Salt Lake City will be highlighted as a "gay-friendly place to live" in an upcoming travel book, an unexpected inclusion in the volume that will be released this month.
"It's not what people expect. Many of us have this preconceived notion of what it's like to live in Salt Lake because of the church," said Gregory A. Kompes, author of "50 Fabulous Gay-friendly Places to Live." "But when you start meeting people and talking to people it's just this big umbrella that isn't reality."
Kompes was so impressed by Salt Lake City's gay community that he fought to keep the city on the list, finally compromising with his publisher to include Utah's capital city as a bonus 51st entry. His publisher simply could not reconcile the idea of Salt Lake City as a gay-friendly community because of the predominant Latter-day Saint religion and Utah's reputation as a Republican state, he said.
"This may be a shock to many, but when big city cosmopolitan meets rugged adventure in this clean, safe and beautiful city, Salt Lake City has become home to a large, organized and politically supported gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community," Kompes writes in the book, published by Career Press.
Kompes based his criteria for the 51 cities on factors including nightlife, employment opportunities, local politics and gay-owned business. Salt Lake City, he said, impressed him with its support of the gay community with an active Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered Community Center and an annual Utah Pride parade in downtown Salt Lake City.
Efforts by Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson to extend health insurance benefits to city employees were also a major factor in listing Salt Lake City in the book, Kompes said.
"Just the fact that there was someone in such a high position fighting for equality for gay people made me take a second look at the community," he said. "Those things stuck out and drew me in to learning more about Utah."
Anderson signed an executive order in September providing benefits to domestic partners of city employees, including gay and lesbian partners. Measures like that have brought attention to Salt Lake City and changed the perception of the city as wholly conservative, Anderson said.
"I think there is a misconception about Salt Lake. A lot of it is just long-term perceptions people have had about this place," he said. "But Salt Lake City is changing dramatically; we're far more diverse than anybody outside of Utah would ever dream. We're a lot more diverse than people in our own city realize."
Support for the gay and lesbian community does face an uphill battle in Salt Lake City, Anderson added, with residents voting for a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage last year.
But Anderson said incremental changes — and recognition in Kompes' book — will slowly alter the way America views gay acceptance in Salt Lake City.
"I just think that there is a lot of progress. That growing acceptance of everybody regardless of sexual orientation is now recognized in this wonderful book, even if we are No. 51," Anderson said.
State Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, said that the city's "vibrant gay community" is one reason he and his partner decided to make their home here.
McCoy led the "Don't Amend Alliance" against the marriage amendment last year.
McCoy said people outside of the state of Utah often have a preconceived notion about Salt Lake City until they come and see what the city has to offer.
"I'm proud that Salt Lake is considered in this category, we have a lot to be proud of in our community," McCoy said. "It's a nod that even in the reddest state in the union, there is a progressive community."
Other cities that made Kompes' list include New York, Chicago, Minneapolis and Tucson.
The book is more of a travel guide to gay-friendly destinations than prose, Kompes said, pointing out the highlights of each city including weather, taxes, culture and nightlife.
Contributing: Deborah Bulkeley