides — nothing replaced first-hand experience. nothing.

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    I live in the greater Seattle area. We have loads of recourses for trans identified people. We have the Gender Justice League, Transgender Parents of Washington, and Ingersoll to name a few. I think this is a decent place to live as a trans woman.

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    Thank you so much for writing this, Mey. Such an incredibly thoughtful post, I’ll definitely be mulling it over for the rest of the day.

  5. Thumb up 6

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    Alas, that’s about what I would’ve expected; but thanks for actually doing the legwork! Showing how/why there is no such list is, imo, probably more helpful than having the list would be. I mean, it’d be nice to know of awesome places to move to, but we’re such a minority that we don’t really have those places yet and I think it’s important to highlight the systemic issues precluding such places.

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    I live in Portland and am on the board for the queer rights org Basic Rights… and though Portland is the best place in Oregon, I wouldn’t call it safe or good unless you are specifically white, affluent, and cisnormatively attractive.

    In some ways, places like Portland are even weirder for trans women, as the increased awareness of our existence makes it more likely we’ll be seen, and our safety compromised.

    Additionally, like with many cities that are more generally “queer”, the focus of the community is more on masc-of-center queers, and both the dating scene, and the “community” is very unlikely to include trans women. I personally only know a handful, but hear that there are lots of trans women here… I’m trying to plan a picnic, but after moving here a year ago, I am often left wondering where my fellow trans ladies are.

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      Your point about areas with heightened “queer” visibility being potentially more dangerous for being read is excellent food for thought.

      But I’m especially interested in what you say about “queer” communities tending to favor or center the experiences of masculine-of-center peoples. I know individuals like that, but to my cis eyes the Boston queer women’s community I know feels more focused on transfeminine experiences–but that’s because organizations like Mad Femme Pride and the Boston Bisexual Women’s Network are explicitly welcoming of transwomen, who show up to their events.

      And as a femme who dates femmes, that’s where I am; I’m not going to frequent places that exclude my friends and dating prospects who happen to be trans. Someone with a different social location could easily have a very different experience.

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      “Additionally, like with many cities that are more generally “queer”, the focus of the community is more on masc-of-center queers, and both the dating scene, and the “community” is very unlikely to include trans women.”

      I’ve lived in Brooklyn (though quite a long time ago), San Francisco and Portland (the Oregon one). What you’ve written totally fits all three places to a T (a very little pun). When something is described as “a trans community event” most often that means trans guys/bois (usually younger, and white) and their girlfriends. I’m not saying that’s their fault or they aren’t friendly or potentially inclusive but a lot of them are actually quite uncomfortable around trans women unless they have mutual friends. The trans women’s community always seems much more divided in terms of age, presentation, racially/ethnically, and yes, on average more defensive and more emotionally wounded.

      A trans woman friend of mine in Portland has attempted to set up a queer/trans peoples’ hiking and urban walking group. I can tell it’s been hard for her to keep it going and get a regular group of people (it’s pretty much split between trans masculine and trans feminine spectrum persons although perhaps slightly more trans guys). In general, the trans women attend once or twice and don’t seem to come back.

      This phenomena is both a function of the communities (which absolutely are not as welcoming towards trans women unless it’s maybe something like the Trans Day of Remembrance) and the trans women themselves—where young often don’t want to be seen with old and vice versa, ‘passable’ absolutely doesn’t want to be seen with ‘visibly trans’ and hipster/queer doesn’t want to be seen with (for want of a better term) the schlubby. I also think there’s a very big divide between trans women who are attracted to guys and those who are attracted to women, those who really identify with the AFAB queer community, those who don’t and those who mostly hang in the gay men’s community. You can’t make a community out of so many fragments which are loath to fit together. Legal protections, relative safety, social and health services and affordability are vitally important, but so is community (when you want/need it).

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      I live in Portland too and it is weird here… people are so used to seeing trans people here it’s so easy to get clocked for things that omeone from, say, my small midwestern hometown wouldn’t even notice.

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      “In some ways, places like Portland are even weirder for trans women, as the increased awareness of our existence makes it more likely we’ll be seen, and our safety compromised. ”

      This, a thousand times this!

      Many women don’t aim for a conventional presentation and many others can’t reach such a normative type of gender expression even if they wish they could. For these women safety can mean being treated well even though they are always singled out as being trans.

      And at the same time, among those that can and/or want to be more gender normative, spaces that are more aware of gender and sexuality can be less safe. For example I have never been sexually or otherwise harassed in places like rural Texas, but in supposedly safe places like Provincetown the disrespect and violence was awful. (Yet I also know many trans women that love the same places because even a little bit of disrespect is better than what they receive elsewhere.)

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    I love the thoughtfulness of this piece. Those 10 Top Cities pieces you mention are pretty shallow, mostly used for the city equivalent of patriotism and clicked through quickly, but I’m going to keep thinking about this.

    Would you consider writing a series of pieces exploring trans community & lives in different cities (say, the cities you were thinking of putting on the list)? Something that would explore the lay of the land for trans women in different places? Because I love your point about the array of trans services in the Bay Area being mostly available to HIV+ people–that’s the kind of thing people moving need to know & often don’t learn.

    For example, I live in Boston, a great city with the same gentrification and segregation problems as many others, and one thing people moving here don’t understand is that the communities north & west of the city are much whiter and wealthier than the suburbs south of the city, where much of the black middle class lives. Black professionals who move from out of town are often told to look for housing to the northwest, which their white colleagues think of as “better neighborhoods,” and so wind up geographically scattered and separated from existing community. Which in turn increases the chances that they’ll leave town a few years later.

    You might be in a position to point out comparable pitfalls that a cis world creates in city-specific ways; I actually think you have a bit already with the Bay Area.

    Or maybe a piece on ten things to do while moving or deciding where to live as trans, with advice on activating your existing networks and other important things?
    I think you original aim is admirable and there must be creative ways to fulfill it.

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    Thank you for writing this from such an honest place, even though the results are not what you expected or wanted. I wish there could be an honest list of best places for trans people, but this article better addressed the real needs and current realities of trans people.

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    I think this is a very important piece – not in spite of the fact that it didn’t end up the way you expected it to, but precisely for that reason. Sometimes it’s not until you try to do something that you find that you can’t. And for those of us who probably wouldn’t attempt the task, we would have never have come to the conclusion that you’ve shown us, so thank you.

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    I think we are too diverse and small of a group to say X place is great for trans women. I feel pretty safe and welcome where I live and it is a liberalish pocket in a red southern state and I am comfortably middle class, petite, and white. The TWOC and more visibly trans don’t like it here and will paint a very different picture than me. I had a minor incident at the DMV once and there is an older lesbian group that holds so called trans inclusive events that are really just open to trans guys who will behave like good little boys to get a pat on the head for being good ones. That’s about the extent of my personal trans woes here. In fact most of my problems come from general sexism. My TWOC friends can give you quite a laundry list of justified complaints though. So at the end of the day it’s not really a trans friendly city.

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    Thanks for this piece, Mey! Super fucking important commentary and facts. I had similar experiences looking for folks for an online roundtable discussion on traveling while trans for my intersectional travel blog. But I’m looking for POC specifically in the writing/activism/travel space (but haven’t given up yet so get in touch if you’re interested!) so it’s hard. On one hand I’m glad no superficial travel outlet would publish such a misleading article, but damn if it isn’t fucked up why!

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    I disappeared for a while, but I can’t believe I didn’t catch any of the calls for submissions. My personal experience has been pretty good in the cities of Champaign and Urbana. I have to say though, that most of us have to make a 3 hour drive to Chicago for friendly medical services where we aren’t educating our providers. There is a pretty strong trans community, thanks to the University of Illinois’ Campus Union for Transgender Equality and Support and the Uniting Pride Center of Champaign County. (Full disclosure, I volunteer for the UP Center.)

    I wish I could say that I was surprised by what you found, but even other LGB people can be pretty ignorant of trans issues, in my experience.

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    Thanks for writing this instead of a Top 10 list that is mostly hyperbole. And for saying what really needs to be said and reminding us how much work there is yet to do. You always bring a level of nuance and real-as-fuckness to your writing and I love that so much about you!

  14. Thumb up 0

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    Everywhere is great! New York, New Jersey, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston,everywhere I’ve gone I’ve had only positive experiences. I thought my luck had run out when the TSA man at Dallas Fort Worth airport asked me to wait when I presented him with documents that didn’t match my gender presentation, but again, NO. He came back with his supervisor who asked if the documents were mine. I replied that they were and they said, “Thank you. Have a safe flight ma’am.”

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    Trans-friendly or non trans-friendly I truly believe is based on societies misconsception of who trans people are. The stigma from Jerry Springer and Maury Povich and other talk shows who portray TS as the real trans person or even drag queens. The audiences who generally are not brain dead for some reason get the idea of a transgender male to female is sexually oriented as gay. This has happened to me in the small state of Delaware. When I was transitioning prior to surgery, since surgery I blend in and am accepted as a female. I often believe that classes should be taught in schools so we have people understanding the differences between gender and sex.

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    Although I wish I could nominate my city (Detroit), the experiences of those with white privilege differs greatly with trans women of color. This is especially true if you include differences based on economic privilege. If you are white with money, this can be a wonderful place to live and work. If you do not fit in that category, your life is at risk. This is the case in far too many cities and nondiscrimination ordinances do not stop the bigot/gunman killing us.

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    Leoniel had a point – expand to international locations too. Berlin is a definite yes, and maybe Hamburg. Several cities in Australia and my city in Mexico, Merida. Merida only has a small trans population but a large LGBT population, with laws in place, the safest city in Mexico and a Mayan culture conducive to acceptance of alternative lifestyles. Business is accepting too. An all-around great city

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      I would bet, knowing Tasi, you are responsible for a lot of the acceptance or at least making our sisters comfortable with themselves and going out and being themselves. You are doing great things and I am proud to call you my friend.

      Virginia

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      Hi Tasi,

      Last meeting of the SW LGBT History study, again I was the only one there. At the end of the meeting I told the professor he should reach out to “you know who.” He later emailed me to say he had, but would not tell me what the results were. I guess he was “tempting” me to come to the next meeting.

      I am so glad to hear about your city, you do great work lady!!!

      V

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    This may come across as “political incorrect,” but………………. Although we “transgendered” boys and girls are making inroads we still have to deal with social acceptance. How many of us are still “in the closet” and never go out? How many of us go out among the “great unwashed,” and were do we go? A lot of us never venture past the gay/lesbian watering holes, so the general public never has to interact with us. Those that do wander into the malls, restaurants, theaters, concerts and other stores usually — USUALLY fall into two categories. Those that “pass,” and those that “do not pass.” Those that don’t pass either think no one notices or they have an “in your face” attitude. Most do not see or hear the snickering and laughing behind their backs, some do and ignore it others have the intestinal fortitude to confront it.

    A lot of “society” know we exist but have never seen “us,” or at least may have but did not know it. It is how society “accepts” those that don’t quite pass that seems to make the difference. So the burden falls on society to either see “just another woman.” or “a guy in a dress.” How we react to “being read.” becomes our burden.

    Just saying! Thanks,

    Virginia

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    Might it be easier to find the top 10 worst cities to live in? Or maybe the cities that the least safe for transpeople? Ones which provide little to no legal protections, highest instances of assaults or murders per capita perhaps? It might help someone who has to choose between, say Miami and New York, for instance.

    Just a thought.

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      First, thanks for your efforts.

      We have a local college trying to do a history on the LGBT community. Who would have guessed —– the Gays and Lesbians have mounds of information to share. The “T” well aside from the potential “legal” implications of potentially “outing” some very prominent individuals –NOTHING. I know because I am at the meetings. Well, in fact I am the only transwoman who shows up.

      We, in the CD/TG community can not even agree on what to call ourselves. Then you throw in those that do not like to be labeled at all — thus our dilemma.

      We have a ways to go and with the number of us being murdered each year, it is another reason we “hide from prying eyes.

      Please keep up the good work, but until we can find solace in “our own community” we will continue to stone wall those who seek to lead us to the light!

      Virginia

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    There are no safe cities. I have lived in New Jersey, a suburb of Philadelphia and now in Nassau County Long Island and there are places which are safe and other places which are not. One transwoman was walking through the center of Philadelphia’s business district,(which I would pass through to arrive at my health clinic)and a member of a gang walking by smashed her in the face causing serious injury.

    Many people believe New York City and Long Island are safe places but that also depends on the specific venue. Where I live on Long Island the majority is quite conservative, although I have never felt threatened, they have no great love for the LGBT community as a whole.

    There is no Shanri-la, I suppose.

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    A lot of people think Seattle is great for trans women, and Seattle supposedly now has the highest percentage of trans people in the country. However, while there is much to like about Seattle—I lived there for two years, 2012-2014—there are really not a lot of resources for trans people.

    The absence of an LGBT-specific informed-consent community heathcare clinic is shocking and immediately removes Seattle from contention as a top city for trans women who are not employed by Seattle’s burgeoning software industry or otherwise earning high incomes.

    Hiring practices in Seattle are certainly no more friendly to trans women than in any other city. I spent two years there, applying for hundreds of jobs, and could not even get hired for part-time retail.

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    Hey, I’m a fem AFAB person and am looking for somewhere outside of the U.S to live. Would you consider making an international list? Maybe with a broader spectrum, it may be a little easier to find places? I agree though, every list I’ve looked through so far is so heavily “gay binary” that I cringe. There’s no trans only lists and it’s frustrating.

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    I think the quintessence of this very good article (you did a good job in researching, girl!) is the last statement:

    “Other times, like when I was working on this project, I’m reminded just how far we really have to go.”

    Nevertheless as long as there are people like you we keep moving. Which brings me to putting your idea to another, probably the highest level: a worldwide comparison of countries and cities. May sound harder than it is actually when you think of all the trans-/homophobe corners of the world that disqualify.

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    I have first hand knowledge about 27 States and can tell you the best city for a trans person in my opinion in Des Moines Iowa . The night life college and legal privilege is far superior than I have seen anywhere

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    I know this article is old, but I feel the need to contribute especially since the Pulse shooting on June, 12 2016.
    I live in Orlando, Florida and one would think since there is a large LGBTQ community that there are resources for transgender women. I am sad to say there are few. Even though there are laws in place there is still discrimination in housing, work and available resources. There is BLATANT discrimination against trans-women from the LGB community as well. Especially if you do not “pass”. If you are white, have money or good job and “pass” then the city will treat you right. If are homeless and look like a “man in ladies clothes”, you are out of luck. We are too small of a population in most areas and do not receive resources because of that fact.
    What we need is a community trans-folk to stand up as one, but because our numbers are few and fewer will stand up, even to answer a simple poll, I fear we will get nowhere.

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