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Do Chicago's LGBT rankings make a difference?

  • Mitchell Miller, in blue, cheers with his partner Frank Castillo, right, during a gay rights rally after the day's two Supreme Court rulings related to gay marriage Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at Halsted Street and Roscoe Street in Chicago. The two were joined in a civil union in February of 2012. The two have been together for six months. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune)
Mitchell Miller, in blue, cheers with his partner Frank Castillo, right,…
January 29, 2014|By Tracy Swartz, @tracyswartz | RedEye

We're No. 1! We're No. 2! We're No. 0!

When it comes to how LGBT-friendly Chicago is, the results are in -- and they vary across the board.

Outtraveler.com, an LGBT travel site, named Boystown the world's best gay neighborhood this year thanks to its welcoming attitude and Northhalsted Market Days, "an unrivaled August street party."

This title comes on the heels of out.com, an LGBTQ lifestyles site, placing seven North Side bars in its top 200 greatest gay bars in the world. The Second City was second only to New York for most bars on the list.

But Chicago didn't even crack this year's list of the Top 25 gayest U.S. cities by The Advocate, a gay issues magazine. Our city was behind No. 15 Pittsburgh ("vigorous theater scene") and No. 8 Salt Lake City ("plenty of sporty gay and lesbian ski bunnies"). Even Akron, Ohio (No. 24), was stiff competition.

Though often arbitrary in their ranking categories, magazine and website articles and mentions have some sway in tourism, particularly gay tourism, a $56.5 billion -- and growing -- industry in the U.S., according to recent marketing reports.

Local businesses say they depend on these bucks, and the wrestling for tourism is expected to intensify as states such as Illinois increasingly lift same-sex marriage restrictions -- leading to a jump in ceremonies and honeymoons. Pride events are also a major attraction, research shows.

So is booze. Roscoe's Tavern in Lakeview and six other Boystown and Andersonville watering holes made the out.com list.

Brenden Chrisman, general manager of Roscoe's, which turns 27 this year, said there was "definitely a positive impact" on his bottom line from the out.com ranking.

Chrisman said he doesn't see his tavern competing with other Boystown bars for tourism dollars. Instead, he said the bars have a "mutual beneficial relationship" because the neighborhood is tight-knit.

He cited the OutTraveler.com ranking of Boystown as an example.

"When Boystown was named No. 1, it was all over Facebook and a lot of customers had things to say about it. I think there's a definite pride in the neighborhood," said Chrisman, 33.

Francisco Delgado doesn't live in Boystown, but said he's long known the neighborhood is No. 1 when it comes to atmosphere and mix of bars in a small area. He said he's been to gay bars in San Francisco; Mexico City; San Jose, Calif.; Madrid and Barcelona, Spain, but felt disappointed there was not better bar variety in those cities.

Still, the Lincoln Square resident said he was surprised Boystown took the prize.

"I didn't really think we had people actually paying attention to what we have here in the city," said Delgado, 38. "From what I've seen, the bars here in Chicago have more to offer. They are more elaborate."

It's too early to tell if the Boystown pronouncement, made earlier this month , will impact Boystown, but research shows that articles in magazines, websites and blogs play a role in influencing gay travel.

More than 60 percent of gay and bisexual men said that articles in magazines and websites weighed on their destination decisions in the past year, according to a survey of 3,000-plus people from the LGBT community.

More than 50 percent of lesbian and bisexual women said the articles affected their travel selections, according to the same report, released in December by Community Marketing and Insights, an LGBT consumer research firm.

Gay adults between 25 and 44 years old said they were more influenced by travel blogs and social media in their travel selections than adults older than 45. The same survey found Chicago to be the No. 2 U.S. destination for leisure by gay men, tied with San Francisco and Las Vegas and behind New York.

Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City and Akron didn't even make the cut.

Ian Reisner, co-founder of Parkview Developers, said he sees these lists -- but it wasn't the rankings of Chicago as a top gay tourist destination that spurred him to choose Chicago as the next spot for his LGBT boutique hotel, but instead the demographics of the city. .

"I made my decision based on the estimated, guesstimated demographic numbers, not based on one or two rankings," Reisner said. "To me, that's more powerful than an editor's [idea] of what's hot or not."

He said Chicago's architecture and art museums and the concentration of gay businesses in Boystown also helped guide his decision. Out NYC, his first outpost, opened in 2012.

Reisner is hoping to open Out Chicago in 2016. Location plans are unclear, and Reisner has seen opposition from the Lakeview community over the proposed Boystown location.

Bars and businesses are not the only spots that may see a bump from gay rankings. CampusPride.org, which provides LGBT collegiate support programs, named its Top 25 LGTBQ-friendly colleges and universities in August based on policies, support and academic and student life.

UIC made the list last year and the year before. The University of Chicago snagged a spot in 2012.

The recognition is a "nice way to reinforce that perception" of the University of Chicago being a gay-friendly place, said Jeffrey Howard, director of the Office of LGBTQ Student Life.

Student interaction with the office has more than doubled in the past few years to 2,000-plus visits and other forms of participation by LGBTQ students, Howard said.

"That probably has many causes, but it's gratifying that people know this is a supportive community that is deeply committed to diversity," Howard said in an email. "It's also important to us as an intellectual community. A leading research university like this one can't afford to lose out on the contributions and discoveries that people from different backgrounds could make."

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