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Although homosexuality is officially frowned upon by local laws and by some local religious leaders, especially in Fiji, an old Polynesian custom makes the South Pacific a relatively friendly destination for gay men.

In the islands, many families with a shortage of female offspring rear young boys as girls, or at least relegate them to female chores around the home and village. These males-raised-as-girls are known as mahus in Tahiti, magus in Samoa, and fakaleitis in Tonga. Some of them grow up to be heterosexual; others become homosexual or bisexual and, often appearing publicly in women's attire, actively seek the company of tourists. Some dance the female parts in traditional island night shows. You'll see them throughout the islands; many hold jobs in hotels and restaurants.

On the other hand, women were not considered equal in this respect in ancient times, and lesbianism was discouraged.

The International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) (tel. 800/448-8550 or 954/776-2626; fax 954/776-3303; www.iglta.org) is the trade association for the gay and lesbian travel industry, and offers an online directory of gay and lesbian-friendly travel businesses; go to their website and click on "Members."

Many agencies offer tours and travel itineraries specifically for gay and lesbian travelers. MIM Travel (tel. 877/844-8055; www.gay-travel-by-mim.com) recently had a gay cruise aboard the Tahitian Princess, while Now, Voyager (tel. 800/255-6951; www.nowvoyager.com) had one on the Star Flyer (both in French Polynesia). Also check out Above and Beyond Tours (tel. 800/397-2681; www.abovebeyondtours.com), a gay Australia tour specialist, and Olivia (tel. 800/631-6277; www.olivia.com), offering lesbian cruises and resort vacations.

Gay.com Travel (tel. 800/929-2268 or 415/644-8044; www.gay.com/travel or www.outandabout.com) is an excellent online successor to the popular Out & About print magazine. It provides regularly updated information about gay-owned, gay-oriented, and gay-friendly lodging, dining, sightseeing, nightlife, and shopping establishments in every important destination worldwide. British travelers should click on the "Travel" link at www.uk.gay.com for advice and gay-friendly trip ideas.

The Canadian website GayTraveler (gaytraveler.ca) offers ideas and advice for gay travel all over the world.

The following travel guides are available at many bookstores, or you can order them online: Spartacus International Gay Guide, 37th Edition (Bruno Gmünder Verlag; www.spartacusworld.com/gayguide) and the Damron guides (www.damron.com), with books for gay men and lesbians.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.