Prior to becoming parents, Carmine and I took many vacation trips to destinations that are generally appealing to gay men and lesbians, including resort areas like Palm Springs, Key West and Ft. Lauderdale, and major urban areas like New York City and San Francisco. Outside the US, we spent time at Mexican beach resorts, toured London and Paris, and went down under to Australia and New Zealand.
Like most folks, we found that becoming parents made us think very differently about our vacations. Visiting our parents and participating in family get-togethers with our siblings took on increased importance and frequency, especially since we lived halfway across the country. Our remaining vacation trips now needed to focus on family-oriented destinations, preferably those appropriate for a gay family.
So what is different about a gay family-friendly vacation, versus a typical family-friendly one?
Gay Still Equals Different
Despite dramatic increases in the visibility and acceptance of gays and lesbians during our lifetimes, being gay still means being treated differently in a surprising number of situations and personal interactions.
As you’ve most likely experienced, the logistics of travel require a lot of interacting with people who are in positions of power or control, such as TSA and immigrations agents, car rental agents and hotel reception desk clerks, waiters/waitresses, tour guides, and the like.
Typically, these interactions involve some exchange of information about who is in our travelling party and how we’re related to each other. For example, just last week a server asked my partner, son (a Hispanic young man) and I if we wanted three separate checks, thinking maybe we were buddies. While we took no offense, it was a reminder that to the general population we don’t look like a family unit.
We’ve found many of these interactions to be businesslike: “OK, so you’re the dads, this is your son, got it.” Other conversations have been pleasant—affirming, even—such as when a U.S. customs agent informed us that we now only need to fill out one form for our household.
But sometimes exchanges are awkward, or worse: “So you’re travelling together, which one of you is his dad?”
And what’s more, it seems like fellow travellers (often on rental car shuttles, oddly) are determined to figure out our connection to each other. My partner, Carmine, and I often get the question: “Are you guys brothers?” And more than a few times our son, Balta, has been asked where his mom is. I like to think these questions come from people who just want to have a pleasant chat with fellow their travellers, but occasionally the questions and inquisitive looks feel downright invasive.
Different Now Impacts Our Kids
Carm and I have used everything from humor (“Yes, we’re brothers from different mothers”) to half-truths (“We’re friends”) or an indignant statement of fact (“We’re partners”) to describe our relationship with each other to deal with nosy folks, depending on our mood or the situation. But when our son is included in this line of inquiry, especially when he was younger, we feel a strong need to protect him from an awkward or even hurtful interaction.
Balta didn’t choose our family, we chose him. He does quite well dealing with his lot in life: being adopted, Hispanic with Caucasian parents, and the son of two gay men. But it’s not his job to explain that to strangers.
Consequently, we’ve discussed various ways he is welcome to respond, including “They’re my dads” or “It’s none of your business,” or simply by changing the topic.
Prioritizing “Family-Friendly” Over “Gay-Friendly”
Being a parent means finding places we all enjoy visiting, especially those that offer activities and attractions appropriate for kids of all ages. Consequently, the adult-oriented nightlife scenes of West Hollywood and Las Vegas don’t have the same appeal as they used to when we were “pre-family.” Sure we’ve dragged Balta to San Francisco with us, but, while we don’t shelter him, our itineraries have not included the Castro and look a lot like a straight family’s sightseeing punch-list: Alcatraz, cable cars, Golden Gate Park.
Similarly, we’re no longer comfortable—or in some cases, even allowed—at many gay-focused accommodations we’ve enjoyed in the past, as they focus on gay singles and couples and sometimes allow clothing-optional sunbathing and alcohol-fueled partying. The same applies to some gay-owned restaurants, as we once left a popular hamburger joint when the drag-queen brunch entertainer (we weren’t warned about that when we were seated) veered into explicit language and sexual innuendo that was completely inappropriate for our teenage son.
Family-Friendly Sometimes Isn’t Gay-Friendly
Just as “family values” is a phrase often used to argue against recognition of same-sex relationships and adoption by LGBT parents, “family-friendly” can also reach an extreme that feels uncomfortable or discriminatory to gay parents and their kids.
For similar reasons, we feel like we need to avoid or exclude vacation destinations with a strong reputation for being politically and religiously conservative.
We love taking family vacations to Colorado for example, enjoying outdoors activities in Denver, Breckenridge, and elsewhere in the Rocky Mountains. But due to loud voices of a few conservative religious organizations based in Colorado Springs (Focus on the Family, for example), we feel like the city has a big asterisk noting “gay families not welcome” on its welcome mat. It’s unfortunate as I’m sure there are lots of folks there who would welcome our business.
There Are Fewer Safe Places To Travel
As Americans, all of us take certain precautions to either avoid or be prepared for situations where we may be disliked due to our nationality. Women, in particular, need to ensure their safety when travelling, especially in places such as the Middle East.
Similarly, there are many countries that might be an acceptable destination for straight parents with kids, but not for LGBT parents and their kids due to cultural norms that consider us to be immoral.
Gay families have to be more careful and selective about the international destinations they visit, seeking guidance from others, such as travel agents, tourism websites, online forums, and the like. A gay family trip to certain countries could require sacrificing the flexibility of an independent travel itinerary for an experienced tour operators’ itinerary or group tour.
Gay families may also find themselves in uncomfortable situations if they travel very far off the well-worn paths of tourism in the U.S. While most major destinations, attractions and resorts in the US have likely seen a diverse set of customers in the past, gay families seem more likely to stick to familiar or recommended places than to explore where they may encounter unwelcoming hosts or fellow travellers.
All Families Welcome
We look forward to the day when LGBT parents travelling with kids will be considered commonplace among tourism-oriented businesses and our fellow travellers. Until then, we encourage gay families to do be thoughtful with their vacation planning decisions and be prepared to handle uncomfortable situations they might encounter. We also encourage more travel businesses to explicitly put out the welcome mat for gay families, making it clear that you embrace diversity and inclusion.
Steve is the founder of GayFamilyTrips.com and a featured writer for our Travel Advisor blog. He lives in Austin, Texas with his partner and son.
Has your family had a particularly great – or awful – travel experience? Share your story in the Comments area below!