From pristine parks to marble monuments to powerful offices and more, Washington, DC, is more than meets the eye. The U.S. capital city is full of diverse neighborhoods and of course, all the country’s biggest changemakers. With so much influence and change, it’s no wonder some of the country’s biggest LGBT leaders call the city home.
Since the mid-20th century, rumors have floated around that Washington, DC was the gayest or the second gayest city in the US. While this is difficult to prove true or untrue, it’s certain that the city has a long history with the LGBTQ community. Dating all the way back to Civil War-era America, whispers have gotten out of various political leaders or famous authors and their same-sex companionship.
By the early 20th century, the city was full of spots where queer people could meet other queer people, despite homosexuality being illegal at the time. One such place was said to be Lafayette Square, right in front of the White House itself. The city was described as “very gay” and many of the federal employees were said to be queer. After World War II, however, various political leaders, led by “McCarthyism” began outing and ousting queer federal employees. This caused a stunt in the growth of queer DC, as many left the city and most who stayed couldn’t be out.
During this time, many of DC’s LGBT organizations were created in response to the policies. One of the first groups was the Mattachine Society, which originally began in Los Angeles, California. By the 1960s, a DC chapter had sprung up in order to fight homophobic policies by picketing in front of federal buildings, including the White House, Pentagon, and State Department. During the 60s and 70s, more groups began popping up in the city for the first time. By the mid-70s, Washington DC celebrated its first pride march. In the 80s and 90s, LGBT rights and groups were gaining visibility, and political leaders and federal employees were able to be out and proud.
In the 21st century, Washington, DC has been at the forefront of each of the country’s big LGBT moments and decisions. In 2011, President Barack Obama repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a military ban on openly-LGBT members. In 2013, the US Supreme Court struck down California’s Prop 8, which had invalidated thousands of same-sex marriages in the state, and in 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage, striking down all existing bans on same-sex marriages throughout the country.
DC doesn’t have a typical gay neighborhood the way many other cities do. In the late part of the 20th century, Dupont Circle area was every bit the typical gay neighborhood, with queer shops and bars on every corner, and was a sought-after place to live. During the 70s and 80s, Lambda Rising, a gay bookstore opened its doors in Dupont Circle, around the corner from the Gay Liberation Front’s main headquarters. With time, however, many of the storefronts in the neighborhood began closing their doors. More recently Shaw became a rising gay neighborhood, with a large concentration of clubs and bars for queer folk. These days, the area is becoming less of a specific gayborhood.
Rather than have one gay center point, DC’s queer spots are spread throughout the city. That said, Dupont is still the first area that comes to mind when most people think of DC’s gay neighborhood.
Mostly home to older folks and businesses, the area is a nice, quiet spot to spend a day or two. The streets around the Dupont Circle Fountain are filled with beautiful architecture, leafy, tree-lined sidewalks, and great cafes, bars, and restaurants. Plus, with plenty of queer bookshops, stores (including the Human Rights Campaign), and bars, Dupont Circle is the place to be.
Dupont is also home to some of the city’s coolest museums. Fan of classic art? Check out The Phillips Collection for modern art. Take a tour of President Woodrow Wilson’s home, hunt for hidden doors and secret rooms at the Mansion on O St, shop for unique reads at Kramerbooks, or admire the embassies on Embassy Row.
Just a few blocks away from Dupont Circle sits the mostly quiet neighborhood of Logan Circle. Once a sketchy spot in the city, the neighborhood has been revitalized and gentrified to the upscale, high-priced neighborhood it is today. While today many diverse people call Logan Circle’s row homes home, when it was just picking up, it was home to a larger percentage of gay couples and homeowners.
Things to do in DC
There are so many things to do in the district that we can’t even begin to list them all. Head to the National Mall to see the iconic monuments. Start at the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool, then make your way down to the World War II Memorial and the Washington Monument. From this side of the mall, you can make your way over to the White House Ellipse. If you’re lucky, you can even get a tour of the East Wing.
The mall stretches all the way down to the US Capitol Building, flanked by the Smithsonian Museums on either side. If you’re a fan of history, head to the National Museum of American History or the National Museum of Natural History. The new National Museum of African American History and Culture is a museum you truly can’t miss, either. The Hirshhorn Museum has excellent collections of contemporary art, and just across the lawn is the National Gallery of Art and Sculpture Garden. As you make your way to the Capitol, you’ll find the Air and Space Museum and the American Indian Museum, both unique experiences you can’t miss.
Georgetown offers charming streets to walk down as well as plenty of spots to satisfy your sweet tooth. If you’re a fan of cupcakes, check out Baked and Wired for unique flavors and good prices. On the other side of the city, head to Eastern Market for the big antiques and crafts market, or spend a day in the sun at the National Arboretum.
Number Nine’s two floors are the perfect spot for great cocktails and better music. Right by Logan Circle, this gay bar is a classic DC institution. Lounge around the fireplace, take a seat at the bar, or head to the second floor for the video bar, offering sports, TV, or music videos while you enjoy your drinks and company. Number Nine’s happy hour is every day of the week, from 5-9pm Mondays through Thursdays and from 2-9pm on the weekend. Described as a lively crowd with great service, this bar is the perfect option if you want some casual drinks.
JR’s Bar is another chill option for casual drinks and great conversation. The bar sits right near Dupont Circle offering up drinks, entertainment, events, and more. JR’s is often described as a welcoming place with a big heart and a passion for serving the greater DC community. The bar attracts a younger crowd, but anyone and everyone is welcome. Head over to enjoy the happy hours, sing-alongs, trivia nights, drag shows, fundraising events, and more.
Head to a classic pub at Larry’s Lounge, near Dupont Circle. The chilled-out gay bar attracts a diverse crowd with cheap drinks, great food, and a coziness that will make you feel right at home. The outside patio is perfect for those hot summer nights in the district and is also dog-friendly.
If you’re looking for the dancefloor, check out Nellie’s Sports Bar, located in U Street Corridor. This bar is considered a quintessential gay bar and dance hall in DC. The downstairs space is filled with tables to grab a drink or food with your partner, while the party happens on the upstairs dance floor and terrace space. The bar frequently puts on events, such as drag brunch every Saturday and Sunday, screenings of big events, ping pong championships, and karaoke nights. While considered one of the most popular queer spots in the city, the bar recently came under fire after flying a Blue Lives Matter flag alongside their usual gay pride flag and American flag.
Cobalt is another top spot for dancing. Located by Dupont Circle, Cobalt is one of the city’s most popular gay bars for dancing, electronic music, drinks, and food. The multi-level building features a restaurant, lounge, and dancefloor to give you everything you need. Check out Cobalt’s regular events including karaoke, live DJs, drag shows, and gamer nights.
Green Lantern is a hidden gem in the heart of the city. On a little alley downtown sits the exciting gay bar and lounge. The first floor is relaxed, giving you plenty of space to sip your drink while enjoying good conversation. Upstairs is the polar opposite, with a loud and excited dance party. With $3 drink deals during happy hour every day of the week and special events, such as Thursday’s “shirtless men drink free,” karaoke nights, and bear yoga, Green Lantern is affordable and fun for a night out.
Right off the Dupont Circle on P St NW,Hotel Palomar is the perfect luxury experience right in the heart of downtown DC. Enjoy the cozy, sleek rooms, carefully designed for your comfort. Rooms come complete with state-of-the-art entertainment systems, and some rooms come with spectacular city views, spa style tubs, and floor to ceiling windows. During your stay, you can enjoy the common room’s fireplace, fitness center, in-room spa treatment, and the pool, plus be in a prime location for all the fun of downtown and the some of the best gay bars in city.
JW Marriott DC treats you to all the best during your stay. Set on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, The JW Marriott DC is just a stone’s throw away from the White House. Other than the prime location, enjoy the hotel’s heavenly mattresses, incredible views, Starbucks, Avenue Grill, 1331 bar and lounge, and market all on the premises. With a location that’s hard to beat, luxury at every corner, and a queer-friendly atmosphere, this hotel is a top pick.
Dupont’s historic Swann House provides you and your partner with a casual, more homey experience in the city. The home, built in 1883, offers a home-away-from-home with homemade breakfast, free WiFi, a pool, and individually decorated rooms and suites. The bed and breakfast is best known for its hospitality, going out of their way to provide you with the ultimate comforts, and for its great location in the heart of the city, with easy access to all you want to see or do in DC.
Capital Pride is the area’s biggest and best LGBT related event. The weeklong festival every June consists of concerts, speakers, parties, and of course, the big Pride Parade through the heart of DC. The 2018 parade will take place on Saturday, June 9, from 4:30 to 7:30 pm, starting at 22nd and P St NW, and ending at 14th and R St NW. During the parade, look out for groups, bands, performances, and even celebrity appearances. Other pride-related events include specific kickoff events, a Latinx LGBT History Walking Tour, concerts by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, Trans* specific events, including Capital Trans* Pride, Night Out at the Nationals baseball game, a pride 5K, networking events, film screenings, workshops, and plenty of concerts. The week ends the Sunday after the pride parade with the family-friendly Pride Festival and finally the Capital Pride Concert.