4 min

How safe is Puerto Vallarta for gays?

"The people that live here, we're not worried about it," bar owner says

Police are investigating the death of 46-year-old Regina businessman and Prairie Pride Chorus member Duane Lang as a homicide. Credit:

“There’s very, very few murders in Vallarta any time, for any reason, in the gay or straight population,” says a Puerto Vallarta bar owner, after the body of a gay man was discovered in an apartment July 30.

Police are investigating the death of 46-year-old Regina businessman Duane Lang as a homicide. It appeared that Lang had been dead for some time before his body, which reportedly bore several stab wounds, was found. Police have suspects, according to various media reports.

Tom Finley, owner of Bar Frida located in the Vallarta’s gay-friendly Zona Romantica, doesn’t think Lang frequented the popular cantina.

“My bar has been here 12 years, and we’ve never had any incidents where anyone was ever injured, because I run a very tight ship,” says Finley, who has lived in the beach city for 13 years and has never been bothered or accosted. He says that’s because the word is out that he’s really tough against drugs.

“And the same thing with the bar,” Finley adds. “The word is out that the bar is a clean bar, so the dealers don’t even come in here.”

Asked if he’s aware of any increased incidents of attacks on gay people, Finley says on average there might be one a year. And while there’s been “a couple recently,” he doesn’t think things have changed all that much over the years.

“When [murders] happen they get a lot of news coverage, especially if they happen to be from out of the country — if it’s an American citizen or a Canadian citizen — they get very high profile, which is not particularly good for us, or for the city, or tourism,” Finley says.

“The people that live here, we’re not worried about it. We don’t think there’s an epidemic of murders. Life just goes on as normal, just so long as you’re careful,” he says.

Finley says he makes sure that Bar Frida patrons unfamiliar with the city’s taxis have a cab waiting outside the door. “If it’s their first time in the bar, I spend some time with them, and [advise] there’s some things you should be careful of, and if you play with the wrong people, you will get in trouble,” he elaborates, noting that the same thing can happen in downtown Vancouver.

Vancouver property manager David McCann says he goes to Mexico about a dozen times a year and stays in Vallarta the majority of those times. “I’m getting a real sense from people that there’s a rising level of fear, and a rising level of insecurity,” he says. “It doesn’t feel like it did 10 years ago.”

McCann, who has many friends, acquaintances and family living in Mexico, agrees with Finley that gay people aren’t being specifically targeted, but says there is an increase in crime. “I think they’re targeting people that they think have money.”

“I’ve seen restaurants that walk people out to their cars, something I don’t remember seeing before,” adds McCann, who says friends have advised him to catch a cab outside the door if he’s leaving a bar late at night, or park as close as he can to his destination. “Not that I didn’t do that before, but people are saying it more,” he says.

“It might only be perception but there seems to be a feeling on people’s minds that it’s not as safe as it used to be [even though] it’s still as wonderful as it used to be.”

Javier Gallegos, of the SETAC–LGBT Community Center in Vallarta, told Xtra Aug 8 that he doesn’t think gay people are specifically targeted in the beach town, either. “This happens because people, probably they are in need or something, they are totally strangers, and people bring them to their places. I really don’t think it’s a hate crime here,” he says of Lang’s murder.

“We don’t have the information we would like to have; the police went there and didn’t share anymore information about this case,” Gallegos adds.  “All we know is what the name of this person, and what happened, and he happened to be gay, but the police is very protective of this information.”

Gallegos says Vallarta’s gay community centre is developing an awareness campaign to encourage people to observe some safety guidelines.

“If you meet someone, don’t take this person to your place the first time, try to meet them for coffee or in a restaurant,” he advises. “If you decide to go your place with someone, try to let your friends know that you are going with this person to your place, or try to introduce this person to your friends.”

Puerto Vallarta’s tourism board referred Xtra to its New York-based public relations firm, Latitude, when asked about Lang’s death.

Latitude account executive Gustavo Rivas says information is still sparse because of the ongoing investigation, but sent a statement on behalf of the tourism board.

“This is a domestic incident that city officials are still investigating and is not part of the experience Puerto Vallarta offers its guests,” the statement reads. “As one of Mexico’s leading tourism destinations, we have high regards for the security and safety of our visitors and we are constantly working on enhancing the safety measures employed by our local police and private security officers who work at our many tourism attractions, including new international standardized training.”

The Regina Leader Post obituary says Lang passed away suddenly on July 28, and is survived by his father, Joseph Lang, and several siblings.

Lang was also involved with the Prairie Pride Chorus, a choir of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. A member of the choir says the group would prefer to allow Lang’s family to respond first before making a statement.