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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

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

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One Bed or Two

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Traveling as a lesbian couple through Latin America

There is one major difference between straight and gay long-term traveling couples, and it all comes down to the bed situation. Sure, I know what you’re thinking (dirty minds!) but it is a difference that begins even before we even check-in. I would imagine that for straight couples the scenario is as follows: You arrive at hotel/hostel and the owner or receptionist shows you first to a room with a double bed if they have one, or apologizes that there are only rooms with two single beds. End of scenario. For LGBT couples traveling on a budget, the arrival at the hotel is a bit more awkward.

Let’s break down a few scenarios of what happens when we arrive at a hostel, assuming we like it enough to stay there. Scenario 1: We arrive, and immediately shown a twin room. We share a silent glance and weigh various factors (how long have we been walking with our packs, is the hostel really nice, is it cheap, maybe just for tonight?). Then we decide whether or not we’ll be pushing the two beds together. Scenario number 2: Owner/receptionist apologizes for only having a double bed. We breathe a sigh of relief. Should owner offer to switch us to a room with twin beds the next day, we simply reply that the room is great and we are used to sharing beds. Scenario 3: Having already weighed up all factors, we arrive and inquire directly about a room with a double bed. Receive quizzical looks. Stew uncomfortably in awkward moment, but get the room.

Sometimes we wish that staff would ask, with casual discretion, as if offering some sugar – “and will that be one bed or two, ladies?”

For the most part, the average LGBT traveler is no different to our straight counterparts; we see the same sights, drink in the same bars and stay at the same hotels. In fact, traveling as a lesbian couple has not been a major issue for us at all, though this is most likely due to our toned down public displays of affection. Stolen kisses and knowing winks are easy enough to get used to, but when one of us gets hurt or upset, it is hard not to console each other like a couple.

Not that we are back in the proverbial closet. In Europe we are very open with our sexuality. In Central America, however, homosexuality has a diminished media presence, and, with very few exceptions, the closet is still seen as a perfectly valid place for the LGBT community.  This lack of awareness is slowly changing, of course, and in Mexico we were pleasantly surprised at the liberal social and political attitude to gays and lesbians. Aware of the strongly Catholic and socially conservative influence here, we actively choose not to provoke or test the boundaries, acting as friends mostly because it is easier. We have experienced a constant level of ignorance to the possibility that we might be a couple, despite several clues that might be obvious to people from the  U.S. or Europe (same shoes, similar dress, and the way we talk to each other that so obviously makes us more than friends).

Only one hotel (El Amanecer Sak’Cari in San Pedro, Guatemala) understood that we are a couple, unflinchingly apologizing to us for having only twin rooms and promising a double bed the next day, which they followed up on.

Our ‘bad’ experiences have been equally limited, with the only vocal opposition to us taking place on Caye Caulker in Belize. Dani and I had been having a dream of a time in Belize, and, feeling romantic, we walked home one night holding hands.  As we passed a group of rastas, one of them yelled out “why dose girls is holding hands, what’s wrong with dem?” A friend of his who we had hung out with explained – ‘dos two girls is husband and wife, dey don’t need no man’. Aw, that was sweet. At least he kind of gets it. We were about 100ft past them when the first guy yelled after us ‘God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”

In contrast to Belize, we expect Costa Rica to be the most gay friendly in Central America. Unlike Mexico, Costa Rica still does not condone same-sex marriage or civil unions, but political policy tends toward respect and tolerance. The travel industry has followed suit with LGBT marketing campaigns, though this might simply be due to a more highly developed tourism industry. It seems that a higher level of tolerance toward gay travelers correlates less to political or social policy and more to the number of stars on the outside of the hotel.

International hotel chains with a budget to undertake research understand the economic value of attracting LGBT travellers, or the so-called pink dollar, in particular, and staff is properly trained in customer service and discretion in general, for all visitors whether gay or straight. Down here in the bowels of budget travel, budget hotels and hostels far away from five-star chains show no awareness of the value of the pink dollar, just of the nice crisp green ones that keep the business afloat.

This has been our experience, thus far, and in no way can be considered an expert opinion. We also know that our experience as two women is most likely very different from gay male travelers. That is why we would like to open the discussion here rather than close it, and hear about your experiences and thoughts, whether gay or straight. Additionally, tips on LGBT-friendly budget hotels and hostels in Latin America or worldwide would be greatly appreciated both for us and our readers.

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