As more countries propose legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, destinations and travel companies are increasingly marketing themselves to gay travelers. But John Tanzella, president of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, warned that not all those who talk the talk necessarily walk the walk.
“Let’s say a hotel is doing an ad campaign, but they don’t have equal rights for their own employees,” Tanzella said. “You have to have your house in order before you start going after the market.”
Below are edited excerpts from a conversation with Tanzella on how lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual travelers can figure out what places and firms are truly gay friendly.
Q: Any resources that gay travelers can use to evaluate a company or destination?
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A: You can start by checking out our website, iglta.org, which lists everything from travel agencies and tour operators to hotels, airlines, cruise lines, car rentals and restaurants and bars. Businesses who pay to be on our website must follow our code of ethics, which basically says they welcome LGBT travelers and will treat them with respect like any other guest.
Q: Any companies that are doing a particularly good job?
A: Some of our standout members are Delta and American Airlines, which both have their own websites for LGBT travelers and support a lot of organizations and charities. For hotels, Hilton, Hyatt and Kimpton, a chic, boutique-y chain, are all very engaged with gay travelers and support LGBT charities. Kimpton does specials during Pride week in June for destinations that are popular among gay travelers, and it has its own LGBT newsletters.
Q: Any recommendations for gay travelers going abroad?
A: If you’re going somewhere outside of a very popular tourist destination, do research online to find out what areas are friendly, what are safe. The new State Department website for LGBT Americans traveling abroad is fantastic (http://1.usa.gov/VebFK1). It gives links to information on each country and other tips. It’s not a bad idea, for example, for parents to bring documents showing parentage or custody of their children when they go abroad.
We often refer travelers to the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), which is based in Brussels and has a lot of information on countries: which afford protection to those who are LGBT; which do not, and even criminalize same-sex relationships (ilga.org)
We tell all travelers, gay and straight, that you must observe the laws and customs of wherever you’re traveling. By disregarding them, that will be dangerous for you.
Now, if you’d like to do something about a law you feel is unfair, that’s when you contact ILGA, which promotes gay rights and equality around the world.
When France recently legalized marriage and adoption for same-sex couples, demonstrations opposing the law intensified. A Dutch-born man walking with his partner in Paris was beaten up. Should LGBT travelers worry?
A: No. Paris is a hugely popular destination for gay travelers and totally safe. Just stay away from marches where there have been incidents. Extremist groups take advantage of demonstrations to clash with police and lash out against the government.
Q: Have any places become more open to gay travelers?
A: In the last decade, a number of hot spots have emerged in South America like Peru, Mexico City, Brazil. It used to be only Rio and São Paulo in Brazil, but now Florianopolis has emerged as a gay destination.