Why Austin, Texas is the South’s weirdest, queerest city

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From bats to parking lot bars, the Texas capital is a liberal oasis of cool surprises

Throngs of delicate, birdlike creatures swarm across a pink-blue sky. Audible gasps abound.

Austin, Texas comes alive at night. The same, of course, can be said of its resident urban bat colony.

In spring and summer, on an almost daily basis, 1.5 million Mexican free-tailers soar from under Congress Avenue Bridge into the twilight sky. And you know what they say about nature putting on a show…

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Across Lady Bird Lake, another nocturnal animal catches my eye. The Frost Bank Tower – which looks uncannily like a sitting owl – is catching fractions of dying light.

Between the sunset and Downtown Austin’s ultramodern cityscape, not to mention those bizarre winged creatures, I can’t help but think of the famous ‘keep Austin weird’ tagline; of how I never imagined ‘weird’ could mean, well, wonderful.

But that’s Austin for you: full of wonderful surprises, from the sheer ubiquity of its live music to its world-class dining.

Photo: Courtesy Geoff Duncan of Visit Austin.

Then there’s the fact it’s so progressive (read: LGBTI-friendly). This, of course, contrasts with how the Lone Star State is often perceived as a whole.

‘Individuality and pride are Texan values’

‘“Keep Austin Weird” speaks to the culture here,’ openly gay Council Member Jimmy Flannigan tells me, when I drop by City Hall to meet him. ‘It’s about honoring and supporting people in whatever form they want to take.’

‘It’s Texan in its way, about individuality and pride,’ he adds. ‘Those are Texan as much as they’re LGBT values. There are parts of the state that have twisted those around. But when you come to Austin, you feel it.’

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Austin, or course, is known for being a liberal oasis. ‘There is something special about it,’ explains Flannigan. ‘The Mayor often calls it “The Magical Place.” I would agree. It speaks to the LGBT community about being laid-back, open and welcoming.

‘I’m the first openly gay man to be on the city council here, and I represent the most conservative district [6]. I’m the far edge, suburban area. When I was running for office in ’14 and ’16, it was harder to be openly Democrat than it was to be gay! It really was never an issue.’ weird things,weird things,weird things

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