“I’m not going to go to Syria, but I don’t believe in avoiding places . . . we open our hearts and minds with travel,” says gay travel expert Ed Salvato, moderating an LGBT panel at the 2014 New York Times Travel Show in Manhattan.
Salvato’s words highlight one of the dominant themes that emerged at the show in the arena of gay travel: do we as queer travellers boycott countries with anti-gay laws (for our own safety and comfort, as well as to avoid spending our dollars in hostile environments)? Or do we in fact go to places like Russia, conservative Caribbean nations, and parts of the United States where legislation is not gay-friendly and support gay-friendly businesses in those milieus?
As was pointed out repeatedly, as gay travellers we tend to be travellers first, looking for some mix of adventure, fun in the sun, and cultural and culinary experiences — while at the same time we want to feel comfortable being ourselves — even if in some places we are at greater risk.
Fortunately, a bevy of resources, events and specialty tour operators have cropped up, widening the window of where gays and lesbians can travel with either a growing sense that our sexuality is not an issue or, if it is, helping us to find the gay-friendly spots even in places like St Petersburg (I’m assured it has an active gay nightlife). And as one audience member pointed out, while a country may have anti-gay laws or a major hate crime was reported in the news, that does not necessarily reflect what’s happening there overall or the experience a gay traveller is likely to have (though one still needs to be sensible, weighing risks in terms of how well do you know the lay of the land, do you speak the language, do you blend in or stick out, and are you there with locals or not).
With all of that in mind, here are some of the “surprising” destinations that panellists recommended for LGBT travellers, as well as some of the newer specialty experiences that tour operators are putting together for the gay and lesbian market.
For cowboys and cowgirls
Derek Hartley, co-host of the gay-themed Derek and Romaine talk show on Syrius Radio, points out that Texas is the number-two state for their show, and despite the state’s reputation on LGBT issues, he finds both Houston and Dallas to be very gay-friendly. Houston has an openly lesbian mayor, and Dallas elected a lesbian as county sheriff. I can also confirm, based on my incredibly unscientific visual survey on numerous Atlantis cruises, that Texas guys are the hottest of the hot.
The daddy of gay cruises, RSVP, got started after its founder was beat up in Key West in 1985, says Charlie Rounds, who has more than two decades of experience in the LGBT travel industry. After that, “he wanted to create a space where gays didn’t have to rely on the destination [to be friendly] . . . by going out into the middle of the ocean where we could be the majority.” Things have come a long way. Big all-gay cruises are flourishing as are a variety of more intimate cruising options, including “mixed ships,” where a gay group will join an otherwise straight cruise.
Fans of the Great White Way will want to check out R Family Vacation’s Broadway Cruise (which includes a theatre camp and cocktail hour with NYC piano bar stars). R Fam is also doing a family-oriented trip on the amazing Allure of the Seas, which has a zip line, basketball court, a Starbucks and two Flow Riders for surfing or bogey boarding). These are both examples of “mixed ships,” so expect to be a strong minority.
Adventurers will be interested in Hanns Ebensten Travel & Alyson Adventures, with destinations ranging from Antarctica to the Galapagos Islands. These are six- to 25-people cruises, designed for gay men (lesbians and allies are welcome on some trips).
With all the hateful messages coming out of Jamaica, it’s amazing to hear about Bloom Jamaica, now entering its fourth year. It’s billed as “five days of themed dance parties, live performances, tours, workshops, yoga, tennis and so much more . . . with the most beautiful tribe in the world in the most inclusive resort in the Caribbean.”
Bushwig in Bushwick
Joseph Pedro, associate managing editor of Passport magazine, hyped Bushwig as “a genderqueer, alternative mess.” Think of this local event as a smaller, grittier Wigstock — in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
The International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) touts itself as the leading global travel network for LGBT travel. It has an online travel planner to direct travellers to its members (tour operators, hotels, car rental, et cetera) so you can find gay-positive options around the world.
The US Department of State has put together an excellent resource for LGBT travellers, with information and tips on various countries in the world, as well as a section on what travel documents LGBT families should carry to ensure they can cross borders with ease.
For a sense of what gay life is like on the ground in more than 190 countries, Global Gayz features interviews and articles about a cross-section of LGBT people (students, non-students, husbands, wives, et cetera) in various parts of the globe.