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Gay-friendly cities that might surprise you: St Louis, Missouri (+Win a trip to St Louis Pride!)

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Only a few short days until it’s June, which means: Pride Season is upon us! I love Pride Festivals and have been to over a dozen different Prides all over the world, and I am now planning this year’s Pride season. Which Pride Festivals should I visit? I’d love to hear your suggestions! Some of my favorite Prides I’ve been to were: Chicago, London, Toronto, Berlin, New York (obviously!), and Buenos Aires, but surprisingly, one of the most fun Prides I’ve been to was a small town Pride: Brighton Pride, where I most recently traveled to in 2015.brighton pride 2015That’s why I decided to seek out another small town Pride for 2016 and St Louis Pride caught my attention. St Louis, Missouri, might not be best known as a gay-friendly destination, but let me tell you: St Louis was voted one of Advocate magazine’s top 10 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) friendly cities and is included in the book 50 Fabulous Gay-Friendly Places to Live! Apparently the city has one the largest populations of gays and lesbians in the country – who knew!

LGBT-friendly St Louis

There are seven neighborhoods that queer travelers should check out in St Louis:

The Grove – this is the center of gay nightlife in St Louis and you find around a dozen gay and gay-friendly bars here, including St Louis most famous gay club, Just John.St Louis THE GROVE at night - Gordon RadfordSouth Grand – An ethnically diverse neighborhood with many Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and Latin restaurants, Asian import centers and vintage clothing stores along Grand Boulevard, South Grand is home to LGBT favorites like the MoKaBe’s coffee house, Brickyard Tavern and Cheap TRX for shopping.

The Loop – In this neighborhood, named after an old streetcar turnaround, you find 145 boutiques, stores and ethnic neighborhoods! You also find the St Louis Walk Of Fame here, which includes LGBTers Tennessee Williams and Josephine Baker and other famous people that called the Gateway City home.

Lafayette Square – This square surrounds Lafayette Park, and the remarkable French Second Empire homes around the square are said to be one of the largest collection of Victorian-era architecture in the U.S. There are several B&Bs here (including gay-owned Napoleon’s Retreat) and a number of sophisticated restaurants, wine bars and even a craft liquor distillery.

Soulard & Cherokee Street – Just south of St Louis’ famous arch, the Soulard neighborhood is famous for its Blues music scene. The historic Bastille bar is not to be missed!

CWE – CWE, or Central West End, is famous for its sidewalk cafes, tree-lined private streets, Chase Park Plaza, historic Forest Plaza and the stunning Basilica of Saint Louis. Club Viva and Sub Zero are gay hot spots here.

Clayton – In Clayton you find fine art galleries, plenty of great restaurants, boutique and upscale hotels.

Why visit St Louis for Pride?

St Louis Pride has been growing every year since the first PrideFest was held in 1981 – more participants, more festivities, but also more spectators, who travel to St Louis from all over the Midwest to celebrate St Louis Pride, to celebrate diversity and equality, to fight for gay rights and to bring awareness to issues in the LGBT community.

St Louis’ Pride Fest is a fun-filled weekend in June (24-26 June) packed with events: The main parade starts on Sunday at noon, Jordin Sparks and LeAnn Rimes are among the many performers on the musical stages, there is a 2-day festival in Tower Grove Park, and you can even get married during Pride – wedding ceremonies will be held inside the City Hall Rotunda in downtown St. Louis, across the street from the 2016 festival, on Market and Tucker.St Louis PrideFest

Win a trip to St Louis Pride!

I’ve teamed up with Explore St Louis to give away a trip to St Louis Pride (24-26 June 2016)!

The prize includes:

  • 2 nights hotel accommodation
  • 2 Bud Light VIP Experience weekend passes to St Louis Pridefest
  • A $50 Visa gift card
  • Tickets to several attractions in St Louis

The Bud Light VIP Experience means you have access to a tent just steps away from the Main Stage and a front porch with perfect views of the stage. The VIP Experience offers open bars, complimentary food and a VIP swag bag.

Click here to enter the giveaway!

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The World’s Must Visit LGBT Scenes

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new york pride daniIf you are thinking of doing some traveling next year and are pondering about the LGBT scene abroad, you should definitely consider including some of the hottest LGBT friendly locations from our list. Whether you are simply traveling alone and funding your travels around the globe blogging about your experiences on your own site, or you’ve got some spare cash and free time on your hands, traveling is open to one and all. Here are five destinations with great LGBT scenes, some might be obvious, but others might surprise you:

Edinburgh, Scotland

While it’s easy to compartmentalize Scotland with the rest of the UK, it actually has its own liberal government who are very outspoken on gay rights. They passed a law in 2014 to legalize same-sex marriage with an overwhelming majority in their parliament – an attitude which is reflected on Scotland’s streets. Home to a thriving and open nightlife, Edinburgh is a multicultural, open minded mecca for LGBT’s from all across the world. edinburgh

Stockholm, Sweden

Sweden is famed for its progressive attitudes, from LGBT issues to immigration. It’s a country with a high standard of living, and one which holds its arms wide open to all peace loving travelers who want to visit its shores. This year it hosted the EuroGames, an LBGT sporting event for Europeans, displaying its commitment to gay issues.fotografiska museum restaurant

Berlin, Germany

The Berlin you probably learnt about in school is very different from the Berlin that exists today. One of the most progressive and open cities in the world, Berlin boasts a huge gay scene, and one of the biggest gay parades in the world every summer. There are many gay bars and nightclubs across the cosmopolitan city for those wishing to be surrounded by like-minded people who are gay-friendly and welcoming to people of all sexual dispositions.das ist so berlin

Tel Aviv, Israel

Tel Aviv is by far the most LGBT friendly destination in the entire Middle East – in fact, it is the only gay friendly travel destination in that region of the world. It is somewhat surprising, considering Israel is home to a large Orthodox Jewish as well as Muslim population, and the gay-friendliness in other parts of Israel has yet to reach Tel Aviv’s levels, but the ‘White City’ with its fabulous location right on the Mediterranean Sea is extremely open-minded and tolerating of LGBT culture. This shows the most during Tel Aviv’s annual Pride Parade, which usually takes places in June, and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors. But the city also offers a vast LGBT nightlife scene the rest of the year and is worth a visit year round!tel aviv beach view

Las Vegas, USA

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, meaning you can really let your hair down and not worry about the morning after! Vegas certainly packs the “wow factor” for all brave enough to tackle its nightlife. In a city that is constructed around its nightlife, everything is geared towards having a great time. There are no judging eyes in this city, where excess and self-indulgence are the norm. You can visit some of the world’s most outrageous and lively gay bars and live life to the max. But remember to leave your sensibilities at home, because Vegas can get crazy…Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas
Are you a queer traveler? Share your favorite LGBT destination in the world in the comments below!

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Brighton’s epic 25th Pride Festival: Carnival of diversity

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A gorgeous seaside location, a community known for their tolerance and diversity, and celebrating a quarter of a century of Pride Marches, which is a huge milestone – what could possibly go wrong at this year’s Brighton Pride?brighton rainbow flagsWell, with the infamous British summers, Pride can be hit or miss. I went to Pride events in England where it poured down on us, and then there were years when I went to Pride events and got sun burnt. In England, it can go either way, and when my plane touched down in the middle of a rain storm on a chilly summer morning, I was worried. Would the epic Pride weekend I was hoping for get rained out?brighton pride parade 2015 colorsbrighton pride parade pavilionBut I didn’t have anything to worry about: I woke up to bright blue skies on Friday morning and it seemed all of Brighton was already in a festive spirit, even though the main festivities wouldn’t start until Saturday.brighton pride rainbow flagUsually, around 160,000 spectators line the streets for the parade, but with the event’s big anniversary, close to 200,000 people were expected to attend Pride this year. The 2015 motto was Carnival Of Diversity, honoring Brighton’s diverse and open-minded LGBT community. I really couldn’t have chosen a better occasion to return to one of my favorite cities in England (but more on Brighton later).Birghton Pride 2015brighton pride 2015 piratesThe city had already felt super festive when I arrived on Thursday, with more rainbow flags flying around town than I’ve seen at any other Pride event I ever attended (and I am not exaggerating here!). That reminded me of just how liberal and nonjudgmental Brighton was. Kids with two mommies or two daddies were nothing out of the ordinary here, and a local friend told me her 9-year old had a boy in his class who had a gender change over the summer – and when it was announced at school, nobody even bat an eye. Brighton, as accepting as ever.brighton pride 2015 lesbian coupleSo it shouldn’t have surprised me that each and every business was flying rainbow flags and that the city is home to one of the biggest Pride festivities in the country – in fact the second biggest after London Pride – but that said, not even London has the same kind of festival atmosphere that you have in Brighton.brighton pride paradeBrighton parties the entire weekend. And Brighton parties hard. From the opening parties on Friday night until the early hours of Monday morning, the entire city feels like a huge festival ground. A massive festival ground is set up in Preston Park, complete with a funfair! That’s where the main party takes place on Saturday, and the celebrations in Preston Park feel almost more like a music festival instead of a Pride event – but more on that below. The other party hot spot is in Kemptown, Brighton’s gay neighborhood, where during the village street party on Saturday and Sunday thousands celebrate in the streets, DJs spin records outside of bars and bartenders mix drinks right on the sidewalk.brighton pride fest 2015 street partyAnd then there is the parade, which was so colorful and vibrant that I never once got tired of watching float after float go by. While there was a number of floats that were all about being jolly and celebrating how far the LGBT community had come over the past 25 years since the first small Pride March in Brighton, there were also organizations reminding us that there are still 70 countries in which homosexuality is a crime – not to mention the five countries in which homosexuality is punished with death penalty.brighton pride 2015 signsBirghton Pride 2015brighton pride 2015The range of floats was very divergent: political organizations campaigning their purposes, fun floats including gay and lesbian dance groups, cheerleaders, LGBT divers, runners, etc., and the people who came out to watch the parade were just as diverse: families, groups of friends, same-sex couples as well as straight couples – it was amazing to see how many people (and dogs!) had come out to show their support for the LGBT community. brighton pride 2015Brighton Pride 2015brighton pride 2015 cheerleadersThe parade made its way from the seafront (a slightly altered route and a delayed start due to a suspicious package that was found on the parade route) to Preston Park. After watching it for a while we made our way along with the floats towards Preston Park, as did a big part of the crowd.brighton pride parade 2015brighton pride 2015brighton pride crowdsBy the time we arrived in Preston Park, the festival grounds were already packed and the festive atmosphere was infectious. I don’t know any other Pride event that feels as much like a music festival as Brighton Pride does, and we started exploring the grounds.brighton pride festival grounds carouselsbrighton pride festival groundsPreston Park’s festival grounds are big enough to fit tens of thousands of people – some of the tents alone fit up to 8,000 people, just to give you an idea of how big the area is. In addition to various dance tents and a cabaret tent you can find bar tents here, lots of food stalls, some smaller stalls that sell Pride merch, lots of carousels and thrill rides, and the main Pride stage.brighton pride festival grounds carouselBrighton Pride festival groundsThe line-up shows how big of a festival Brighton Pride is: every year, the organizers manage to attract top acts and chart toppers like The Human Leage, Mary Lambert, Ella Henderson, and British pop stars Ms Dynamite and Tulisa.brighton pride festival grounds main stageOn the DJ front, Fatboy Slim was the biggest name and had no difficulties in making the crowds dance, and the ladies were ecstatic when Ruby Rose took over the turntables in the Girls Dance Tent, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed by her hot looks DJ skills. brighton pride festival grounds dance tentAbout 40,000 people enjoy the DJs and performance acts here, and I loved seeing how many non-LGBT people had joined the festivities. Some people might be turned off by having to pay for the festival, but at £16 I found the tickets to be more than reasonably priced, considering how much you got for it: all the DJs, the acts, the rides, and not to forget all the logistics and security necessary to organize an event like this. Brighton Pride festival grounds main stage1Brighton Pride festival grounds carousel 2015Later on, we joined the 30,000 people that were roaming the streets of Kemptown where the Village Party went on until Sunday morning, long after Preston Park had closed. Kemptown is where all of Brighton’s gay bars and clubs are located, and places like Revenge, the Terrace Bar, A Bar, Camelford Arms, Legends Bar, the Queens Arms and Charles Street Bar were all packed, with people dancing inside and spilling out onto the streets which had been blocked off for cars and limited for pedestrians. brighton pride 2015 street partyWhile Pride usually slows down on the third day, Brighton Pride was still going strong on Sunday and I was impressed with everyone’s stamina, considering that some people were still dancing when I was already having breakfast. brighton pride street party djBut by late afternoon, Kemptown was packed again, and the street party continued with people flirting, dancing, drinking and enjoying the sunny weather. brighton pride fest 2015 barbrighton pride street party 2015 crowdsWhen I left Brighton the next morning, I was still brimming with excitement, event though I was utterly exhausted after this party weekend. As a festival lover, I loved how much this weekend – especially Saturday in Preston Park – felt like a music festival, with tens of thousands of music lovers coming together to dance, sing along, drink and celebrate, no matter if gay or straight.Brighton Pride 2015brighton pride 2015 girlsBrighton Pride 2015I have no doubt that I will be back in Brighton for Pride.

Where to stay

If you want a B&B experience that’s a bit different from the traditional British B&Bs, I highly recommend staying at the funky Snooze, conveniently located in Kemptown – close to the Village Street Party, but still far away enough to get a good night’s sleep.   If you are on a tighter budget, the newly opened YHA Hostel is the perfect choice, located a 1-minute walk from the beach, right in the center of the action, and a 2-minute walk from the Kemptown Village Party. 

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View from my room at the YHA Brighton – love it!

 

Additional information

For up-to-date information on next year’s line-up, the parade route and other Pride events, visit Brighton-Pride.org. pride cake brightonI visited Brighton as part of the fabulous Must Love Festivals project. Many stay was organized with the support of VisitBritain and Expedia. All opinions are my own.

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On Lesbian Solo Travel

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Be warned, this is a bit of a rant..

On being out

Whenever I travel with another girl and a guy tries to chat me / us up, all I have to say is ‘I’m gay.’ Or ‘She’s my girlfriend.’ Or ‘We’re together.‘ And I’m being left alone. As simple as that.

Traveling solo, however, is a completely different story. Whenever I tell a dude I’m gay, I get responses like:

‘I don’t believe you.’

‘No, you’re not a lesbian!’

‘Are you sure you’re a lesbian?!’

‘Why are you lying to me? Is it me? Why don’t you like me?’

And my favorite one, which I am sure every lesbian on the planet has heard at least once in her life:

‘Maybe you just haven’t found the right guy yet.’

 – Excuse me for a minute, I have to go throw up.

When I set off on my solo travel adventures, I did not expect to try to get rid of clingy guys so often, but it happens almost every time I go out.dani negev desertThe most shocking incident was in Boracay when, after I told a guy I was a lesbian and even showed him a photo of me and a beautiful young lady on my iPhone (and trust me, it was obvious in that photo that we were not just friends), he countered by showing me a photo of his c*ck on his iPhone. What the hell?! Was this supposed to turn me straight? I don’t even know many any straight girls who would be impressed by something like that. And I didn’t even know the guy, we had just met! As I am writing this, that incident happenened only a few days ago, and I am still flabbergasted.

Sometimes I feel that by saying ‘I’m a lesbian’ I just trigger men’s hunting instincts and now they absolutely have to have me, and they seem to try even harder.

Imagine me asking every pretty girl I meet on my travels ‘Are you sure you’re straight?’ and me trying to romantically pursue her. Or imagine, male readers, that you were chatted up by gay boys constantly: ‘Are you sure you don’t like c*ck?’. But gay boys don’t do that. And I am not interested in straight girls – even the ones who I find attractive, it wouldn’t even cross my mind to hit on them.dani stunnedSo why is it that straight men feel like they have to harass me constantly (and that’s what I feel like – harassed) and can’t just take NO for an answer? It’s not even that they aren’t good looking or fun to hang out with it, I am just not interested in men. (No offense to all you lovely men out there!)

Sometimes I wish I was wearing a wedding ring because I feel that saying I am married would be a more successful way to make them back off. In fact, it has proven successful with locals when I told them I had a boyfriend, so I might try that with fellow travelers in the future. But why do I have to lie? Why is not enough to say ‘I’m gay’ to be left alone? Do I have to hide under a hat the entire time, wearing loose baggy pants and over-sized T-shirts?dani hiding

On coming out .. All.the.time.

Another thing that has been interesting is the fact that I have to come out all the time.

Every single day.

When you travel, you’re surrounded by new people every day, instead of the same coworkers, neighbors and friends at home. What comes with meeting new people is the same conversation over and over again, and inevitably, sooner or later the boyfriend question comes up. When I correct them to ‘girlfriend’ I’ve found the reactions amusing to watch – from people blushing and muttering ‘Ah okay..’ to loudly exclaiming ‘What!! You’re a lesbian?!’ to curious questions about my love life. Interestingly, when I meet couples, the girls usually seem to be more okay with the fact that I’m gay than the boyfriends. One of them even said ‘Well… I can get behind two girls being together, but two men.. That just doesn’t seem right.’ An incomprehensible logic to me… I guess I’m glad that I’m a girl then.

dani in dress
Happy about the fact that I am a girl, because that makes homosexuality less disgusting, apparently.

Female vs. male solo travel

Luckily, I haven’t come across any homophobic behavior (yet!), but I wish a simple ‘I’m gay‘ would be enough to make men understand that they should stop any advances right there and then. If I feel like wearing a dress, I’d like to be able to wear a dress and not having to hide in baggy clothes. I don’t think that this is necessarily a problem unique to lesbian travelers, but to female solo travelers in general.

There is still a huge difference between a male and a female traveler’s way of being able to see the world, and the things we are able to do. An invitation to spend the night at a local’s house? I know male travelers who received such invitations and happily accepted them. I would probably be too afraid of what might happen. The same goes for hitchhiking, and sometimes even taxi drivers can be scary. The worst part is that they have no idea how much they creep you out when you’re in the backseat of a cab at 3am, driving through an unknown city, and being asked if and why you’re alone. I love watching the sunset at a beach, but I’ve had several situations in which I didn’t feel entirely safe walking home alone on the beach after it gets dark. dani sunsetI could get into the whole female vs. male solo travel topic, but I feel like it would go beyond the scope of this post. Kristin Addis wrote a great article on Why Solo Female Travel Is Different.

Solo travelers, gay or straight, how do you deal with unwanted suitors?

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The best countries to retire for same-sex couples

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There are a lot of good things going on these days. The landslide of states in the U.S. where same-sex marriage is legal is gaining momentum. The UK just saw its first domestic same-sex marriages performed. The IRS now taxes same-sex marrieds at the same rate as heterosexual couples. Okay, that last one is a bit of a mixed blessing. But still, life’s good for you and your spouse.

Globetrottergirls in BrightonWith so many older couples finally getting the chance to legally marry, many of them are already preparing for retirement as newly-weds. Given the dream of retiring to some exotic locale with good food and great beaches it might be worth exploring the who’s who of nations that are friendly to same-sex couples. So, for your retirement consideration, may I present the top three retirement destinations for same-sex couples.

First, the honorable mentions:

Argentina

Though same-sex marriage is legal in Argentina, there are very few protections against discriminatory practices. Coupled with lagging acceptance in the social scene Argentina earns a mention, but doesn’t come close to ranking on our list.

South Africa

The only African nation to provide full legal protection to same-sex marriages, social acceptance is lagging significantly behind, leaving South Africa to be a mixed bag for gay and lesbian couples.

Portugal

Portugal lags behind many other nations in terms of both legal and social progress regarding same-sex marriages. However, Portugal’s legal system does have one area where it exceeds the standards of our top pick for nations to move to. Portugal is the only nation that permits the marrying of same-sex couples with no consideration of either residency or the legal status of such a marriage in the home countries of the participants. With a pleasant climate and very long coastline, it can be tempted to overlook some of the inconveniences and retire to Portugal.

Canada

Canada is hospitable to same-sex couples married within Canada, but has ongoing issues regarding any marriage performed abroad. Add that to the climate and Canada doesn’t quite make the list of ranking nations.chicago gay pride paradeIceland

Iceland’s legal structure is one of the best in the world when it comes to the rights of same-sex married couples, and is currently headed by woman who has been married to her wife since 2002. Unfortunately the population of Iceland is so sparse there is no gay scene outside of Rekjavik.

New Zealand

A new arrival on the scene, New Zealand only recently legalized same-sex marriages. While same-sex marriages share the same rights as heterosexual marriages, the legal system is still struggling with working out many of the kinks. This is only made more difficult by the fact that the law granting same-sex marriage rights does not extend to any of New Zealand’s territorial holdings.

Denmark

While same-sex marriages are given the full rights that are shared by heterosexual marriages in Denmark itself, Greenland and the Faroes (both belonging to Denmark) share the same problem that is seen in New Zealand by not permitting same-sex marriages.

England and Wales

England is the most recent country to have same-sex marriages established. While it isn’t having nearly the implementation issues that New Zealand has suffered, it shares in the jurisdictional problems seen in both New Zealand and Denmark. Of the English extraterritorial holdings only Wales recognizes same-sex marriages. Jurisdictions such as Gibraltar and North Ireland continue to bar same-sex marriages.

Dani & Jess at Chicago PrideNorway and Sweden

Norway and Sweden are both even more accommodating than Canada, with thriving gay communities in Oslo and Stockholm. However, being located even more northerly than most of the population of Canada, the climate does not encourage long walks on the beach.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands was the first nation in modern times to legalize same-sex marriage, establishing them on the 1st of April, 2001. Amsterdam is often considered to be the most gay friendly city in the world. With a full suite of laws protecting the equal treatment of gay marriages adding to the moderate temperatures and lively culture, the Netherlands is a popular destination for retiring same-sex couples. Only one thing holds the Netherlands back. In order to marry in the Netherlands at least one of the partners must be a citizen. However, as the Netherlands do recognize same-sex marriages legally conducted abroad this is a minor hiccup in an otherwise sterling record.

France

A newcomer to same-sex marriages, lesbian and gay couples were granted the right to marry within France in 2012. While both legal and social acceptance are high in France, this beautiful and idyllic Gallic country is held back from our top countries list owing to a legal system that does not recognize most foreign same-sex marriages.

And now, the list!

#3 Uruguay

Uruguay is the surprising dark horse in our list. A nation that is not on most people’s list, Uruguay found itself in a peculiar position in 2012 when a judicial court ruled that Uruguay had to extend all marital rights and protections to any marriage that was legal in the country in which the marriage was conducted, even though Uruguay itself did not permit such marriages to take place inside its own borders. Legislation was quickly put forth to remedy this by legalizing marriages conducted within the country. Since then Uruguay has been leading the way not just in South America, but throughout the world in its ensuring the rights of lesbian and gay married couples. With a pleasant subtropical climate and lively society, Uruguay is one of the top places to be for retired same-sex couples. It’s only its relative youth in terms of legalization that is keeping Uruguay in our #3 slot.

La Paloma Rocha Uruguay#2 Belgium

Belgium is a leader in same-sex marriage rights and has been for years. While Uruguay has a slight edge in terms of its relationship with foreign same-sex marriages (non-citizen couples may marry only if one partner has been in the country for at least three months) the fact that Belgium has had eleven years of same-sex marriage without any hiccups gives it the higher ranking. Politically Belgium is one of the most accepting nations in the world. The current prime minister had come out as gay long before his election to the top seat of the nation. Socially Belgium is a major contender. With major gay communities in every significant city and 62% of all Belgians believing same-sex marriage should be recognized throughout the European Union there are very few places that can rival the quality of life a retired same-sex couple could enjoy in Belgium. With all these factors going for it, Belgium approaches the top of our list of the top three best countries to retire to, coming in at #2.

Rainbow tile#1 Spain

To the surprise of many people, Spain tops our list of the best nations on earth for a same-sex couple. In spite of continued comments of opposition on the part of a scattering of public officials, Spain provides the strongest legal support of same-sex marriage of any nation in the world. Spanish law exceeds even that of Belgium by permitting the marriage of all same-sex couples, even if both are citizens of nations that do not permit gay marriage and neither has established residency in Spain. Strongly Catholic, the population of Spain recently broke with church doctrine by expressing an 88% support rate for the gay community, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Every significant city in Spain has a thriving gay community enjoying Spain’s welcoming culture, and gay and lesbian couples in the countryside can expect to be given the same pleasant welcome any other couple might. Combined with the low cost of living and housing prices, pleasant subtropical climate, and the extensive Mediterranean coastline Spain tops our list of nations for same-sex couples to retire to.

Spain BeachSo there you have it. Our top three picks of countries to retire to as a same sex retired couple are (from third to first) Uruguay, Belgium, and Spain. All are known for their friendly people, progressive legal systems, engaging culture, and pleasant climates. Pack your sun hats and your sandals and check them out as your dream retirement locations.

About the Author:
Mario Vitanelli is a freelance writer and blogger who specializes in international politics and finance, retirement and investment. His areas of expertise include European, Asian and Latin/South American economic policy and overseas pensions. When away from his keyboard, he enjoys photography and appreciates the rest of the Vitanelli family’s endless patience with his football dependence.

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Guest post: The power of being out as a gay traveler in South America

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In the latest installment of our Lesbian & Gay Travel series, Sam of IndefiniteAdventure.com shares why he thinks it is so powerful to be out as a gay traveler, especially in South America, where many countries are still rather conservative when it comes to same-sex relationships.

When my partner Zab and I started traveling, I knew there would be plenty of lessons to learn and experiences that would change me. That’s much of the point of travel. What I didn’t realize was how much traveling in South America would reveal to me about my own feelings toward what it means to be gay.

I knew I was gay by the age of thirteen, and was out to my friends immediately. My family found out officially a few years later, but none were surprised. My mother told me she had known since I was three.

I’ve never been closeted, though there have been times in the past when I shied away from identifying myself with the gay crowd. Growing up in London in the late 1990s, no one even flinched at being told.

Sam and Zab in Bariloche Argentina
Sam and Zab in Bariloche Argentina

There was not one moment in my past when I was ever rejected or made to feel less worthy by anyone I loved or cared about because of my sexual orientation. Of course, there were the assholes at school who would proclaim “backs to the walls, guys, here comes the gay boy!” I just always found them easy to ignore.

Some might say I was lucky, but to me this was the default: acceptance was normal.

My acceptance of myself, on the inside, that was actually more difficult. It was hard to accept that this is who I was, and that being gay should be a source of pride or something to celebrate.

That was 15 years ago, however, and whatever internalized homophobia I may have had is long gone. I’m here, I’m queer: get used to it!  This was tested and confirmed again, in part, by my experiences of traveling 10 months in South America recently with my partner, Zab.

Throughout our travels, we met several gay men who were surprised that Zab and I are so open about our relationship. The fact that we’d walk into a hotel and not flinch at correcting the receptionist when she booked us a twin room that, no, actually, we wanted a double room – one bed.

Even more, they were surprised that we spend Christmas with each other’s families who all understand the true nature of our relationship, and that our mothers are even friends.

These facts were seemingly worthy of awe-struck disbelief. So many times we heard “that could never happen in my country.” This made me so sad.

Sam and Zab in Quito
Sam and Zab in Quito, Ecuador

One particular conversation that has stuck with me went something like this:

“Does your family know you’re gay?” I asked Juan, a friend we met through a couchsurfing host in Peru.

“My mother yes, but no one else. I won’t tell my grandfather, because I respect him too much and wouldn’t want him to be ashamed of me.”

“Why would he be ashamed of you?” I asked.

“You don’t understand…” Juan replied uncomfortably. “People in Peru, they are not so open to these ideas. If everyone found out my grandfather had a gay grandson, they would talk. He would lose a lot of respect. I’d be a source of shame for him.”

I countered that I couldn’t respect anyone who didn’t respect me based on my basic biology.

“You have to make people accept you; either that, or they run the risk of losing you,” I continued. “I’d rather have nothing to do with my grandfather if that’s how he felt. Better than lying about who you are.”

“You don’t understand…” he continued.

Maybe I was missing an essential, culturally specific nugget of information in that exchange, but I think I understood pretty well.

Juan was basically telling me that he didn’t want to be out to his family because he was afraid of being rejected because of his sexuality. He sees staying closeted as a sign of respect for his family.

I see him being a victim of bigotry, pure and simple.

Sam and Zab in Bolivia
Sam and Zab in Bolivia

It is no more acceptable to discriminate against someone for their sexual orientation than their race. The worst part is that, for the LGBT community, the people closest to us are the ones getting away with bigotry if they don’t respect us.

Unfortunately, this was the case time and time again with most of the gay people we met in South America: they felt trapped in the closet by their culture and allowed this bigotry to continue around them by staying inside rather than coming out and demanding acceptance.

Maybe my ‘luck’ was having been born into a time and a place where thousands before me had already rallied and fought against discrimination and in favor of equality.

I never had to fight for that where I am from, and this made me want to do something here, where I could actually make a difference.

But short of lecturing people on why they should be out, what could I do here? As a traveler, I just pass through places – how would I have time to join local activism groups or take part in political demonstrations. As a foreigner, an outsider, would I even be taken seriously?

And never mind the logistical nightmares of trying to join a new group in every town I spent time in!

In the end, I decided the best course of action was simply to be myself, and that my sphere of influence would probably have to be limited to just the people I met directly, for now.

Sam and ZabBeing an unapologetically out gay man and open about my loving relationship with Zab, I could serve as an example both to gay men that yes, it is possible to be out, happy and in love, as well as to the wider public to show that this is what an out couple looks like – and we’re not much different to you!

There is no way to quantify how much this helped some of the gay friends we made in South America, to show them what is possible for them and their country’s near future. In Peru, things are certainly changing and attitudes are becoming more accepting. In 2010, 21% of Peruvians polled approved of same-sex marriage [source]; in three years, it’s jumped to 64% [source]. Whereas a decade ago, our being ‘out’ may not have had much of an effect, perhaps today, in a more open environment, our example was able to make more of a mark in the minds of the relative few people we met.

At the very least, the ten months in South America made me realize that it should not feel like a privilege to be accepted or not to be discriminated against. That in turn has strengthened my resolve to always be out – nothing can erase someone’s homophobia (whether that be external, like Juan’s grandfather or internally, like with Juan himself) more quickly or easily than by discovering that someone they know, love or respect is gay and unashamed of that fact.

I hope that this form of action – pride – helps to make a difference.

Sam and Zab at Lake Titicaca
Sam and Zab at Lake Titicaca

Bio: Sam is a sometimes-EFL teacher, wannabe-minimalist, language geek who is trying to make it as a digital nomad with his partner, Zab. They’ve been together for over eight years now, and travelling indefinitely for one. You can follow them on their blog Indefinite Adventure where they chronicle their journey, write about the places they visit, the food they eat (preferably vegetarian, organic and locally produced) and the people they meet. They are also on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.

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More than Friends: How the Fall of DOMA Upgraded Our Relationship | Guest Post

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I have always felt like a refugee or political exile forced to live abroad away from a country that does not accept me one hundred per cent and treats me like a second class citizen. DOMA and its discriminatory, homophobic effects were something Dani and I have chosen to block out because we have traditionally been based in Europe, where we are free to live the way we choose. It’s hard to verbalize the sting of these feelings, especially when we know so many heterosexual bi-national couples who are able to settle in the U.S. almost effortlessly. Luckily, Ligeia and her Canadian partner Mindy of BoundingOverOurSteps.com offered to write a guest post about how the fall of DOMA has affected their relationship and their future – and we ‘bounded’ at the chance to have them tell their story! 

The fabric of the United States of America is stitched together with the notions of freedom for all and that all citizens have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Except for same-sex couples. Looking back over my life this past decade, I can personally testify that the federal government took away my freedom to pursue a life of happiness at home.

On September 16, 2006, I married Mindy, my soul mate. For the wedding we chose Niagara Falls, a natural wonder of the world as bi-national as we are. Mindy’s country, Canada, had already been issuing same-sex marriages for a few years, and I was ashamed and angry that my own country was so far behind the times.

Wedding-HoldThe U.S. government wasn’t simply lacking legislative progress in terms of marriage equality, it was actively and unconstitutionally discriminating against lesbian and gay couples. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996, blanketed the entire country with a strict definition of marriage being between one man and one woman. In doing so, the United States downgraded my relationship with Mindy to “just friends”.

This meant I couldn’t sponsor her as my spouse for immigration. It meant being told blatantly to my face by a U.S. Border and Customs Agent in Miami that the federal government doesn’t recognize my marriage, in America Mindy and I are not family. Mindy would have to fill out her own customs form – as a tourist – despite the fact that Canada and the U.S. have a long-standing agreement to immediately recognize marriages performed across the border.

The rule applied only to heterosexual couples in the U.S. even though just steps across the border, we were recognized in Canada.

TwoOfUs-2Each time we filled out those separate customs forms (which as avid travelers we did a lot!), anger, frustration and sadness started to seep in and I found myself, at times, losing the battle against the manifestation of bitterness.

Although we investigated immigration options for Mindy, she wasn’t able to live permanently in the United States. The ironically named Defense of Marriage Act forced me to choose between living without my wife in my home country, or taking my marriage and living in exile outside of it. Obviously, I chose Mindy and we made a home in Canada.

We lived in Toronto for five years. Even though I loved living in a city with a thriving lesbian community and in a country where I felt supported by the government, I often felt the sting of anti-Americanism. The generalized insults towards Americans constantly told me I was fatter, dumber and more obnoxious and arrogant than the average Canadian. It got to the point where I was hesitant to even leave the apartment, making it clear that Canada could not be our home.

With each day that passed, that anger, frustration and sadness within me grew stronger, as DOMA continued to prevent me from moving back home. I wish I could have simply moved to Massachusetts or one of the other of states that were then performing same-sex marriages. But, immigration is a federal right and the Defense of Marriage Act superseded individual state law, even if same-sex couples, both American, could get married there.

TwoOfUsThe fight for marriage equality for same-sex couples is often equated to the fight interracial couples had to fight half a century ago, so let’s put our struggle into context. Interracial couples who were both American had the right to marry in certain states (until 1967 when Mississippi became the last and final state to allow interracial marriage), but would a white American man who married a black Canadian woman be unable to bring his new bride to the United States to live? Immigration was not the hot-button issue it is today, but this exact issue is what thousands of bi-national same-sex couples, like us and Dani and Jess, too – have experienced – until the U.S. Supreme Court rules that DOMA was unconstitutional this past month and repealed it.

Today, with tears in my eyes, I can finally say that my country recognizes my marriage. Over a thousand federal rights and responsibilities are now available to me, including sponsoring Mindy for immigration, filing joint income tax returns with her and making her my beneficiary for Social Security benefits, to name a few.

So, the question we’re asking ourselves now is “Where do we go from here?” Of course, as soon as we heard the news of the Supreme Court decision, we questioned whether to start Mindy’s green card application. Do we uproot our entire lives, ones that we were forced to create, just because DOMA has been repealed?

Just over a year ago, we moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand and made it home for the foreseeable (short-term) future. I love my job teaching English to university students, and Mindy is certainly making a difference working to improve the lives of Asian elephants.

Thailand-JobsWe also absolutely love to travel, and having a base in Thailand is allowing us to visit amazing countries in the region. Our goal is to visit every country in the world, immersing ourselves in the different languages and cultures, and investigating the tasty, vegan options each cuisine offers.

I don’t know where we’ll live next. But with the repeal of DOMA, it’s a wondrous comfort to know that when we’re ready to settle down and move permanently to the United States to open up a Bed and Breakfast in Vermont, no law or policy will tell us we can’t.

Thankfully, the bitterness eating away at me for almost 8 years has started to dissipate. The sting of discrimination is happily becoming a memory. I no longer feel forced to live in exile.

Ligeia, a US-American, and Mindy, a Canadian are a traveling duo currently calling Chiang Mai, Thailand home. Both vegan, Ligeia is an ESL language instructor and Mindy works in freelance web design, both professions allowing for a nomadic life. Follow their journey at BoundingOverOurSteps.com, or on Facebook and Twitter.

Are you a bi-national same-sex couple? How do issues like marriage equality and immigration policy affect your lives together?

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Whether we like it or not, LGBT travelers are ambassadors around the world

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MariaWelcome to our latest guest post from the LGBT travel community. Maria Stevens is a story-teller, volunteer laborer, and an experience junkie. In her moreconventional life, she is a movement and flexibility specialist, personal trainer, and blogger on nutrition and fitness. She was raised in Seattle and received a B.A. in Philosophy from Yale University in 2006. Most of her post-collegiate life has been spent independently wandering on a shoestring budget, observing the impact of the 2008 economic crisis, and envisioning a future in which access is preferred to ownership, and community and cooperation are prioritized. Check out her travel blog for more of her adventures.

Travel is the greatest of all teachers, but this is often far beyond the lessons you knowingly spread when you return home and speak exuberantly about all you have learned. The lessons you have taught others while abroad are often overlooked in favor of those you share with your own people about the world at large. While all travelers are ambassadors for their country and culture, as an LGBT traveler, you are a representative of an oft-hidden group of people who rely on exposure to their community in order to gain worldwide acceptance.

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On the Camino de Santiago – no sharing a bed for love or budget 

Let’s say you and your girlfriend, the lovely Katie, travel on $10 a day, ($3,650 per year) is an exercise in frugality. It teaches you to seek value—quality, not quantity. It teaches you to be creative, to adapt, and to always think about how to make something possible.

Don’t misunderstand. No one would ever describe you as “fringe” or “hippie” or “bohemian.” You’re a pair of very organized, dedicated, and goal-oriented twenty-somethings who decided to invest a couple years of post-collegiate youth into an activity that reached far beyond traditional curriculum.

The budget, being what it is, seldom permits you to check into a hotel room, which makes the LGBT-awkward one bed or two dilema completely irrelevant. Your hosts — be they from work exchanges, couchsurfing, or hitchhiking—never have two beds to offer. Two traveling girls share a sleeping surface all the time. This innocuous little habit among girls has probably been every lesbian couple’s get-out-of-jail-free card at one time or another — for double beds, at least.

Your travel method includes a broad mixture of couchsurfing, work exchanges, stealth camping, and talking yourselves into people’s homes; your transportation is predominantly hitchhiking, with a smattering of planes, trains, and paid-for automobiles, when the budget permits. Sometimes you move frequently, every day or so. Other times, you stay put for a couple weeks and tile a floor, weed a garden, or organize a workshop in exchange for a bed and food — if only to catch your breath from being on the move all the time.

So what about it when you decided to walk Camino de Santiago, a 780-km traditionally Catholic pilgrimage, in which you found yourselves checking into cheap €5 refuges nearly every night?

“Is it possible to share a bed?” you asked, budget it mind. It had nothing to do with being a lesbian. It had everything to do with being cheap. The Spanish hosts had all looked at you, bewildered. How on earth could you even suggest such a thing? A twin bunk bed is impossibly small.

“Don’t worry about that! These two girls can share a park bench!” your friend chimed in on your behalf.

No dice. Every night, you bought two beds; and every night, you crammed into one, if only to keep warm in those old monasteries. People stared at you. The Catholic Spaniards, especially, with wide, snoopy, unblinking eyes.

IMG_9028You ignored them all, feeling safe in the numbers of your little walking group. As a couple, your public displays of affection were limited to sleeping bag “caterpillar cuddling,” zealous hugging in front of the camera, and occasional hand holding while walking; and when properly insulated by your friendly walking group, you and Katie were as affectionate as any couple.

“Do you ever feel weird doing such a religious walk as two lesbians? Did you ever talk about how to be with each other?” one of your French-Canadian walking buddies asked. “Like, do you ever wonder what other people might think?”

How ‘Out’ should you be?  

Katie was quick to respond. “Knowing how Christians think and behave—you know, because I used to be really involved in the church—if I were walking this walk for religious reasons, and I encountered two lesbians, I would think it was some kind of sign or challenge that I was meant to deal with on the trip. Not a lot of devout Christians knowingly encounter gay people in their daily lives.”

Your buddy made a few disclaimers about not wanting to be offensive — after all, he is religious himself. “I have to admit, I don’t really know any homosexual couples. And I’m just struck by how normal you girls are. I mean, you act and behave just like any normal couple. You hold hands, you kiss each other, you’re playful the way that I’m playful with my own girlfriend. And you do it so naturally. It’s not like you’re thinking about it. I just think it’s really cool. You show others how natural it really is. I think it’s a good thing, that you are walking The Camino in this way.”

This made you think.  Generally speaking, you’re an out-and-proud, flag-waving lesbian, resilient enough to absorb a few prejudicial darts thrown your way now and again from folks who haven’t stepped onto the curve of gay acceptance.  You’d never really considered the darts you might have tossed at others with your gayness; this was a religious pilgrimage in Spain, after all, and you were no longer on your own turf.

Your friend made you realize that you and Katie were like ambassadors, representing not just Americans, but lesbians, and that your out-ness was a positive acceleration of a movement slower to gain ground in more conservative environments. This realization flooded you with warm-and-fuzzies, as well as with an urgent desire to publicly hold Katie’s hand as often as possible.

Exposure: sexuality is only a ‘private matter’ if you’re gay

As a result, many people on The Camino were exposed to their first lesbian couple, and (you hope) experienced you as nothing other than sweet, polite, considerate women, albeit odd for squishing into a twin bed together.

In order to perpetuate the LGBT equality cause, it is not enough to explain that queers exist, for this does not lead others past the point of awareness. The newly aware person will politely say, “I don’t care what people do in their bedrooms. His sexual preferences are a private matter.”

Here’s your correction: sexual orientation is only a private matter if you’re gay. To everyone else, it’s public.  The proof?  Nobody says to a newly engaged young woman: “Whoa, whoa, now. Wait just a second. I don’t really want to hear about how you plan to spend the rest of your life with some young man. That’s nobody’s business but yours!” That kind of thing just doesn’t happen in straight discourse.

When they say it is a “private matter” person actually said was, “I don’t want exposure to gay culture.”

Through exposure, you can help nudge people from awareness to acceptance. It’s far more difficult to be written off by others when they know you—when they’ve just walked several hundred kilometers with you, or hosted you, or helped you in some way already. Covering is cautious, and every queer person has done it; but it is important to take controlled social risks at home and especially abroad.  In other words, it’s important to first make some friends and then to out yourself.

DSC_0099Think of it this way: how many people have formed an entirely new opinion about a certain race, culture, or minority group once they finally got exposure to it? Isn’t that the point of exposure: to open your mind, to open to experience, to learn, and to see what is and what isn’t for yourself?  The world needs to learn just as much as the traveler does, and fortunately, the LGBT traveler is in a unique position to teach the rest of the world how to move from tolerance to acceptance.

What to do when your sexuality is a crime?

Take a country like Morocco, for example, where being gay is still illegal. Moroccan culture leaves absolutely no space and has not an ounce of forgiveness for homosexuality. Certainly, it sounds foolhardy to go there and start outing yourself in the name of Pride. But if you don’t do your part to nudge things along, who will?

Admittedly, you and Katie were biting your nails about Morocco as you tried to understand the social pressures faced not only by queer individuals, but also by women. But you went there, to a place that scared you. The point was to see the culture, learn about it, and to understand the religion.

On the streets of Tangier, you were cat-called, sucked at, kissed at, hissed at, winked at, and intimidated to no end. The culture is sexually segregated, traditional, and largely conservative. In traditional Morocco, a woman’s domain is in the home, and her role is wife to a man, and mother to children. Outside, she is considered very vulnerable, and should usually be accompanied by a male family member—especially when she is traveling.

It was a very tall cultural order for you and Katie, being that you were independent women, unmarried, childless, traveling, and lesbians. Nothing about that paradigm applied. You and Katie answered questions with selective honesty like a contortionist slipping from his bounds. “Are you married? Do you have boyfriends? Why don’t you want children?” Each question, each cat-call, each greedy-looking stare had you backing towards the closet door. You were learning lessons from your travels faster than you could count them.

At times, you were worn thin by the gender inequality. You wanted to scream in their faces, shove them, hit them, insult them. You wanted to drill a lesson home with force. But you didn’t. What would it accomplish? All it would do is paint a bad portrait of Americans.

“Which one of you is the man?” is a first step, at least

You are an ambassador. The question remained: how could you teach?

It started with honesty; you had to out yourselves to your hosts. Some found out from Facebook or Couchsurfing after-the-fact; others found out in person. “So you’re a couple?” Pause. “Which one of you is the man?”

IMG_9046It’s a common enough question, even back at home. People try to superimpose models. What you found delightful, though, was the opportunity to teach your hosts things beyond gay or straight—things like gender dynamics, gender expression, sexual independence, and how your own partnership works.

One of your hosts, a younger, more liberal guy with a taste for Western culture said to you, “I really don’t have a problem with the idea of two women together. But two men together… I don’t like that. It feels wrong.” You spent ample time helping him unwrap his statement from layers of cultural prejudice and hetero-normative assumptions that men cannot be on the “receiving end” of things. You suppose that in a country absent sex shops, such a discussion might have required considerable mental acrobatics.

At the end of the day, your host learned a few new things about how some men relate to men, and some women (like yourselves) relate to women, and what it all meant within the context of his own society. In return, you learned a great many things, such as what you used to take for granted as a lesbian in America—your freedom to transcend most traditional boundaries of expression for women. The value of travel doesn’t flow merely in one direction.

It teaches everyone involved. You know this, and you embrace the opportunity to participate with great honesty and diplomacy as an LGBT traveler whenever possible.

Are you an LGBT traveler on the road? Do you have a story to share? We welcome guest posts highlighting what life on the road is like for gay and lesbian travelers. We would love to feature your story here on GlobetrotterGirls.com!

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The changing face of gay travel

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As two women, we have no idea how similar or different it is for gay male couples who share our travel style. Thankfully, John and Craig of Flashpackatforty.com have shared their experiences – not only as a gay couple today, but also looking at the stark, yet positive, differences between LGBT travel 20 years ago vs the LGBT travel experience today. They share their story with us here.

I met John over twenty years ago while I was in my final year of study at the London School of Economics. When traveling together in the early years of our relationship, we sought out ‘gay friendly’ destinations, heavily researching each country’s attitudes and laws toward same-sex relationships.

Gay travel way back when: creating the cover story

While the Internet was available in its rudimentary 1.0 stage, there was little information for the gay community. It seems so old-fashioned now, but we relied on the Spartacus printed gay travel guide,the only resource that listed gay and lesbian friendly accommodation, bars, cafes and clubs around the world. While the guide ran to hundreds of pages; for most destinations there were only a thimbleful of establishments deemed friendly.Pagudpud PhilippinesFor the most part, however, John and I jumped right back into the closet while we traveled. This included booking single beds (pushing them together each night) and creating an elaborate cover story about being ‘best friends’. We were overtly careful not to show any of the tenderness or emotion that was natural to us behind closed doors. On the beach we would go to great lengths to smear our own sun cream on our backs to avoid any suspicion, make sure the sun-beds were an ‘appropriate’ distance from each other and our conversation was censored to exclude any references to our true relationship.

Even when we did head somewhere from Spartacus, it was often inconspicuously tucked down a back street – no rainbow freedom flags flying outside to help you in those days. These were the only places we could share a kiss or talk freely without having to censor our words.

Whether or not it was necessary to go to such great lengths, we’ll never know. But this mix of personal choice and blunt reality was simply the sensible, safe course of action for us to be able to do what we loved, travel, without any hassle.

When we weren’t traveling, we dedicated a large part of the early days of our relationship working for changes in attitudes towards homosexuality and LGBT laws in the UK. I became Chair of London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard (LLGS) and was appearing with regularity in the UK national print media and on TV and radio speaking on the subject of equality.

One of the highlights of the work we were doing was when the organization received a Stonewall Equality Award in 1994. I was chosen to give a speech at the Royal Albert Hall and the award was presented to me on the organisation’s behalf by Sir Ian McKellen. It was nervewracking but ultimately extremely rewarding, even though the laws for LGBT citizens did not become truly equal until many years later. In 2010 we finally had a small civil partnership ceremony and by 2011 we had quit our jobs and left for Australia to start our ‘flashpacking’ trip around the world.

Gay travel today: Out, proud and respectful

Looking back at those early holidays, we never thought 21 years later we would be spending the first New Year’s Eve of our round the world trip in Sydney, kissing and hugging each other as fireworks exploded in the distance. Now ‘out’ full time, we were sipping champagne in a wonderful party atmosphere, happy just to be ourselves.craig and john enjoy sake in japanese onsenNowadays we don’t choose a travel destination based on its laws. If we did, we would have skipped some great trips to places like Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Burma, Egypt and Morocco. We do not invoke our ‘in the closet’ alter egos, but we don’t don rainbow flag pride shirts, pink hot pants and go skipping up the high street in Dubai arm in arm, either.

We remain respectful to local customs and laws, and obviously encourage anyone else reading this to do the same. However, we now travel with a new confidence that the world is changing around us both culturally and legislatively. With increasing anti-discrimination and equality laws in our own country, we have the confidence that if something were to happen to us as a result of our relationship, we would at least have the support of the government back home and likely a local LGBT group – they exist in even the most restrictive countries.

Choosing to boycott countries that don’t legally or culturally support our lifestyle would be a major mistake, and an experience we had in Malaysia taught us this important lesson first hand. Malaysia has an interesting culture of tolerance, with high proportions of Chinese, Indian and other Asian backgrounds all living together in one country.

Meeting gay people around the world

In general, our experience here, with the exception of a few strict Islamic areas, was extremely positive and welcoming; we shared double beds in accommodation without too many questions or ‘queer’ looks.

While on a small Malaysian island, John got talking to a waiter in the bar one day while I went out diving. The conversation started with the standard questions about where we were from, how we knew each other, but soon got a little more personal and inquisitive until he asked if John and I were together. John decided to give him the honest answer. If someone is perceptive enough to even think to ask if we are together, they must be open to hearing the truth.

The waiter then told John that he was gay, too, and over the next few days, during long conversations, we learned of his personal struggles with his family’s attitudes, his difficulty with his friends and work colleagues when trying to be himself, but having to live behind a veneer of heterosexuality for fear of rejection. He said that the regular influx of open minded tourists and the occasional gay traveller allows him to be free and chat with like-minded souls.

It reminded me of myself some twenty-five years ago. I knew I was gay, but had no one to talk to about it. I, too, felt lonely and isolated. At the age of nineteen I wandered to a little used phone box near my home and dialed the number of London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard. For the first time in my life I told someone else who I really was and spoke to someone else who had the same feelings as me, thought like me and most importantly then, did not feel ashamed about it. The difference that moment made in my life was what led me later to join the organization to help others. Today locals who still feel this way have technology and social media to become a part of a community, albeit online. Being open and out while we travel means we become that comfortable sense of in-real-life identity that so many gays and lesbians are looking for.H'mong sapa vietnam

Staying out even during the awkward hotel check-in

Traveling openly as two gay men can be awkward at times, of course, especially at the hotel check-in, but we’ve never been refused a double bed together. In some cases the over ‘helpful’ receptionist does question our choice of sleeping arrangements.

Us: “Hi, we have a booking in the name of Hickson.”

Receptionist: Consults computer screen and a quizzical look appears on his/her face, local language skills not necessary to interpret the frown or awkward look as they prepare their response.

“Oh yes, you have booked a double bed, we have a twin room available”?

Us: “No a double is what we booked,” we say through a smile in our best non-confrontational way.

Receptionist: Face looks really confused and suddenly finds lots of interesting keys on his/ her keyboard to press. Eventually finds a key and hands it over without making eye contact.

To be clear, we have met the most wonderful and accepting people and haven’t encountered any open hostility or homophobia towards us so far on our trip. This has felt like a verification just how much things have changed from when we first started vacationing together over two decades ago.

However, there are some people who are not sure how to understand our relationship. When we get questions like where are your wives, how many girlfriends do you have, are you brothers/cousins, we are in agreement with our fellow GlobetrotterGirls guest poster Aaron who advocated in his story on gay travel in Egypt ever so slightly stepping back into the closet just a bit, albeit with the door slightly ajar.

If someone is not comfortable with asking if we are gay, or the possibility does not even register, then we do not feel there is any real value in discussing our relationship with a stranger when we are very much outside of our comfort zone. Although it stuns us that people can’t see that we interact with the same love and attention that a husband and wife would, from experience it is still just quicker and can be less confrontational in certain societies to not broach the subject at all.

In the case of the gay Malaysian bartender and others we have met like him, however, we have found that living our lives out in the open on the road has the potential to help others, and has certainly taught us how to flashpack authentically as we travel the world.

Ubud Flashpacking hotel

Flashpackat40.com Bio:

John and Craig have been writing their Flashpacking Travel Blog since starting their round the world trip in 2011. The blog shares their travel experiences and provides information and tips about the destinations they visit. You can also follow their journey on Facebook or Twitter.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences, too, so let’s keep the conversation going here in the comments as well!

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At least coffee is still legal in Utah | A GLBT travel perspective

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A while back while traveling Central America, we wrote this piece about how it feels as a lesbian couple to jump back into the closet while traveling and this one on how we live a bit of a half-in, half-out lifestyle. In this guest post by Lane of Southwest Compass, she tells how an exhausted momentary lapse of a travel habit resulted in that gut-wrenchingly awkward check-in situation gay and lesbian couples often face while traveling. Read on for one glimpse of what travel can be like for GLBT travelers, even in their own relative backyard.

After five years of traveling together, we finally encountered our first truly awkward GLBT situation. You’re probably thinking that this incident occurred in a third world country or some unknown backwater, that is what we would have expected, too. No, we successfully have traveled to places as far as China, as contentious as parts of Eastern Europe and as small as tiny island nations without anyone raising an eyebrow. What made this so painful for us is that it happened in the United States, in our own region of the country – the Southwest.

The Sinners – SouthWest Compass

Now, we knew the history of Mormons and the GLBT community – simply Google ‘Mormon funding for California’s Prop 8’ and you’ll see what I am referring to. That the Mormon community in Utah is conservative, that we knew as well, though we did still raise an eyebrow at the billboard we read crossing the border into the state that warned: ‘last 6% beer available here.’

After dinner at a steakhouse, I can confirm that it’s true. Utah-brewed beer has about as much kick as Kool-Aid. If you want to take some of the hard stuff home, you will need to stop at a state-licensed liquor store. Being easy on the alcohol is one thing, but I need my cup of Joe! Every morning I wandered around in search of a strong coffee in Moab, but all I found was essentially burnt water. Then, a little coffeehouse slogan caught my attention, ‘Coffee: Still Legal in Utah.’

Coffee, the first sin

Coffee, tobacco and alcohol are all shunned by Mormons, but we hadn’t realized how much the Mormon aspect of Utah would affect us on our five-day trip, innocently intended for scenic drives and great photo opportunities. After those beautiful yet exhausting five days, we hit the road at 4am and drove most of the day to our next destination. Being so drained, all we wanted was to crawl into bed, pull the sheets over our heads, and sleep like the dead. This sleep deprivation caused us to detour from our normal check-in routine. Juliet, the organized one, handles the checking-in process while I park the car and check the engine fluids.

This process doesn’t only play to our strengths. It has been a way to prevent that dreaded question of “One bed or two?” It sounds innocent enough, but given that we tend to book hotel rooms, complete with ONE king bed far in advance, we find that showing up together as two women results in being given twin beds or just gives us the feeling of having our personal lives pried into. The question is really code for: gay or straight?

It is like at Starbucks when they ask your name and scrawl it across the cup. Imagine if, instead of your name, you had to declare hetero or homo. You have no relationship with your barista, or that hotel clerk, and it’s nobody’s business either way. I’ll stop dreaming of good coffee and get back to Utah.

So, out of our routine, we run into the owner, who was just pulling out of the driveway. Spotting us, she stared,mouth hanging open (literally) at two women checking in together. Shock crossed her face as though she had seen a bear, or an alien, and that familiar dread settled in the pit of my stomach. If I have to announce straight or gay, then those in the hospitality field should be required to declare ‘bigoted’ or ‘live and let live.’ It seemed pretty clear in which category the cabin owner belonged.

The Cabin of Sin

I considered our various options, such as pretending we were ‘sisters,’ not saying anything or storming off. You could see the options running through her head at the same time. Refuse to rent to us, but what if she was wrong about her assumption? After beginning several sentences and failing to finish them, she offered to get us extra sheets for the roll out couch. Did we accept them or say that we didn’t need them? And, how far away was the next hotel that allowed dogs? We didn’t know.

I’m not afraid to stand up for my rights. I marched in the Pride parades back in Ohio in the early 1990s – when they still threw glass bottles and bits of brick at us. I had written to many governors, mayors and politicians over the years suggesting that they were morons. And, we had marched in protest over Prop 8 while we still lived in Los Angeles. I had waved my rainbow flag until my arms ached but, today, I was just exhausted. Not just exhausted from the drive, but also from the attitudes of ‘family values’ groups, which have bled over into our society and government. I’m exhausted from fighting for the right to live my life without being hassled about who is sleeping in my bed. The fact that this is happening in my own country is perhaps the most frustrating of all. But I don’t want to deal with trying to change someone’s mind. I’m exhausted, and I just want to go to bed, listening to Juliet mumble in her sleep next to me.

We politely took the extra sheets, thanked her and started unloading the car. Later, as we finally crawled into bed, we had the television on. The broadcaster announced that Washington, Maine and Maryland had voted to legalize gay marriage in their states.

“When do you think Utah will catch up with the rest of the country?” Juliet asked.

Sleepily, I replied, “when the Mormons start drinking coffee.”

Guest writer bio: Lane is one-half of the duo, Southwest Compass, and is a recovering screenwriter and travel blogger. Find Southwest Compass on Facebook  and on Twitter  @sw_compass

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