Harold W. Anderson, publisher emeritus of the Omaha World-Herald, take Prof. Richard Florida to task for not empirically supporting his assertion that Omaha is "intolerant" in some sort of generalized way: "I agree with Professor Florida when he stresses the importance of tolerance and diversity as part of a city's social and economic fabric. But I have a real problem when he tells an Omaha audience that their city flunks his 'tolerance' test without presenting factual evidence of the intolerance that Florida's negative 'tolerance' rating clearly implies."
First, Florida's hypothesis would be difficult to test empirically. A working definition of "tolerance" would be the first hurdle. Next would be who to survey, and how. Yet the assertion Florida makes regarding creative types and "gays and bohemians" seem anecdotally true, and I myself would like to offer my own anecdotes to support Florida's ideas.
I think that homophobia is normalized in the Omaha region (I grew up in Harlan, Iowa, an hour from Omaha). From a young age, words like "faggot" and "queer" were uttered in school settings, from elementary school to high school. Adult educators "didn't notice" or didn't challenge such utterances, or, in two cases I clearly remember in my high school, adult high school teachers and administrators held the very homophobia the students did. I don't need to say that for thousands of gay or lesbian teenagers who grew up in the Midwest, verbal and physical abuse made school absolute hell. Who else would not want to move away at age eighteen? In addition to this, school boards in the Midwest have made far too few inroads to protect gay and lesbian young people from abuse. I know of no school board in the area that has "sexual orientation" in their non-discrimination policy; perhaps Mr. Anderson could find one.
Another anecdote is my own. I moved from Omaha to Tucson, Arizona to do graduate studies in the humanities. Tucson is a gay-friendly city, with a LGBT community center, and the city offers benefits to same-sex couples who work for the city. Is the city more "creative" than a place like Omaha? I'm less interested in that issue than the one Florida raises regarding a connection between gays and professional women: "'And in the eyes of many single women, it's also a sign that a city or neighborhood is relatively safe.'" The connection isn't that gay men are unlikely to attack single women; it's that gays and lesbians and creative single women want to be safe in a community where they are fully accepted. "Fine" is not enough, in the language of Dan Welch. Acceptance, and challenging entrenched, normalized homophobia, is what would make a difference.
But all this language is sort of weird. It's not that Omaha doesn't have gays and lesbians. It's that they're forced to be in the closet. Imagine the full force of askance looks at the grocery store, under-the-breath mutterings when a lesbian is stepping into a public restroom, and overt verbal abuse and the threat of physical violence. It's a choice between living in the closet or moving away.
Yes, all this is "merely" anecdotal and not empirical. But if one could imagine an accepting community, a creative one, one happy to have diversity instead of "fine" with it, one surely wouldn't imagine Omaha, Nebraska.