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ESTA visa: Your ticket to enjoying the American LGBTQ experience

America has perhaps the liveliest LGBTQ scene in the world. All you need is an ESTA visa, and your set to explore it yourself.

By Will Stroude

In partnership with Electronic Visa Solutions.

The United States is a country of contrasts. In some places in the deep south, gay couples might think twice about walking around hand in hand, while in cities like Las Vegas LGBTQ acceptance has all but been fully normalized.

The key to enjoying America is knowing where to go and how to get there. Regardless of where you’re headed, whether it’s Las Vegas in the west or Richmond in the east, you first need to get to the USA to begin with. And to do that, you need an ESTA visa.

Business before pleasure: what is an ESTA visa?

Despite what the name implies, an ESTA visa is in fact not a visa. The term “ESTA visa” is actually a misnomer, despite the fact that it sees widespread use. “ESTA” stands for “Electronic System for Travel Authorisation”. It’s a digital travel confirmation which states that you are allowed to travel to and enter The United States of America.

The major benefit of the ESTA system is that you don’t have to visit the embassy to get one. Everything takes place online. As a result, an ESTA is a fair bit cheaper than a standard US visa.

So how do I get one?

You can find the ESTA application form online. All you need to do is fill it in, double-check to make sure all the information is correct, and then make the payment.

Generally, the ESTA will be approved the same day, barring any errors. An ESTA does not need to be printed. Once approved, it is automatically linked to your passport. To board the plane, simply show your passport and ticket, and you’re set to go.

Alright, we made it! Now, where do we go?

America is huge. Massive. Enormous. Maybe even all those words combined. Listing all of the popular LGBTQ-positive cities and areas would take several pages. Instead, we picked one city in America’s four cardinal points to highlight.

In the East: Richmond, Virginia

An obvious choice, Virginia has always been hailed as a very liberal state, and its capital Richmond exemplifies this. Richmond has a young and diverse population, and as a result has a thriving cultural scene.

A unique part about Richmond is that it actually encourages street murals. You’ll find beautiful graffiti at just about every corner. The Richmond Triangle Players are one of the few theatres in the world which almost exclusively tackle LGBTQ and queer subjects. Godrey’s Night Club is another LGBTQ cornerstone of Richmond, which hosts a drag show each Sunday.

In short, Richmond is as welcoming a city as you could hope for!

In the West: San Francisco, California 

Considered by many the “gap capital of the world”. Depending on who you ask, this is either an insult or the best compliment you could hope for. San Francisco has the third-highest gay population in America, but where it really stands out is its thriving LGBTQ community. The city has a massive Pride Festival each June, which attracts visitors from around the world, gay and straight alike.

To truly experience San Francisco’s LGBTQ scene, you want to head over to the Castro district, one of the first gay neighbourhoods in America. It played a big role in the fight for equality, and continues to be a proud symbol of LGBTQ culture.

From the Castro Theatre to the GLBT History Museum and countless bars and cafes, you can easily spend entire days exploring the area.

In the North: Missoula, Montana

While Montana as a whole still has a healthy ways to go in advancing LGBTQ acceptance, the city of Missoula deserves a special mention.

Home to the University of Montana, Missoula is a shining light in Montana. It was the first city in Montana to pass anti-discrimination laws for the protection of the LGBTQQ community. The Youth Forward program helps LGBTQQ youths through community engagement.

For the outside visitor heading to Montana, you’ll feel right at home in Missoula.

In the South: Austin, Texas

The American south is often stereotyped as being extremely conservative and a bad place to visit as any kind of racial or social minority. And while there are certainly areas in the south you should probably stay clear of, there are also some great cities there for LGBTQ people to visit. And perhaps the biggest one is Austin, Texas.

Austin has a thriving culture and arts scene, perhaps unmatched in the entire South. The LGBTQ community in Austin is very visible. The city does not have a specific “gay neighbourhood” like Castro in San Francisco. Instead, the city’s LGBTQ scene is a natural part of the city as a whole.

As such, you can’t really name places to go in Austin; the whole city is an attraction!