Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 96–111 | Cite as

Urban Migration of Sexual Minorities in the United States: Myth or Reality?

  • Christopher P. ScheitleEmail author
  • Sara K. Guthrie
Original Paper


It is often suggested that sexual minorities in the United States, especially gay men and lesbian women, move to urban areas at a higher rate than heterosexual individuals. Existing analyses of this claim are limited for one or more reasons, such as only examining patterns of current residential context without considering movement between contexts or only examining movement for partnered sexual minorities. Utilizing the General Social Survey, a probability survey of the US adult population, we compare patterns of residential context in childhood and adulthood for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual individuals. Initial findings do suggest that gay and lesbian individuals are slightly more likely than heterosexual individuals to reside in more urban areas as adults. However, this difference is explained away by the more urban childhood contexts of gay or lesbian individuals relative to heterosexual individuals. In sum, we find no robust sexuality effect on urban migration.


Sexuality Migration Urban Rural Gay Lesbian Residential context 



The authors did not receive funding to conduct this research.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Author Scheitle declares that he has no conflict of interest. Author Guthrie declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

The data used in this research come from the General Social Survey (GSS), which is publicly available at Informed consent is obtained from all GSS participants. This research is in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


  1. Aldrich, R. (2004). Homosexuality and the city: An historical overview. Urban Studies, 41(9), 1719–1737.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Annes, A., & Redlin, M. (2012). Coming out and coming back: Rural gay migration and the city. Journal of Rural Studies, 28(1), 56–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Black, D., Gates, G., Sanders, S., & Taylor, L. (2000). Demographics of the gay and lesbian population in the United States: Evidence from available systematic data sources. Demography, 37(2), 139–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Black, D., Gates, G., Sanders, S., & Taylor, L. (2002). Why do gay men live in San Francisco? Journal of Urban Economics, 51(1), 54–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bronski, M. (2011). A queer history of the United States. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  6. Clark, W. A. V., & Withers, S. D. (1999). Changing jobs and changing houses: Mobility outcomes of employment transitions. Journal of Regional Science, 39(4), 653–673.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Collins, A. (2004). Sexual dissidence, enterprise and assimilation: bedfellows in urban regeneration. Urban Studies, 41(9), 1789–1806.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cooke, T. J., & Rapino, M. (2007). The migration of partnered gays and lesbians between 1995 and 2000. The Professional Geographer, 59(3), 285–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. D’Augelli, A. R., Hershberger, S. L., & Pilkington, N. W. (1998). Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and their families: Disclosure of sexual orientation and its consequences. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 68(3), 361–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. D’Emilio, J. (1989). Gay politics and community in San Francisco since World War II. In M. B. Duberman, M. Vicinus, & G. Chauncey (Eds.), Hidden from history: Reclaiming the gay & lesbian past (pp. 456–473). New York, NY: New American Library.Google Scholar
  11. Durso, L. E., & Gates, G. J. (2012). Serving our youth: Findings from a national survey of service providers working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Los Angeles: The Williams Institute with True Colors Fund and the Palette Fund.Google Scholar
  12. Geronimus, A. T., Bound, J., & Ro, J. (2014). Residential mobility across local areas in the United States and the geographic distribution of the health population. Demography, 51(4), 777–809.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gorman-Murray, A. (2007). Rethinking queer migration through the body. Social and Cultural Geography, 8(1), 105–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gorman-Murray, A. (2009). Intimate mobilities: Emotional embodiment and queer migration. Social and Cultural Geography, 10(4), 441–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gorman-Murray, A., Pini, B., & Bryant, L. (Eds.). (2013). Sexuality, rurality and geography. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  16. Gray, M. L. (2009). Out in the country: Youth, media, and queer visibility in rural America. New York, NY: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Hatzenbuehler, M. L. (2010). Social factors as determinants of mental health disparities in LGB populations: Implications for public policy. Social Issues and Policy Review, 4(1), 31–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kazyak, E. (2011). Disrupting cultural selves: Constructing gay and lesbian identities in rural locales. Qualitative Sociology, 34(4), 561–581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kobrak, P., Ponce, R., & Zielony, R. (2015). New arrivals to New York City: Vulnerability to HIV among urban migrant gay men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(7), 2041–2053.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lewis, N. M. (2014). Moving ‘out’, moving on: Gay men’s migrations through the life course. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 104(2), 225–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Pachankis, J. E., Eldahan, A. I., & Golub, S. A. (2016). New to New York: Ecological and psychological predictors of health among recently arrived young adult gay and bisexual urban migrants. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 50(5), 692–703.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Preston, D. B., & D’Augelli, A. R. (2013). The challenges of being a rural gay man: Coping with stigma. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ryan, W. S., Legate, N., & Weinstein, N. (2015). Coming out as lesbian, gay, or bisexual: The lasting impact of initial disclosure experiences. Self & Identity, 14(5), 549–569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Scheitle, C. P., & Wolf, J. K. (2017). The religious origins and destinations of individuals identifying as a sexual minority. Sexuality and Culture, 21(3), 719–740.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Seidman, S. (2002). Beyond the closet: The transformation of gay and lesbian life. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  26. Sherkat, D. E. (2002). Sexuality and religious commitment in the United States: An empirical examination. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41(2), 313–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Shilo, G., & Savaya, R. (2011). Effects of family and friend support on LGB youths’ mental health and sexual orientation milestones. Family Relations, 60(3), 318–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Sibalis, M. (2004). Urban space and homosexuality: The example of the Marais, Paris’ ‘gay ghetto’. Urban Studies, 41(9), 1739–1758.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Smith, T. W., Davern, M., Freese, J., & Hout, M. (2017). In T. W. Smith, P. V. Marsden & M. Hout, NORC (Eds.), General social surveys, 19722016 (machine-readable data file) (3,689 p). Chicago: NORC. 1 data file (62,466 logical records) and 1 codebook.Google Scholar
  30. Smith, D. P., & Holt, L. (2005). Lesbian migrants in the gentrified valley and ‘other’ geographies of rural gentrification. Journal of Rural Studies, 21(3), 313–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Speare, A., Jr., & Meyer, J. W. (1988). Types of elderly residential mobility and their determinants. Journal of Gerontology, 43(3), S74–S81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Walther, C. S., & Poston, D. L. (2004). Patterns of gay and lesbian partnering in the larger metropolitan areas of the United States. The Journal of Sex Research, 41(2), 201–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Weston, K. (1995). Get thee to a big city. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 2(3), 253–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Wienke, C., & Hill, G. J. (2013). Does place of residence matter? Rural-urban differences and the wellbeing of gay men and lesbians. Journal of Homosexuality, 60(9), 1256–1279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Wimark, T. (2014). Beyond bright city lights: The migration patterns of gay men and lesbians. Doctoral dissertation, Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University, Stockholm.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA

Personalised recommendations