For the gay and lesbian community, travel presents its own set of special concerns about safety and human rights. Join our panel of experts -- "MTV Roadtrips" co-author Kelsy Chauvin, Frommer's editor Kathleen Warnock, Ed Salvato of "OUT Traveler," and host David Lytle -- as they discuss the issues facing gay travelers and share some insights into some surprisingly welcoming places to go.
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- Surprising Destinations: Egypt, Ireland, Greenland, Nashville
- Top Destinations: New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Berlin
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.David Lytle: Welcome to the Frommers.com Travel Podcast. For more information on planning your trip to any one of thousands of destinations please visit www.frommers.com.
Kelly Regan: This podcast is sponsored by Norwegian Cruise Line. Gone are the rules that say you must be somewhere at sometime for something. It's called freestyle cruising and it's only from Norwegian Cruise Line.
David: Hi, I'm David Lytle, editorial director of Frommers.com. Today I'm with Kelsy Chauvin, Ed Salvato and Kathleen Warnock and we're going to be talking about gay and lesbian travel.
Kelsy Chauvin is a freelance writer and a photographer based in Brooklyn. She has written for GO magazine, a national lesbian monthly based in New York and soon will publish her first travel piece in Curve magazine - the country's best selling lesbian publication. Her "American Highways" chapter can be read on Frommer's, recently released MTV Road Trips USA.
Ed Salvato is the corporate director of Travel Media at PlanetOut Inc., and the editor-in-chief of the Out Traveler with 250 thousands subscribing households. It's the world's largest magazine serving the gay and lesbian community. Ed's responsibilities also include all travel content for gay.com, planetout.com, outtraveler.com, the Advocate Magazine and advocate.com. In addition to these duties, Ed also oversees three syndicated newspaper columns and is the travel expert on two national radio shows, one on Sirius and the other on XM.
And finally, Kathleen Warnock is an in-house professional editor at Frommer's. She's also a writer and a published playwright as well.
Kelsy Chauvin: Hello, thanks for having me.
Ed Salvato: It's nice to be here.
Kathleen Warnock: Yay!
David: Sure! That's a lot of introduction to get through there.
Today we're going to be talking for 20 minutes about gay travel for listeners who might be surprised at this as a topic and just to give a little preface on this; a few years ago I was in Puerto Vallarta on a press trip. There were several travel journalists on the trip and there was an older couple - husband and wife- who published their own magazine - based out of Bergen County. There was a hotel, a gay resort, in Puerto Vallarta called Blue Chairs. He had never in his life known that there was any such thing as a gay resort and he couldn't understand why there would need to be such a thing.
David: So for people who are unaware that there's a gay travel industry, why don't we take some time and just explain why this exists in the first place? Why gay travel?
Ed: This is Ed. I'm going to answer quite briefly. This is a big picture that you may be startled to learn that the gay travel market is worth an estimated $54 billion dollars annually. That's B, billion with a B. [laughs]
Ed: So there is a huge volume of travel and that includes expenditures on both mainstream travel category and in the gay-specific category which includes the things you're talking about like gay-specific guest houses.
But it goes back a long time. The gays have always traveled. They have roamed the world like everyone else. In the last four decades since the very beginnings of the Damron guide and the concept in '70s of taking his first gay group on, it has been more a bit organized effort for gay people to travel with other gay people.
For me personally, it just always comes down to "birds of the feather flock together" kind of thing. It's more comfortable. It's more secure and it's more fun. And so just like the underpinnings have been in the makings for about 40 years. Surprising to many people in the mainstream world, it's quite a developed industry at this point.
David: Right. I think it's very simply put.
Kelsy: This is Kelsy. I would just like to add that I live and breathe what Ed just said. Whenever I travel to a new city, I absolutely seek out the gay neighborhood because every city has one - the gay bars. Even though lesbian bars are usually harder to find, if there is one at all. But it sort of feels like you're among your brothers and sisters and you're among people who will accept you instantly. I just feel more comfortable starting a conversation with somebody who I feel has something natural in common with me.
Kelsy: It is sort of like finding Americans if you're in Southeast Asia. It's like somebody who shares your language.
Kathleen: So I'm sure we've all checked-in to a hotel with a partner and had them say "Do you want two beds or one?" And when you answer "One", they give you a look.
Kelsy: The dreaded look at the front desk.
David: It's when you send your boyfriend, your partner, back to the magazine rack. He flips to the magazines while you're checking in.
Ed: It's surprising that it still happens. And you find it less and less now than even when I started in this industry about 10 years ago, these people are just more savvy and they're trained now at the front desks - in many of the more progressive hotels. And we rate hotels. We rate hotels like sort of the Hyatts, the W's, the Hiltons and the Kentons, -where they don't assume it's a mistake.
If there are two men or two women, they would say "There's a king bed." They may repeat the "Oh, there's one king bed." It's just to make sure that there's no question and there's no doubt in their voice. They've really come a long in just a short amount of time. But you still find it in hotels; even surprisingly in progressive cities you still get that kind of dreaded question.
David: Right. Exactly. It's almost outrageous that they even ask the question.
Ed: Well, particularly where most of the front desk is gay, anyway.
Ed: I mean think about life. You know...
David: Yeah. Maybe they're asking for a different reason.
Ed: Can I bring up room service?
David: Right. Exactly. Kelsy, you wrote the "Route 66" chapter for the MTV Road Trips Guide.
David: What were your experiences going across stretches of rural America?
Kelsy: It definitely had its challenges. I started in Charlotte, North Carolina; I was alone. I got to Nashville and suddenly there was a gay neighborhood. I was working with the local PR bureau and he pointed out that neighborhood because of my personal interest but also because I had this assignment also to seek out an LGBT area for the chapter in virtually every city. Just sort of highlight something in addition to everything else I was talking about.
Bigger cities, Nashville, St. Louis, it's much easier to find but then all of a sudden I was in Branson, Missouri. [laughs] Things started to change and suddenly it wasn't even just about being different or being queer. It was about being different because I was from New York, because I was a woman with short hair, because I was a woman traveling alone and then it sort of consistently stayed that way through Tulsa which is where my girlfriend joined me and took the rest of the trip with me.
It definitely felt like we were back in the closet. It was a trying situation where all of a sudden I was in high school again. I felt guarded. I felt concerned that people were looking my way...
Kelsy: And they were thinking things, passing judgment on me and I got a little uncomfortable. I really worried that that was projected - projected from inside me because nobody said anything. Nobody really acted any differently; I just... You just sort of feel more self-conscious when you're outside of New York City or any other big urban American city or international city.
I sort of calmed down again around Albuquerque because it's pretty liberal in New Mexico but...
Kelsy: I was a little confused if I was truly feeling it or if I was just making it up.
David: Completely understandable.
Ed: I think that kind of underscores the initial question in Puerto Villarta that you, that the gentleman broached.
It's sort of you can understand the need or the desire for two girls, two women from Little Rock to take a week in P-town, it may be the first time that they can hold their hands, walking in public without people, without having the feeling that your previous speaker just had, of this inner homophobia, or the external homophobia that's internalized, where you just walk freely down the street. That is so liberating!
So then a vacation for gay people can be not just a good time; it can be a liberating, self-affirming activity. It can be something where you go back to Little Rock with a little bit more confidence and a little bit more self-esteem. If a vacation can do that--I'm glad to be in the travel industry, if I'm helping people achieve that.
People pooh-pooh the idea of a gay cruise--full disclosure: our company owns a gay cruise charter organization, RSVP. Before going on that cruise, someone asked me if I wanted to go on a cruise and I said, "You'd have to pay me to go on a gay cruise!" And here I am, six paid cruises later! [laughs]
I actually go on these things now a lot, because I'm invited to go on to write about them. They are fantastic and life-affirming; you can't even understand the idea of being in such an empowering environment. You don't have to worry about the funny look, or that you're holding your partner's hand, and do I have to be concerned that I'm going to be beat up.
It's such a liberating feeling. You strip away all that nonsense, and that horrible societal pressure, and you can just live as a regular human being, an actualized human being. It's really nice.
Kathleen: I also enjoy--every year at Pride here in New York, you invariably run into people who are from places that are far away, who come to New York just for Pride. They can see the affirmation of a march that has millions of people participating in it.
Also, they can march if they want to and they see everybody, not just the LBGT community, but the huge New York community that turns out to support these things. Young and old and children and things like that. It is, sort of like a "welcome to the world" thing.
David: Right. It's also a good show.
Ed: It's a GREAT show! Come on!
David: Yeah, for the record, I live in San Francisco. I live with my partner two blocks north of the Castro, which we call the "gay-borhood." I sort of live and breathe this stuff everyday at the corner of Market and Castro, which is possibly the gayest intersection in the United States.
Ed: Maybe right after Gay Street at Christopher.
David: Yeah. We can battle that one out. There's a giant rainbow Pride flag on a pole. You can see it from blocks and blocks away. You know, I've been out for a long time; it's second nature that we sort of joke about people who are coming into the neighborhood for the first time and taking a picture of that, but it actually means a lot to them.
It goes back to the point that you made, Ed, that sometimes it's that first trip out of a smaller destination. I'm from a small town in Northern Indiana, so I have that story, too, at some point. It really is sort of life-affirming to recognize that there are places where you can go and live and be accepted and hold your partner's hand.
David: So, what are some of those places that people go to? There are always those cities--New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Berlin...
Ed: It's such a wide-open question. Like I said earlier, gay and lesbian travelers go everywhere that everyone does. In fact, gays and lesbians are arguably maybe a little bit more adventurous. We saw that right after 9/11, where there was a downturn in every segment except for the gay and lesbian segment; they traveled as much as they did before, but then it started picking up very quickly after 9/11.
It's a resilient, elastic market. This is why, suddenly, all these destinations started marketing to the gay market. We saw a huge upturn in who was marketing to the gay traveler after 9/11. You find surprising places--like Bloomington, Indiana, and Philadelphia, Tempe, Arizona--actually marketing to the gay market because it's a lucrative market,. And gay people do go there because in those instances, there really are fun things to do.
But you'll find that gay and lesbian travelers are really going everywhere and you'll see that reflected in our travel. We pretty much cover the whole wide world. But there are always going to be the cool, hip, and upcoming destinations; Buenos Aires has been on everyone's lips for the past couple of years, and a lot of gays and lesbians are going there. That's just one example and there are loads and loads of them all over the globe, basically.
David: You guys are featuring Greenland?
Ed: Yeah, we actually did Greenland. We sent a writer and he wrote a terrific article. At OUT Traveler, we're not just saying, "This is a guidebook: Go here, go there, go there." We do a little bit of that, but what we try to do in the magazine is, we talk about the culture, the history, and to give you, the gay person, a sense of, "Wow, we are everywhere!"
There's an active gay community in Greenland. These people are Inuits, for the most part, mixed with Danish. Gay marriage is legal there, because it's legal in their "parent country" of Denmark -- or gay civil unions--I'm sorry. So you're surprised to find something like that. Greenland? Gay civil unions? But there it is.
So we try to unearth the gay story behind every destination. Because almost every destination has one, whether you're talking about Iran, or Greenland, or the Northwest Territories in Canada, or Hawaii. There's going to be an interesting gay story there.
Ed: And gay travelers love to find that stuff! That's part of our culture. It doesn't get trumpeted in the mainstream press, and I think that's what we bring to the table. We're trying to talk about that. It gives people a sense of pride, it gives them another reason to travel, and it connects us all. We're more close to the Inuit people in Greenland than we might think we are.
David: Exactly. My partner and I, when we had our tenth anniversary, went to New Zealand for a month. Just a nice way to get away from absolutely everything and just spend time together. It's such a liberal, accepting country. Most people, in fact, actually don't get married, gay or straight -- they're domestic partners.
Ed: Right, and that applies across the board, so it's more of an egalitarian feeling. You get that, too, in Australia, also very popular with gay and lesbian travelers. First of all, they speak English, so it doesn't feel so challenging in terms of getting around. But it's far enough away that it feels exotic. There's a real comfort with gay and lesbians.
I also think Canada --we really celebrated Canada in our Summer issue, and we covered five different cities. Canada now allows gay marriage, and all the laws are completely equal between gays and straights. So there's a level playing field there. You can feel it.
Even businesses or marketing organizations, whatever; everyone's included. So if they're talking about marketing to the wedding market, they automatically include lesbian and gay weddings, in terms of their wedding strategy overall. So gays and lesbians are so completely welcome.
I think, as travelers, I would like to recommend that we reward "good behavior!" So let's go spend our pink dollars in a place like Canada. Because they are really doing something very positive for us all, whether we would live in Canada or not.
Kelsy: Of course, I love going to Canada; I love going to a place where I feel I'm welcome, because I'm queer, or just because I'm a good person who appreciates Canada. [laughs]
But I also feel like--after having gone to places like Branson and to smaller towns in Texas and Oklahoma, and anywhere I go where it's not known to be a huge LGBT community--I find that I'm sort of like an ambassador of our sort of niche.
It's the same thing as when I first came out. I was outing myself to straight friends in our teenage years and suddenly I became, "Oh, gay people are just normal." And suddenly you're making a small, subtle change that I think has huge ripples of power for our community and just opening people's eyes that there's really nothing different.
If anything, to a lot of different cities and a lot of different people who are in the travel industry, it's all to their benefit to be welcoming towards us, to be friendly towards us.
Kathleen: It ends up having a very positive economic impact, especially on places that see an influx of the gay travelers. When we went to Vermont in 2001, my partner and I, for a civil union, the innkeepers couldn't have been happier and said, "Look, we've got a new season now between leaf peeping and winter." And then we were also [laughter]... they said that!
We went on another trip to a very nice, small hotel in the Hudson Valley, and they said, "Why doesn't New York pass a statewide marriage or civil union law? Vermont's taking all our business."
I've been courted as an editor by various convention and visitor bureaus that want the gay and lesbian population to come in. So it makes for a better economy, particularly in places that have service economies.
David: I'm curious to see if it will be the economics that actually start pushing the shift towards more liberal domestic partnership, civil union, or marriage laws. Because other states will start seeing and business operators will start seeing that they're missing out on money. It's like when Homer Simpson became a preacher because Springfield passed a civil union law. He wanted to cash in.
David: Completely exploitive.
Ed: Actually, we saw that there were demonstrable uptakes in business activity relating to gay and lesbian honeymoon expenditures in both Canada, in Vancouver they did a study, and also in San Francisco when they briefly allowed gay marriage. And they demonstrated this. There's a little research. I'm sure a lot of businesspeople filed it away for future reference or thought, "This would make good business sense."
David: Absolutely. I think it's got a while to play out in this country. There are people who find it completely offensive. I think part of the reason why is, as Kelsy said, lack of exposure. Sometimes just your presence, being out, you serve as an ambassador to other people who discover that you actually are human, that you don't have horns, and that you're not some diseased pervert, which is often the assumption because they don't know anyone who's gay. Or they don't know they know anyone who's gay.
Kelsy: It's just horrifying that that's still as pervasive as it is, in small-town America and anywhere.
We've only got a few more minutes, and I guess we should talk about places where you guys really like to go. What's the most surprising place that you've gone as an out-gay traveler that you would recommend to people?
Ed: The most surprising?
Ed: Let's see.
David: Or someplace that people don't consider to be a gay destination. A stepping away from something like San Francisco or New York.
Ed: Right. For me, I guess it was Egypt. I went to Egypt not that long ago, and all my friends thought, "Oh that's so dangerous! Don't they kill gay people there?" But it turns out that in fact we did this coverage of the Muslim world in our recent issue, Fall, which is mailing right now.
We did this map of the gay Muslim world, what the official line is and what the reality is. The official line is, obviously, they don't condone same-sex relationships between men. They had all these arrests, these famous arrests of these men on this ship. Terrible, awful.
But they tend to persecute mostly for political reasons, and it's mostly just domestic. They never really go after people who are visiting. Not that it makes it any better, but just to be clear on that.
It turns out these Arabic countries, some of which I'm familiar with, where men and women are brought up sexually segregated, they really relate to each other very well. So you might think that it's a homoerotic kind of environment, and in fact men do have intimate relations with each other until they can have intimate relations with women, and sometimes well beyond that, for their entire lives. And some men are just 100% gay. It's the same for the women. It's surprising until you start digging into it.
I think Egypt would be that for me. I was just shocked at the looks that I would get, that people would come on to me, and on and on. It's confusing to a gay Westerner because we don't know what it means, if they're trying to steal your wallet or if they're interested. Who knows? But it was a surprising thing for me and very eye opening to go to that culture and find this whole new, different type of gay world.
David: That's interesting. Travel should be enlightening on both sides, for the people you meet and how it changes your perspective. Kathleen, Kelsy, do you have anything to add to that list?
Kelsy: Go ahead and start, Kathleen.
Kathleen: OK, well I think I've told some of you guys about my trip to Ireland last year. We went to Dublin. It happened to be when they were holding the Gay Ireland Theatre Festival. So not only did we get to go to Ireland, which is a great country, but we also got to be in a predominantly gay milieu, which could not have existed 10 or 15 years ago.
And it's in part because of the country's tremendous economic boom, and also that the population is getting younger and younger, that there's a friendliness and an openness that wasn't there. Not to mention that a lot of the old laws are off the books. So we went to Ireland and, as you all know, the Irish are a partying people.
David: I've heard.
Kathleen: Yes. And we got to see some great theatre and heard some very beautiful heartfelt things from the people who had been doing it there for years on the fringes as it becomes more mainstream.
And also we met people from all over the world who had come there to attend this theatre festival. So I'm certainly going back there again, and I'm hoping they'll do a play of mine, maybe, next year.
David: Great. And Kelsy?
Kelsy: Well, I mentioned Nashville already for the most recent cross-country trip. I was just shocked to find in the heart of the Bible belt the most welcoming gays and lesbians I could ever hope to find in bar or in a caf or anywhere out on the street. They're quite proud, they were definitely friendly. The whole town is that way, but there's something special about it to find your people.
Forgive me for naming such a popular, well-traveled place, but in Venice, Italy, you will never find a gondolier who is shy about taking a photo of you and your girlfriend kissing in the boat. It is a city of romance. In a city of romance, they can't deny anybody of any gender. [laughter]
Ed: Right on.
David: That's great. I just wanted to say thank you to everybody, Kelsy and Kathleen. Ed. It's been a fun conversation.
Kelsey: Thank you, David.
David: Hopefully we can do this again sometime.
Ed: Anytime, my pleasure.
Kelsey: Let's do it.
Ed: Thank you. Bye bye.
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