Gay travel seems to be an enigma to some people these days. A lot of people ask me about it in an effort to understand just what makes travel gay…or because they want to bash the idea. But here is the thing about gay travel, it really is not that different than any other kind of travel. We board planes, head off to new places, and go for the experience. However, we are an important demographic when it comes to the travel industry because we spend more than pretty much any other demographic on travel experiences. Now, that could be a good or a bad thing but the fact remains we are here, we are queer, and love to travel. Many destinations are finding they must adapt to the changing attitudes towards the LGBT community or else they may lose their clientele or miss out on future markets. Why is that? Well, I like to think that people who travel often have more open minds towards other people’s lives. It’s important that, not just gay travelers, but LGBT travelers as a whole have representation within the travel industry and can find the information they need written by fellow queer people.
That’s what I do! I write from the perspective of a gay, queer man in order to provide information to my fellow LGBT people that they can use to plan their own trips. If you read My Normal Gay Life for any amount of time then you know that I don’t focus on only gay destinations and businesses. The goal of this blog is to encourage an inclusive travel world. I travel because I love it. I share my travels with you all to be helpful. I just happen to be gay while I do it. But the information I write about can be used by anyone in the world. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a good gay men-only hotel, a circuit party, leather convention, Pride event, or what have you. Of course I do! And I often attend these types of events but they are not my sole focus.
Gay Travel Story 1
Recently, I received a message from a very irate gay man on Instagram. He pestered me with a number of hateful questions which came off as bashing more than they did inquisitive. Despite his condescending attitude, I tried my best to address his points. He explained to me that he felt I should change my blog’s name to My Normal Life because having the word gay in there made it seem as though being gay is not normal. If it was normal then I would not need to point it out, he said. He went on to explain to me that being gay should not define who I am or what I do. Labels tear us apart is the simplified reduction of his reasoning. He continued to explain his own travel experience, saying he has never felt any kind of discrimination when he’s traveled and doesn’t find the need to point out that he is gay.
My response to him was to explain that I would not change my blog’s name because the point is that I am living MY normal gay life and I hope to encourage others to live THEIR own normal, whatever that might be at a given time. I also tried to explain to him that being gay certainly does not define who I am but it is absolutely part of who I am. I embrace the label fully and proudly. The fact that I am gay has caused many issues in my life but it has also brought me many opportunities in addition to a whole lot of happiness. There’s no way that I’d deny my own gayness. As for discrimination when he travels, I feel it is important to point out that he is a white man and does not have a husband. As a result, I explained that I have faced discrimination on multiple fronts being a person of color and gay. Not only that, it’s not an option to hide my gayness when I am traveling with my husband even if I desired to hide it. Of course, he resisted my answer and I had to shut down the conversation as he became more and more insulting. I truly don’t have time for hatred of any kind.
Gay Travel Story 2
In the course of my response to this stranger on Instagram, I also gave him a specific example of a time when being gay truly affected the way I travel and now I will tell you as well. In early November 2018, Alfred and I made our way to Panama City, Panama. We were really excited to add another country to our list and definitely ready for some warm weather. We flew to Panama via Delta Airlines and as we approached our final destination, the airline attendants came around to hand out customs forms. We were not sure if we should fill out one or two forms. So we were going to ask for two customs forms. The flight attendant asked if we were married and we told her that we are, in fact, married. She told us not to worry and fill out only one custom form.
So we did.
We made our way through customs and as we approached the final step before entering the country, the customs agent asked me for my form and asked Alfred for his. I told him that we are married and a family so we only filled out one form. He looked right at me and said, “We don’t allow that shit here. You’re not a family.” Then he instructed me to leave the line and fill out my own customs form if I wanted to enter the country. I told Alfred to go through but didn’t have time to explain to him what was going on and since he doesn’t understand Spanish, he really had no idea what was happening. It was an absolutely mortifying situation and felt like we were less than the other families being allowed through together. Our family was quite literally broken apart due to discrimination. Of course, maybe we should have researched it ahead of time. I’ll admit that. But we trusted what the airline professional told us and as a result went through a pretty terrible ordeal. It was a completely normal situation that was anything but normal simply because we are gay.
Gay Travel Story 3
Now, the Panama incident was pretty terrible for us but I have one more story to share. About two years ago, I was invited to travel through Romania by an organization called Experience Romania in order to provide media coverage and promote Romania as a great tourism destination. [Full Disclosure: I really love the country of Romania and do encourage people to visit. Simply be cautious if you are not a cis, straight male.] At the beginning of the travel and tourism campaign, the organization hosted a conference which seemed as though it were designed to talk up the destination rather than explore the ways in which Romania can actually become a world class destination much like Slovenia or Croatia. Some of the attendees began to ask the speakers some tough questions so I felt empowered to ask about LGBT-inclusion within the country. Bear in mind, I was invited with the organizers being full aware that I am a gay travel blogger. I was handed the microphone, stood up, and said:
Hi, my name is Jose Harvey, I’m from the United States, and write the blog My Normal Gay Life. As you can probably tell from my blog’s name, I write about travel focused on an LGBT audience. We live in a world where LGBT people are increasingly more and more accepted by society and this segment is a huge source of revenue when it comes to travel. Travelers tend to be more liberal-minded and I think it’s important to a lot of people here to understand what you all are doing/have done in your respective regions to promote diversity and ensure LGBT people are protected should they travel to your area of the world.
The panel of speakers stared blankly for a moment and then the moderator tried to change the subject. However, an attendee stood up and demanded that the panel address my question. One representative from Constanța, Romania spoke up.
Well, you are all welcome in Constanța (good start). You will enjoy our beautiful beaches, our beautiful hotels, and our beautiful people. Constanța is waiting for you. There is a very nice hotel towards the end of one of our beaches for the people with your attitude. It’s a hotel perfect for the flower children. You are welcome in Constanța.
What she said came off as extremely insensitive and it also seemed as though she was implying LGBT people were welcome as long as they stayed in one section of the city. I was bothered by her answer but sort of expected it. The moderator did not allow any of the other panel members to respond to my question and quickly rushed the discussion along. After the panel discussion was over, many of the attendees came up to me and apologized for what had happened. Everyone seemed bothered by the response and during the rest of the trip I experienced a number of instances of discrimination based on my sexual orientation from the organizers despite the fact they invited me. Of course, that’s not to say all Romanians I interacted with treated me this way but some certainly did.
You can read more about this experience in my article: Is Romania Gay-Friendly?
Gay Travel: What’s the Point?
So you might, ask what is the point in my telling you these three stories. Each story is an example of discrimination towards gay people that I experienced first hand. The first is discrimination and self-loathing from within the LGBT community itself. The second is discrimination by a national government. Lastly, the third is discrimination from within the travel industry. These are just three short examples and I certainly have quite a few more. In fact, I’m sure you can talk to any gay person who has traveled substantially and they can come up with at least one, if not more, moments they felt discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. It might be a situation during which they checked into a hotel and were asked if they want two beds, or one in which someone implied their partner was their friend or brother, or any other number of examples (both of those have happened to me FYI). These types of things, no matter how innocuous-seeming they are, happen all the time to LGBT people.
So why does gay travel matter?
Gay travel matters because we want to avoid these types of situations as much as possible. No one wants to feel like they are a second class human being. No one wants to feel as though their marriage and their love does not matter. It’s about safety and comfort…and feeling welcome. Whether we like to admit it or not, gay travelers face different issues than other travelers. The same can be said for lesbian. transgender, and bisexual people as well. There are many places where it is absolutely unsafe for LGBT travelers …where our lives are at risk should we visit. Even in places considered safe for LGBT travelers, we often face verbal discrimination or potential bodily harm by the errant bigot. For instance, it seems every month I read a news story about a gay man or couple who are brutally beaten as they leave a gay bar. This is not something that happens to heterosexual travelers as a result of their sexual orientation.
Now, gay travel also matters because we need representation out there in the world. Attitudes don’t change by all of us hiding in our closets. While I realize not everyone is capable of living their lives openly, loudly, and proudly…I am. That’s why I write this blog. That’s why it is called My Normal Gay Life. And I know that it has helped many people because I receive your messages and often respond to you all. That’s not to say rainbows are spewing out my mouth as I glitter bomb the world everywhere I go, though I love both and wish both could happen sometimes. But I don’t hide my sexual orientation and identify proudly with my gay label. It’s mine. I own it. So that’s it really…gay travel matters. It’s so important to have LGBT representation in an industry where, quite frankly, there is plenty of discrimination both from within and outside of the LGBT community. I don’t need to exist inside of a small box but I’ll gladly use that box as a crown as a travel this wonderful world exploring it as a gay man and letting you join me on all my adventures!
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