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Gay-friendly businesses lift city in ranking

Even-though same-sex marriage isn’t legal in Maryland, Baltimore has the second-highest number in the nation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender singles who want to get married and have children, according to a Chemistry.com study.

Owners Malinda Davis (left) and Wendy Ingram Braswell show off their new website, MarylandGayWeddings.com.

That may be in part because of the number of gay-friendly businesses in Charm City, said Gary Wolnitzek, director of programs and operations at the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore (GLCCB). Wolnitzek has become familiar with many of these businesses through his planning of Baltimore Pride, an LGBT festival scheduled to take place Friday through Sunday at various Baltimore venues.

“Between the block party and the festival, we have over 170 vendors” including businesses in banking, real estate, financial planning, home renovation, hospitality and more, said Wolnitzek. “The majority of them are not specifically serving just the LGBT community.”

Chemistry.com, which has received media attention in recent years for its advertising toward the LGBT community, based its rankings on more than 10 million responses to the personality test administered to site users.

As far as marriage and parenting aspirations, Wolnitzek said that the low cost of living, the amount of green space and the availability of charter schools in Baltimore would attract any family. The level of acceptance in the city compared with other areas, he said, adds to the appeal for family-focused LGBT individuals.

“I think that there’s more of an outreach, and that sort of speaks to the progressiveness of the businesses that serve the city,” he said.

Event planners at Over the Moon Special Events in Reisterstown have taken a special interest in planning same-sex weddings, forming a website of non-discriminatory wedding vendors called MarylandGayWeddings.com.

Malinda Davis and Wendy Ingram Braswell, the site’s owners, said they came up with the idea last year while planning Davis’ wedding to her longtime partner, Lori. To be listed on the website, all vendors must sign a pledge promising not to discriminate against any couples. The site isn’t fully functional yet.

Davis said that while she has encountered prejudice at some businesses, “most people here are pretty open to the idea … they’re friendly.” She said she is not surprised about the Chemistry.com ranking, as she has a number of lesbian friends in the area who have started families.

Maryland has a lot to offer to families in general, she said, and “compared to all of Maryland, Baltimore is definitely more friendly and more welcoming,” to gays and lesbians.

Some larger companies have also embraced the LGBT community, such as Bethesda-based Marriott International Inc., the largest publicly traded lodging chain in the U.S.

Marriott recently launched a marketing campaign targeting LGBT travelers, with the theme of “Be You With Us.” The chain is offering deals in various cities during their pride festivals and celebrations, as well as other specials for LGBT customers.

Visit Baltimore, the city’s tourism organization, has also made an effort in recent years to reach the LGBT community, said Visit Baltimore President and CEO Thomas J. Noonan.

The organization’s website has an LGBT Baltimore section that boasts a list of 31 gay-friendly hotels as well as 15 bars, restaurants and clubs that are popular among LGBT Baltimoreans. Visit Baltimore has also partnered with the GLCCB’s Gay Life magazine to help the publication gather advertising.

“It’s a full-blown program because we think Baltimore’s a great opportunity for that [LGBT] community,” said Noonan, who added that legalization of same-sex marriage in Maryland would likely bring more business to Baltimore.

The General Assembly passed the Civil Marriage Protection Act in March to recognize same-sex marriage as of Jan. 1, 2013, however, the bill must first survive a referendum in November.

“We have a lot of the assets … that the gay community is looking for,” he said. “I think we’re going to see a lot more weddings here … a lot more gay families move to the region.”