The Pride of Columbus

Richard Burnett
 Kara Mitchell
 Richard with ANdrew Lewitt
Nina west
  • columbus
  •  Kara Mitchell
  •  Richard with ANdrew Lewitt
  • Nina west

If Christopher Columbus was really the fearless adventurer they say he was, then surely the man who “discovered” America would be awful proud that the city named after him is now home to one of the most diverse and entertaining LGBT scenes in the American Midwest.

In fact, the city is so unbelievably gay that I asked local drag star Nina West (a.k.a. Andrew Levitt) if there are any straight people in Columbus!
Nina laughs.
“It’s gay, isn’t it? It’s really gay! It’s a super-gay city! People look at Columbus and Ohio and think, ‘Ugh, it’s a cow town in the Midwest.’ I don’t think they give us a fair shake,” says Nina, who’s originally from small-town North Canton. “But the LGBT community has made me feel welcome, and the straight community here makes me feel like I invented the wheel! They have embraced me and the art of drag.”
Nina West is not the only shining example of an increasingly progressive social scene in Columbus. There is also Kara Mitchell, the black lesbian who won the title of Miss Northwestern Ohio 2014.
“I came out 10 years ago when I was 14 years-old and three years ago I moved to Columbus, which people call the gay mecca of the Midwest,” says Mitchell. “It’s really been liberating.”
Nina recently auditioned for the upcoming season of RuPaul’s Drag Race (Nina was also recently named one of America’s Top 10 Funniest Drag Queens who have never been on Ru’s TV show), and this summer Mitchell is a contestant in the Miss Ohio pageant. If Kara wins that title too, she will represent Ohio at the Miss America 2014 contest in Atlantic City.
Kara and Nina are just two LGBT success stories in a city bursting with LGBT pride, from the pages of the state’s premiere queer publication, Outlook, to stages in nightclubs across the city.
But the gay scene in Columbus is just part of the story: Columbus – with a population of 800,000 (and almost 2 million if you throw in the suburbs) – is also home to Ohio State University, so the nearly 60,000 college students who live here keep the city young.
No neighbourhood best exemplifies this youthful spirit than the restaurants, nightclubs and endless strip of art galleries that run along High Street in the Short North district. Two of my fave galleries here are the Brandt Roberts Galleries and the Lindsay Gallery, whose blues-loving owner Duff Lindsay visited Montreal in the 1970s just to attend concerts by BB King and Howling Wolf. The best time to visit the galleries is on Gallery Hop night, the first Saturday of each month when the galleries stay open late, and street musicians perform up and down High Street late into the night.
High Street also looks amazing lit up after dark with its old-school neon signs, marquees and arches. And – I swear – everywhere you look there are hot boys and girls.
Columbus also has a growing performing arts scene – the city is home to the Opera Columbus Company, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and the acclaimed Balletmet Columbus – as well as a couple of museums of note, such as the small but still interesting Columbus Museum of Art, and the Kelton House Museum, which was a stop for runaway slaves on the “Underground Railroad.” I got chills visiting the basement room where the Kelton Family used to shelter runaway slaves.
Another must-see gallery (so big it feels like a museum) is the Pizutti Collection, culled from the Puzziti’s famed personal art collection. I also recommend a walk through the city’s German Village Historic District which boasts over 230 acres of history a few blocks south of downtown. Throughout the summer the Actors Theatre of Columbus headline free performances of Shakespearean plays in the open-air amphitheatre in Schiller Park, also located in German Village.
A couple of other must-see highlights are games by the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets franchise, as well as the Triple A baseball team Columbus Clippers in the intimate confines of 10,000-seat Huntington Park. Gay Pride is held the second-to-last weekend in June, and the renowned three-day indie-music ComFest is held the last weekend of June. Both festivals take place in leafy Goodale Park.
Meanwhile, I also recommend getting around downtown Columbus on the city’s CoGo Bike Share program (identical to Montreal’s Bixi).
I sampled several restaurants, nightclubs and the bustling LGBT scene in Columbus over four days, but few know this city better than the city’s local luminaries. 
In fact, many fabulous celebrities come from Columbus, notably actress Beverly D'Angelo, Jack Nicklaus, folksinger Phil Ochs, Jack Hanna, Grammy-winning jazz singer Nancy Wilson, Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh and the late literary legend James Thurber. For my money, I’d add the great Nina West and Kara Mitchell to the list.
“I think Columbus is a really good place for college graduates and young professionals to get started, it’s a great place to get your foot in the door and build a career,” Mitchell says. “As for being an LGBT person, it’s extremely liberating to live in a city that supports you, where you’re not afraid to walk on the street while holding your girlfriend’s hand.”
Nina agrees.
“I love being an ambassador for Columbus, but it’s also bizarre because I never set out to fall in love with the city,” says Nina. “I have built a career here, but it also took Columbus for all these wonderful things to happen to me. I never thought I’d say this, but I love this city – I love Columbus, Ohio. There’s no other place I’d rather be.”
There are regularly scheduled international and connecting flights to Port Columbus International Airport which is located a quick six miles east of downtown.
Crowne Plaza Columbus - Downtown has 375 stylish guest rooms, is located in the heart of downtown, not far from many local attractions. The hotel also offers free shuttle service and free Wi-Fi in all rooms.
There are many good restaurants in Columbus (the city also boasts an annual Jazz & Rib Fest, this year from July 18-20). But if it’s a fix of Quebecois-style poutine you need, look no further than the “Tatto Heads” food truck, or pop into the Little Palace on 4th Street after a night of boozing.
Read more about LGBT tourism in Columbus here: .  
Read Richard Burnett’s POP TART blog for The Montreal Gazette at
Read Burnett’s national queer-issues col