How gay is Minneapolis, really? Or St. Paul? Or Minnesota? Folks from out of town are often shocked to find huge and vibrant lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communties this far from the coasts. It shouldn't be a surprise given Minnesotans' long-standing commitment to tolerance and human rights, and the fact that Minneapolis is the last stop before Seattle.

Most of us are from small towns in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and the Dakotas who didn't want the hassle and cost of Chicago or found Madison and Iowa City a bit too "small town."

There are a lot of us.

According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA, the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area ranks 8th in terms of LGBT people per capita and Minneapolis is fourth among major cities for percent of LGBT people in the population. Minnesota ranks 10th in the nation for number of same-sex couples, and same-sex couples reside in every county of the state.

And LGBT people are visible throughout the state. Each year, Minneapolis' Loring Park hosts the third largest free Pride festival with over 400,000 attendees. And smaller communities around the state host their own community celebrations. Moorhead, Mankato, Duluth and Rochester -- and even tiny Pine City -- bring the LGBT community together each year to celebrate the beginning of the gay rights movement some 30 years ago.

Minnesota's been a leader on LGBT rights, having passed the first laws in the nation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in 1993. The first court case in the nation to challenge marriage laws prohibiting same-sex marriage happened in Minnesota in 1973.

Gay bars and clubs are still a mainstay of community for LGBT folks, harkening back to the days when bars were the only place we could go without fear of arrest -- and even then chances weren't always so good. And the Twin Cities has ten such establishments; one even dates back to the 1950s.

A lot can be said about the successes and challenges our community faces. Each week, I'll be bringing to Your Voices a snapshot of those successes and challenges.