2 min

A free city for gay people

On Nov 27, the Charlottetown Guardian ran a story about the Tourism Industry Association of PEI’s annual meeting. The keynote speaker was Jeff Guaracino of the Greater Philadelphia Marketing and Tourism Association.

It’s great, incidentally, to read so much in the Guardian these past weeks about PEI’s reaction to the Oct 18 firebomb attack against a gay couple in Little Pond (“Gay Couple Burned from PEI Home,”, Nov 24). Islanders truly seem horrified.

According to the Guardian, Guaracino told the room PEI would do well to research and develop a long-term marketing plan to attract gay tourists to the province. He pointed to a survey in which 77 percent of gay travellers to PEI said they would recommend the province to others, but 51 percent reported feeling uncomfortable there. He told the crowd that was a problem that needed solving, that it could affect not only gay and lesbian tourism, but also the number of visits from straight tourists.

I’m not entirely sure that comfort ought to be the primary metric for a tourism destination’s suitability; it strikes me as a euphemism for boredom, but Guaracino’s argument is a convincing one nonetheless. Its essence: it’s in your best interests, economically and socially, to draw gay people to your destination. It’s simply good business.

Coincidentally, I visited both PEI and Philly earlier this year. As destinations they are each very different, but one thing they have in common is that they are really interesting alternatives to the standard North American gay destinations: Toronto, New York, LA, Miami, San Francisco and Puerto Vallarta.

PEI and Philly each offer new, unexpected and unique experiences to gay people. Philly, for example, is a real hive of gay creativity and innovation. Small businesses, artists, nightlife and cultural festivities are flourishing there in ways that make nearby New York City seem too expensive, too over-produced and too pretentious. The gay guys I met in Philly are some of the coolest I know. And I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a visit to friends.

PEI offers a country getaway, cheap real estate and peace and quiet that you simply can’t find in other parts of Canada. It’s truly beautiful and I found it much more relaxing and stimulating than a Caribbean beach vacation.

So, to take Guaracino’s argument a step further, perhaps beyond comfort, it’s also in a destination’s best interests to offer unique experiences to gay travellers. A good gay destination need not necessarily be on-fire exciting or over-the-top glitzy, but perhaps it needs to offer something you can’t get anywhere else nearby.

In Toronto, for example, our relatively liberal sexual morality laws have earned the city a reputation as a place where gay people can express their sexualities freely, and without inhibition. And Canadian guys have a well-deserved international reputation for hotness and likability. You won’t likely get arrested for smoking a joint with your friends here. If you want to visit the tubs, there are many to choose from. If you want to visit gay bars, choices abound. If you want to attend a gay cultural festival or event, there’s one every night.

It’s a city where freedom of expression — sexual, political, cultural — is not only tolerated, but celebrated, and there are very few places in the world like that.

Those qualities, and the image that springs from it — not that Toronto is sin city, but that it is a free city — ought to be cultivated and preserved. And we ought to tell everyone who will listen. It’s a wise investment, both economically and socially.