Because of my position within the LGBT travel community, my friends have expressed passionate arguments for boycotting antigay destinations I’ve visited. For them, the decision to boycott is clear: they just won’t visit because they believe they shouldn’t give LGBT tourism dollars to known anti-gay destinations. For me it comes down to one question: by visiting, can I actually make a difference?
I have personally witnessed the transformative power of sharing my story in places that were less than gay friendly. I have also experienced the impact just one traveler can make, let alone hundreds or thousands. My experiences have shaped my perspective and they’re what compels me to share my gay story while traveling to antigay destinations.
In the '90s, there was a decision made by a certain island nation to refuse docking to a gay charter cruise. At the time, a PriceWaterhouse survey found cruise passengers spent an average of $124 each at every port of call. I knew from experience gay travelers spent even more. I recall being dumbfounded by the island’s seemingly shortsided decision. In a subsequent personal trip to that same island, my same-sex traveling companion and I made the commitment to display a simple act of defiance — holding hands as we walked through a busy shopping district. Although we received a few questionable side glances, the vast majority of people who engaged with us were positive. And one interaction changed my view on this topic forever.
A young man, around 18 or 19, seemed to be lingering nearby for an extended period of time, and at a pivotal moment, when he felt no one was watching, he looked up, caught my eye, and mouthed the words, “thank you.” Then he turned and quickly walked across the square. My heart broke for what I could only imagine his story might be. The possibility of him residing on a small island unaccepting of who he knew himself to be was all but crushing. The silver lining for us was that if our simple act of defiance gave him any respite or hope for the future in that brief encounter, then it was well worth traveling to this island.
Through my own travel experiences, I can also personally attest to the fact that the economic impact of the LGBT traveler changes opinions, too. I was in a shop in a less-than-gay-friendly destination making a purchase with my boyfriend at the time. As the shopkeeper rang us up, he said, “You guys really like to shop. I can’t wait to see the faces of my friends who didn’t want your group to come here when they see how much money I made today! Thank you for helping our struggling community.”
So, how do you envision our world in 50 years? All of us at VACAYA believe sharing our stories and giving back while traveling, whether to destinations which are antigay or uber-friendly, reflects our commitment to the idea we can all make a difference.
PATRICK GUNN is chief marketing officer for VACAYA, a new LGBT-focused travel company that partners with local organizations to offer guests an opportunity during their vacation to give back to the communities they visit – either with a bit of sweat equity or financially.