Top 10 places to celebrate gay rights

NEW YORK Fri Jun 24, 2011 6:24am EDT

1 of 4. Women kiss during the annual gay pride parade at the beach in Tel Aviv June 11, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Baz Ratner

NEW YORK (Reuters) - What better way to celebrate Gay and Lesbian Pride Month than to pay tribute to cities, states and countries where monumental strides in gay rights have taken place.

Online travel advisers CheapFlights (www.cheapflights.com) offer their top 10 list of gay-friendly destinations. Reuters does not endorse this list:

1. Athens, Greece

Some of the first-recorded mentions of same-sex relationships, unions and marriages trace back to ancient Greece. Socially accepted relationships between older men of status and teenage boys were prevalent throughout society in Athens, as were more formal unions among couples now cited in ancient Greek writings. Though relationships between two men were eventually banned thousands of years later, Greece is back on track. In 2011, more than 10,000 activists marched at the annual Athens Gay Pride parade to show their support for gay rights.

2. Los Angeles, United States

One of the first national gay rights organizations, the Mattachine Society, was founded in Los Angeles by Harry Hay in 1950 to help improve the civil rights of homosexuals. Eventually expanding to San Francisco, Chicago, D.C. and New York, the group assisted victimized men and women, and educated citizens on the treatment of gays and lesbians during the 50s and 60s. Today the City of Angels still brims with art and culture nurtured by its active gay community.

3. New York City, United States

The Stonewall Riots in New York's Greenwich Village incited the first gay rights movement in the United States in 1969. When police raided a local gay bar that summer, compelled activists around the downtown neighbourhood and beyond fought back. Organizations in New York and nationwide formed, and -- to honour the one-year anniversary of the riot -- activists marched from downtown to Central Park in the first-ever gay pride march in the country. Today Greenwich Village, or `The Village,' offers restaurants, theatres and a thriving art scene cultivated by the liberated men and women who were called to action more than 40 years ago.

4. Minneapolis, United States

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear their case, Jack Baker and James Michael McConnell stopped at nothing to be married in the state of Minnesota in the 1970s. After the court's ruling, the two men applied for a marriage license in a different county and in 1971 were married before a Methodist minister in Minneapolis. Though unrecognized by many, including the IRS, the couple is a symbol -- and reference for lawyers -- of the fight for marriage equality. And how far Minneapolis has come; The Advocate named it the gayest city in America in 2011.

5. San Francisco, United States

For decades members of the gay community have flocked to San Francisco seeking equality and a chance to belong. It was Harvey Milk in the 1970s who encouraged a generation of men and women to mobilize and fight for civil rights and changes in legislation. The first openly gay man elected to office in California, Milk was a beacon for a younger generation and a martyr for homosexuals nationwide. San Francisco mourned after his assassination in 1978, and continues to revere Milk as an icon for the city and the gay rights movement.

6. Toronto, Canada

Canada is by far the gay-friendliest country in all of the Americas, having offered civil marriage and legislative rights to members of the gay and lesbian community for years. But equality did not always come so easy for our neighbours to the north. The 1981 bathhouse raid in Toronto enraged so many people in the liberal city that thousands took to the streets to protest the injustice. The city's come a long way since; it was recently picked to host WorldPride, an international celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender LBGT.L rights, in 2014.

7. Hawaii, United States

Though many Americans consider same-sex marriage legislation – or lack thereof -- a thing of the 2000s, Hawaii was involved in heated debates back in 1993. The Supreme Court of the 50th state to join the union made a big case in Baehr v. Lewin when it ruled that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples is presumably unconstitutional. Today civil union laws are still pending for 2012, but the archipelago of islands is home to a diverse gay community, as well as host to thousands of gay travellers each year.

8. Tel Aviv, Israel

A known leader in LGBT rights in the Middle East, Israel's way ahead of the curve when it comes to adoption, marriage and military equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-identified people. Homosexuals are allowed to serve open in the military (1993), same-sex couples have the same inheritance rights as couples of the opposite sex (2004) and individuals in a lesbian couple are able to adopt each other's children (2005). It's no wonder that Out Magazine designated Tel Aviv – the Mediterranean metropolis that celebrated its 10th pride parade this year -- the gay capital of the Middle East.

9. Netherlands

The Dutch have it so good. The bicycle is a legitimate mode of transportation; the government doles out vakantiegeld, or vacation money, annually for citizens to use on extended summer travel; and -- of course -- marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples abound. Renowned for being the first country to legalize gay marriage in 2001, the left-leaning Netherlands was voted the largest supporter of same-sex marriage in 2006 by the European Union and is a premier destination for LGBT travellers and residents alike.

10. Massachusetts, United States

Not since Bostonians dumped tea in the harbour a couple of hundred years back has such a revolution taken place in the great state of Massachusetts. (Well, except for the Revolution itself.) On May 17, 2004, the first legal same-sex marriage in the United States was performed after a decade of legal challenges passed across the country to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples. The New England gem remains a destination for LGBT couples eager to share vows -- and a marriage certificate.

(Edited by Paul Casciato)