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At least coffee is still legal in Utah | An LGBT travel perspective

At least coffee is still legal in Utah | An LGBT travel perspective

Last Updated on May 13, 2021

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, 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 LGBT 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.

gay Utah

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.”

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!

Mindy and Ligeia

Tuesday 5th of February 2013

Thank you SO much for posting this article. My wife and I travel all around the world as an out lesbian couple (except for that one time in Abu Dhabi ;) and homophobia stings the most when it's in your own country. I am American and my wife is Canadian, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2005. I find myself so embarrassed when the States, a country which boasts freedom for all, is so behind our neighbors to the north. There is one place in the world where checking is as a lesbian couple is a delight. Any guesses where? ...Lesbos :)


Tuesday 5th of February 2013

Hey ladies, we know what you mean about homophobia in the US. It's strange to be in the the 'land of the free' and feel like we could still come under some serious harm in certain areas. Especially when I was able to get a visa to live and work in the UK because Dani was a resident there. She is from Germany but can reside anywhere in the EU and as her unmarried partner I have the right to reside there with her. It felt amazing to be respected in that way, especially since we have no idea when she could ever get the same type of visa to live in the US with me! Good thing we'll be nomads for awhile :)


Tuesday 27th of November 2012

Thanks for stopping by Lisa. We have hope that one day everywhere -- even small towns and rural communities -- will treat us as every couple should be treated. So much has changed since I first told my family back in 1992. Mind boggling really. Give it another decade and we'll probably be stunned. :o)


Wednesday 28th of November 2012

The next generation, kids born after 2010, probably won't even be able to fathom how the argument could have even been made that we shouldn't be able to get married. Well, fingers crossed anyway.


Monday 26th of November 2012

This is a great guest post! It's sad that this is still such a problem but I cannot say I am surprised. I'm sorry this is such a struggle for you guys all the time, but I am glad that, for the post part, it doesn't affect your travels together!


Wednesday 28th of November 2012

Just wanted to pipe in and say it isn't 'such a struggle' for us, it's just a sort of constant under current that occasionally surfaces. People always might react, and they might react really badly, but most of the time it isn't so different to straight couples traveling. But I do think that that constant underlying awareness of gauging people's reactions, etc, can be really stressful and take its toll over all. It is easy to see why some of the gay community sticks with gay-owned and gay-friendly accommodation, especially, because then that stress just entirely disappears.


Tuesday 27th of November 2012

Thanks for the comments Reas. You know, I'd rather struggle traveling with Juliet than traveling freely with anyone else. We usually just shake our heads and continue exploring a new area together. It's who you're with not where you're going. :o)


Saturday 24th of November 2012

Thanksfor sharing your story. Ithink that i's relly importantfor people to read stories like his for change to happen.

Even though a few commenters felt that this was unfair to Mormons or Utah, I think the larger take home is that traveling GLBT isn't like traveling as a heterosexual. People look at them as the "not normal" thing. I guess my take home point from this is that it is hard to frequently feel like the "other" in your own country.

Keep traveling and keep telling stories.


Wednesday 28th of November 2012

Hi Lisa, I just wanted to say that I do understand why some people may feel that this shines a negative light on Mormons, or Utah, etc. However, what you say is true - if these stories aren't told, nothing changes. If Lane and Juliet had been a straight couple, there would have been no story - except, maybe, about the coffee in Utah. Traveling as a gay couple does mean coming up against these situations that straight couples do not even think about. Thanks for your encouragement to keep telling these stories, I am sure that SouthWest Compass and also us GlobetrotterGirls will! ;)


Tuesday 20th of November 2012

It makes me angry that people can be so closed minded. It's their job to provide whatever accommodation you want, no questions asked.


Tuesday 27th of November 2012

Thanks for your comments Arianwen. We couldn't agree more.