Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Travel Industry Supports Gay Rights

The Advocate recently ranked U.S. companies according to gay issues, and you’d be surprised by how many of the 25 companies are in the travel industry.

From the list of the 25 companies in the U.S., we noticed that 10 of the 25 were either a hotel or airline. That’s 40% of the list of companies that happen to be in the travel industry. What does this mean? The travel industry supports gay rights.

Here’s the Advocate’s list:

22. U.S. Airways — In 2005, US Airways joined American and became the second airline to receive a 100% rating on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index. The company also boasts a diversity council that actively recruits LGBT employees.

21. Marriott — Bill Marriott is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but shortly after Prop. 8 was passed in California, he made clear in a blog post that neither he nor his company contributed to the campaign to ban marriage equality. Marriott was among the first companies in the hotel and tourism industry to offer domestic-partner benefits and has scored a 100% on the Corporate Equality Index since 2007.

20. JetBlue — JetBlue scored its first 100% rating on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index in 2010 on the strength of supporting some lesser-known gay charities, including Boston’s Gay Men's Domestic Violence Project and the Ali Forney Center for homeless LGBT youths in New York City. This year JetBlue also ran a special Pride flight from San Francisco to Long Beach, Calif.

19. Hyatt — A longtime leader in diversity training and LGBT outreach, Hyatt has hosted several events for the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Those who are boycotting Doug Manchester’s Hyatt in San Diego should note that the antigay Prop. 8 donors is a franchise owner and are currently negotiating to give up controlling interest in that hotel. Protesters at that location have noted Hyatt’s support of the gay community as a whole.

18. Continental — Scoring 100% on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index for the first time this year, Continental has made it a point to extend its diversity to training to suppliers and subcontractors the company works with.

17. Starwood Hotels & Resorts — Starwood owns and operates some of the most luxurious hotels in the world, and since 2002 it has been dedicated to reaching out to gay consumers through its Diversity Council. Numerous Starwood hotels partner with Pride events across the United States each year, offering discounted rates and sponsorship deals. Starwood first received a 100% rating on the Corporate Equality Index in 2007.

16. Delta — In addition to playing host to an LGBT specific travel site, Delta boasts GLEN (the Gay and Lesbian Employee Network), one of many affinity groups for employees from various backgrounds. The world’s largest airline, the company joined the Corporate Equality Index in 2009.

9. AAA — For five years in a row, AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah has been voted the Best Place to Work for LGBT employees by the Human Rights Campaign. AAA has also been given the Award of Excellence from the Points of Light Foundation, the most prestigious national award for volunteerism.

8. American Airlines — Not only does American Airlines market directly to gay travelers (who represent a $65 million industry segment), but the company flaunts its Rainbow Team, the first LGBT sales staff in the sky. American also sponsors flights to and from national gay events like Pride festivals and HRC galas. In 2002, American became the first airline to score 100% on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index.

2. Kimpton — In 2004, Kimpton was the first hotel company to score a 100% on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. In 2010, Kimpton was awarded the HRC’s Award for Workplace Equality Innovation, recognizing advanced and forward-thinking LGBT policies. For more information visit

When it comes to gay rights, we are proud to support these companies as they show a true concern for gay issues in the LGBT community.

For the complete list of the Advocate’s 25 of the best companies in the U.S. when it comes to gay issues. (Click here)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Gay Labor Day Weekend Parties!

Have plans for this Labor Day weekend? If not, why not party hard with one of these weekend parties in a city near you.

New Orleans: Southern Decadence (Sept. 1-6) — Southern Decadence is exactly as it sounds: extravaganza of partying in the South’s infamous New Orleans.

Austin: Splash Days (Sept. 4-5) — Bask (or melt) in the Texas heat and dance it out to circuit DJs like Roland Belmares at this two day bash. Then head to the lake party at Hippy Hollow to cool things down.

Las Vegas: White Party Weekend (Sept. 3-5) – Jeffrey Sanker brings the white party to Vegas for Labor Day. Most of the action is centered around Krave, with a pool party lined up on Sunday at Mandalay Bay.

Los Angeles: Scandal & The Freemasons (Sept. 4-5) — On Saturday the Hollywood Palladium gets scandalous, but you’ll want to save some mayhem for Sunday when The Freemasons and DJ Joe Gauthreaux tear up Arena.

San Francisco: Hard French (Sept. 4) – This daytime soul music party packs the crowd in, disproving the theory that you need a synth beat to get a gay crowd up and moving.

New York: Matinee (Sept. 5) — The Matinee group is known for their epic European parties, and this outdoor bash on Governor’s Island will be just as excessive.

Boston: Out Weekend (Sept. 1-5) — Chris Harris brings another Labor Day party-fest to Boston with a full five days of events.

Hope you have a fun filled Labor Day weekend!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

SAS and VisitSweden launch LGBT social media campaign

SAS Scandinavian Airlines is hoping to host the world‟s first same-sex wedding in the air onboard an Airbus A340 between Stockholm and New York on December 6 this year. To find the couples, the airline today launched its first major social media campaign, Love is in the air, which is aimed at the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) market.

For the US LGBT market, SAS has partnered up with VisitSweden and Stockholm Gay&Lesbian Network to offer one lucky couple the chance to win an unforgettable wedding and honeymoon package to Sweden, including Business class flights with SAS to Sweden, two nights‟ accommodation at the world-renowned ICEHOTEL, where the couple will get married, three nights‟ accommodation at Hotel Skeppsholmen in Stockholm and a VIP Stockholm package organized by the Stockholm Visitors Board. This competition is only open to US-based residents, whilst the European-based winners will win a trip to New York and Los Angeles, as well as be the first to marry in what we hope will be the first same-sex weddings onboard a commercial flight.

At couples can create a profile and upload either a video or photos along with a presentation, which others can then vote on. For the best chance to win, couples are recommended to share their profile with as many friends as possible via various social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, in order to increase the number of votes. The US couple with the most votes will win the fantastic wedding and honeymoon package to Sweden.

“Airlines, including SAS, have organized weddings onboard flights for decades, but we are proud to be the first in the world to organize same-sex weddings in the air. SAS is the national airline of three of the world‟s most liberal and progressive countries in the world, especially when it comes to LGBT rights, so we feel this is a natural celebration of love,” says Robin Kamark, Chief Commercial Officer, SAS.

For the world-unique flight on December 6, SAS will turn a part of its Stockholm lounge into a wedding lounge and one of the Business class cabins onboard SK903 on December 6 will be made into an exclusive wedding cabin.
To enter a profile or view other couples, please go to

For more information, please contact:
Anders Lindström, PR Director, Scandinavian Airlines
Tel: +46 797 3994;
Annika Benjes, Director Public Relations, VisitSweden Tel: 212 885 9762;
Magnus Lindbergh, LGBT Marketing, VisitSweden
Tel: 646 226 3588;

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Urban gay resort to open in NYC

By Celeste Lavin, 08.17.2010 11:00am EDT

New York’s first gay urban resort complex is scheduled to be open in Fall 2011. The Out NYC will include 90,000 square feet of hotel, restaurant, retail and nightclub space on W 42nd street.

“We are going to be a hetero-friendly urban resort, which means we are going to turn Ian Schrager’s concept upside down. His hotels 20 years ago were more 80 percent straight and 20 percent gay-friendly,” said Ian Reisner of Parkview Developers. “Here we hope to be more of a true hetero-friendly complex — a gay environment where straight friends and family are welcome to come and enjoy our fun too.”

Run by Axel Hotels, Out NYC is set to have 127 rooms, that will run for less than $300 a night including several “SLA, shared luxury accommodations” that will cost $99 for younger visitors.

The hotel will house a spa, pool club, and gym with membership open to the community and a 2,500 square foot catering facility. It will also include a 24-hour café and a restaurant.

“In this nightlife venue we are going to have a day bar that will stay open until late in the night. We’re also going to have a 5,000 square foot nightclub for enough room for 650 people to dance,” Reisner said.

The hotel will occupy the space that was once a homeless shelter, but has been abandoned for several years since.

While the hotel is not scheduled to open until 2011, the club will be ready sooner.

100,000 celebrate Montreal Pride

By Celeste Lavin, 08.16.2010 3:30pm EDT

Over 100,000 people celebrated in Montreal’s Gay Pride parade on Sunday.

The parade attracted people of all ages and orientations. The theme of the parade was “Our Superheroes”- Wonder Women drag outfits ensued.

Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay said he was proud to participate in the parade: “It’s important to show that Montreal can accept people that have differences.”

The Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil was just appointed last week. This was her first Pride as Immigration Minister. “It’s wonderful to be able to just reach out, shake hands and look into people’s eyes and see how happy they are to see you as a representative of the government,” said Weil. “To feel that they’ve got our support and that we’re there for them, it’s a very emotional contact and it’s wonderful.”

Canada is one of the world’s most progressive countries when it comes to gay rights. Marriage equality was fully realized in Canada in 2005, though most provinces had already legalized gay marriage by 2003.

The parade marshals were two human rights activists from Latvia, Kaspars Zalitis and Kristine Garina.

Garina said, “Yours is a privilege many nations do not have. Guard it carefully. It’s very hard to win and so easy to lose.”

Friday, August 13, 2010

My Recent Trip to New York

I just got back from a 4 day trip to New York City (NYC). I needed a break - a vacation. It’s been a really busy summer all around, with work and moving and all the fun Pride events I’ve attended. New York was the perfect getaway. Also, my friend Rachel, (Brooklyn), wanted me to visit her, plus I’ve never been to New York, so I thought, why not.

The experience was definitely surreal. The moment I got off my plane, I could feel the energy of the city (and the heat) - the rush was on, I only had four days to take it all in.

My flight got in late evening, so naturally, we started bar hoping. The first night we stayed in Brooklyn, Williamsburg to be exact. It was a very hipster-ish area with many bars to choose from. I started with a place called Public Assembly. You wouldn’t be able to find this place unless you’ve been there before as there was no signage anywhere.
The night ended at what became my favorite bar of the evening, The Luvin’ Cup Café (awesome mini sliders and a hidden dance floor in the back room).

Rachel was a great hostess and tour guide. Thanks to her, I was able to see most of NYC. We traveled to Mid-town, Chelsea, SoHo Park, Time Square, East Village, etc… We ate at places I wouldn’t be able to find here in LA. We had brunch the next day at a wonderful French café called Jacque. BEST BENEDICT IN TOWN!

Another one of my favorite eating places in New York was at Blue Ribbon Sushi. It was so good I can’t even put it into words, so here’s what Zagat had to say about this place,

“This ‘serene’ SoHo Park Slope Japanese twosome from the versatile Bromberg Siblings owes its stellar reputation to ‘exquisite’, ‘like-it-was-caught-that-morning’ fresh fish and appealingly ‘no-fuss’ service.”

Visiting New York would not have been complete without attending a Broadway show. I was fortunate enough to see Chicago at The Ambassador Theater – this was after my martini across the street at Charley O’s of course. Apparently, people don’t dress up for Theater anymore. I felt a bit over-dressed for this event… but it’s ok. The show was AMAZING!!! No wonder it won so many Tony Awards.

The last day of my stay there, we visited the Guggenheim Museum. Currently on view at the museum is a special exhibition, Haunted: Contemporary Photography/ Video/ Performance. The only comment I have for that is if you go see it, you don’t want to miss the “Nail Biter” video. I still have nightmares.

My last night in New York I spent it at a Martini Bar, Rue B – in the East Village. I wanted to make sure I mention this place because they have a huge selection of specialty Martini’s. My favorite is the Lychee Martini. I couldn’t get enough of it…

The people of New York were all so friendly, despite the rumors you hear about New Yorkers. I’m glad I chose New York for my getaway trip. There’s so much culture and history all around. Next time I go back, I will definitely plan to stay longer.

-Chris Ekanha

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Judge Lifts Calif. Marriage Decision Stay on Aug. 18

Today Judge Vaughn Walker announced he will lift the stay on his decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger on August 18, allowing California to once again issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples barring an appeal. With today’s decision, there remain many steps – and unanswered questions – in this case. Prop 8 supporters are likely to appeal the stay decision to the Ninth Circuit, which could issue its own stay and stop marriage licenses from being issued. Additionally, supporters of Prop 8 have already filed their appeal of the entire case with the Ninth Circuit.

Places for a Great Gay Wedding in California

Now that Prop 8 is overturned, its time to celebrate! And what better way to celebrate than with a gay wedding. If you or your partner are considering tying the knot, we've found a few places you might want to consider.

Riviera Resort & Spa, Palm Springs - The Palm Springs hotel's gardens and pool look striking against the desert backdrop.

West Street Beach, Laguna Beach - If you are gonna have a Cali wedding, you have to at least consider getting hitched on the beach. The Orange County coastal community's gorgeous waters will make for great wedding photos.

Buena Vista Park, San Francisco -
Say "I do" in the U.S.'s most gay-friendly city, San Francisco. While Buena Vista Park doesn't have Golden Gate Park's fame, the 36-acre oasis is in the Haight, where the fight for gay rights began. A wedding here would be a nice nod to the past while taking another step toward equality.

Viceroy, Palm Springs
- Luxuriously updated to reflect the Hollywood Regency style popular during the desert's original glamor era, Viceroy Palm Springs resort hotel and spa in Southern California features a full array of luxury accommodations, amenities, and services.

Chateau de Vie, Napa Valley (Calistoga) - Walk out onto the deck and take in the astounding view of of Mt. St. Helena and acres of Napa Valley's finest.

All of these locations are either gay owned & operated or are gay-friendly. There are a bunch of places in California that are open and accepting of gay marriage.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Top 5 up and coming gay destinations

In our quest to find the less commonly visited gay destinations, we found some interesting and unique destinations that seem to be lesser known in the LGBT community but are climbing as the queer word is spread. Here are the top 5 up and coming gay destinations!

1. South Devon, England - Key West in Torquay is the brand new "first and only gay resort in the U.K.".

2. Portland, Oregon
- Portland is the largest city in the U.S. to have an openly gay mayor.

3. Salt Spring Island, British Columbia
- In Salt Spring Island, there are many gay-owned/operated hotels you can choose from, including the recently renovated Salt Spring Inn.

4. Mallorca, Spain
- The 'first gay hotel on Mallorca' is Hotel Rosamar in El Torreno.

5. Brisbane, Australia -
For LGBT travelers who are looking for a calmer alternative to Sydney, Brisbane is the place to be. Brisbane has turned into a fantastically liberal and friendly destination for the LGBT community.

Fancy any of these gay destinations? Book now!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Judge strikes down Prop. 8, allows gay marriage in California

In a long-awaited ruling, Judge Vaughn Walker says the ban on same-sex marriage violates constitutional rights to equal protection and due process. The decision is expected to reach the Supreme Court.

By Maura Dolan and Carol Williams
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

Reporting from San Francisco and Los Angeles — The federal judge who overturned Proposition 8 Wednesday said the ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage was based on moral disapproval of gay marriage and ordered the state to stop enforcing the ban.

U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker, in a 136-page ruling, said California "has no interest in differentiating between same-sex and opposite-sex unions."

"The evidence shows conclusively that moral and religious views form the only basis for a belief that same-sex couples are different from opposite-sex couples," Walker wrote. The ruling struck down Proposition 8 as a violation of federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. Supporters of the marriage ban vowed an immediate appeal.

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Walker cited extensive trial evidence to support his finding that there was not even a rational basis for excluding gays and lesbians from marriage. Higher courts defer to trial judges on issues of fact, but still could determine that Walker was wrong on the law.

Austin R. Nimocks, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund who fought to uphold Proposition 8 in Walker's court, said they would appeal. "We're obviously disappointed that the judge did not uphold the will of over 7 million Californians who made a decision in a free and fair democratic process."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the ruling.

"For the hundreds of thousands of Californians in gay and lesbian households who are managing their day-to-day lives, this decision affirms the full legal protections and safeguards I believe everyone deserves," the governor said. "At the same time, it provides an opportunity for all Californians to consider our history of leading the way to the future, and our growing reputation of treating all people and their relationships with equal respect and dignity."

He said the ruling was "by no means California's first milestone, nor our last, on America's road to equality and freedom for all people."

Proponents of Proposition 8 had asked Walker to block enforcement of his ruling immediately, but Walker declined. The proponents of the ballot measure said they would immediately appeal.

Walker could still put the ruling on hold pending appeal after hearing more arguments, but his ruling today directed city and state officials to stop enforcing the marriage ban.

Walker's historic ruling in Perry vs. Schwarzenegger relied heavily on the testimony he heard at trial. His ruling listed both factual findings and his conclusions about the law.

Supporters of Proposition 8 argued during the trial that same-sex marriage would undermine the institution of marriage and that children fare best with both a mother and a father.

The challengers presented witnesses who cited studies that showed children reared from birth by gay and lesbian couples do as well as children born into opposite-sex families. They also testified that the clamor for marriage in the gay community had given the institution of marriage greater esteem.

The trial appeared to be a lopsided show for the challengers, who called 16 witnesses, including researchers from the nation's top universities, and presented tearful testimony from gays and lesbians about why marriage mattered to them.

The backers of Proposition 8 called only two witnesses, and both made concessions under cross-examination that helped the other side.

The sponsors complained that Walker's pretrial rulings had been unfair and that some of their prospective witnesses decided not to testify out of fear for their safety.

When Walker ruled that he would broadcast portions of the trial on the Internet, Proposition 8 proponents fought him all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won a 5-4 ruling barring cameras in the courtroom.

The trial nevertheless was widely covered, with some groups doing minute-by-minute blogging. Law professors brought their students to watch the top-notch legal theater.

Wednesday's ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed last year by two homosexual couples who argued that the marriage ban violates their federal constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.

Filed in anticipation of a California Supreme Court ruling upholding Proposition 8, the suit was the brainchild of a gay political strategist in Los Angeles who formed a nonprofit to finance the litigation.

The group hired two legal luminaries from opposite sides of the political spectrum to try to overturn the ballot measure. Former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson, a conservative icon, signed on with litigator David Boies, a liberal who squared off against Olson in Bush vs. Gore, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that gave George W. Bush the presidency in 2000.

Gay-rights groups had opposed the lawsuit, fearful that the U.S. Supreme Court might rule against marriage rights and create a precedent that could take decades to overturn.

But after the suit was filed, gay rights lawyers flocked to support it, filing friend-of-court arguments on why Proposition 8 should be overturned.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown refused to defend the marriage ban, leaving the sponsors of the initiative to fill the vacuum. They hired a team of lawyers experienced in U.S. Supreme Court litigation.

Voters approved Proposition 8 by a 52.3% margin six months after the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was permitted under the state Constitution.

The state high court later upheld Proposition 8 as a valid amendment to the state Constitution.

An estimated 18,000 same-sex couples married in California during the months it was legal, and the state continues to recognize those marriages.

Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

Cheap or free Internet access away from home!

Even if I don’t travel with a laptop, many devices rely on wifi to get information so having the Internet has become more and more important. Here are some ways to find access while away from home.

* Hotels with free wifi – Almost all hotels have Internet access of some sort but it seems the nicer the hotel, the more expensive the Internet. If the hotel I’m going to book doesn’t provide free Internet, I figure daily Internet charges into the room rate. Before you book, check this report from on the Best Wifi Hotels. Interesting to note: some of the most well-known chains didn’t make the list. Ugh.

* Airports with free wifi – Just like hotels, almost all airports have some kind of Internet access available but not all provide it for free. maintains a list of Free Wifi Airports. Airports would have a lot less frustrated travelers if they could be online for free during those long layovers I think.

* Wifi Hotspot Directory – aside from hotels and airports, free wifi is available in many places like coffee shops and libraries. is a user-submitted directory of all wifi hotspots in the U.S. and it will show you if the spot is free or not.

* AirPort Express Apple’s AirPort Express – this device is like a portable router that will allow you to create your own wireless network. In hotels where you have to pay for access, you are usually paying per computer so if your group has several laptops, iPod Touch, iPads, etc., you’d have to pay per device. Taking an AirPort Express with you will allow you to pay for one connection and create your own wireless network for all devices to use.

* Mifi style devices – Sprint and Verizon have a device called a Mifi that allows you to have access from anywhere. A monthly charge is required plus the initial cost of the device. Fry’s Electronics has a similar device available that does the same thing but without the monthly charges. The site says it’s out of stock for online ordering but if you search stores near you, it will often show stock available in stores.

* Tether your phone – tethering your phone means you use it as a modem with your laptop. Not all phones are tetherable but maintains a list of info on tethering that will tell you what you need to know.

* Hotspots you’re already paying for – the Internet or phone provider you have already may have public hotspots available to you so check for those lists online. For instance, AT&T, T-Mobile and and Verizon have lists you can search.

* Find a Starbucks – Starbucks has become one of the most ubiquitous retail businesses so they are easy to find no matter where you are. If you have a Starbucks Card and you register it online, you can get wifi for free for 2 hours. Are you an AT&T customer? You can get unlimited access. More info, including how to connect, can be found here.

* Search for smartphone apps – if you have a smartphone, search your app directory for wifi finders. This is helpful on the go, especially if the app can use your phone’s current location to find wifi near where you are.

Buying an Airline Ticket? Remember, spelling counts

Have you been elected to book a friends getaway trip this summer? When booking your airline tickets, keep this quick tip in mind for a hassle free travel experience: know the full, legal names as they appear on their photo identification.

You may know your friends as Chuck, Trish, Lizzy and Ed. Does the government know them as Charles, Patricia, Elizabeth, and Edward? How well do you know your friends – you might just learn that Henry is a middle or nick name for Percival Harold. Planning a stress-free trip begins with gathering correct name information before booking:

1. Gather names as they appear on photo identification before booking.
2. Watch for typos when booking online – double and triple check typing skills and verify name spelling before clicking on the final purchase button.
3. Review the confirmation email carefully – the minute it’s delivered to your inbox. Contact the airline or booking agency immediately should you spot a typo.
4. Get a second set of eyes – forward the email confirmation to your traveling companions and include a note to have them check name spelling.

Use these tips for honeymoon planning especially if the trip is a surprise gift. Will the bride-to-be have her name changed on her driver’s license and passport before departure, or will she be keeping her maiden name? By verifying the name before booking – the surprise will be the trip, not the issues and heartaches of getting a name corrected or even denied boarding!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Southwest Airlines' Plus-Size Passenger Problems Continue

A Southwest Airlines flight crew is under fire after they removed a 5'4” 110-pound stand-by passenger to make room for an obese ticket-holder who needed a second seat. The airline's normal policy for over-booked flights is to ask for a volunteer among the passengers to deplane.

This is not Southwest's first run-in with plus-size problems. The actor-director Kevin Smith criticized the airline in February after they kicked him off an Oakland-Burbank flight because of his girth. Referred to as “Fatgate” by the Twittering masses, Smith was outspoken about the incident, which he said was emblematic of the embarrassment and prejudices endured by overweight Americans.

A spokeswoman for Southwest Airlines, Marilee McInnis told the Sacramento Bee that this recent situation was “awkward” and admitted that the flight crew should have handled it better.

One reason she gave for breaking the rules: the late-coming obese passenger was only fourteen years old and already quite embarrassed. The flight crew didn't want to prolong the conflict and tried to act quickly.

As more and more Americans reach for the seat belt extenders, airlines are caught in a touchy position. Who get's priority in the battle over those 17.2 inches of navy-blue cushion? While airlines around the country struggle to set fair policies, Smith continues to find humor in the humiliation:

About Southwest's recent snafu, Smith tweeted: “Now me AND my [skinny] wife can get booted off Southwest... TOGETHER!”


Beaches and Boys of Brazil - from OutTraveler

Take a headlong dive into the surf, sand, and soul of Brazil's obsessively sexy beach culture. With 5,000 miles of coastline, there's a lot to choose from.
Brazil is guilty of a torrid love affair with the sun. When it's raining in Rio, locals hurry by with umbrellas cloaking expressionless faces like shocked victims of sudden infidelity. But when it's sunny, especially in the summer months (our winter), it seems the entire population can be found basking on the sand. Spanning the equator and nearly 5,000 miles long, the shimmering Brazilian coastline is host to regions as diverse as the arid northeastern flatlands of Salvador, the misty Atlantic rain forest of the Discovery Coast near Porto Seguro, and the mountainous tropical zone of Rio de Janeiro. So there's a perfect beach for everybody: lovers, divers, hang gliders, snorkelers, surfers, nudists, or dime-store mystery readers. Most big urban beaches, like Ipanema and Copacabana in Rio, and even some smaller beaches have sections primarily for gays and lesbians. New Year's Eve and carnival (the infamous four-day midsummer celebration during late February) are siren calls for travelers all over the world to drop their anchors and let the tide wash them onto Brazil's shores.

It was raining when I arrived in Rio last September, so I escaped driving north to Búzios, where cariocas (citizens of Rio de Janeiro) go to really cut loose. Búzios was a lazy fishing village until it was made famous by Brigitte Bardot, who spent a summer there in 1964 with her Brazilian boyfriend. Bardot's legacy has transformed Búzios into a resort town: Top-tier guesthouses and pampering hotels nestle in its hills.

As much as I liked my sunga (bikini), I couldn't wait to take it off and let the sun envelop me. I'd parked close to Praia Olho de Boi, a naturist beach on the eastern tip of the Búzios peninsula, at an adjacent fishermen's beach, Praia Brava. From here a red dirt path meanders up and over the mountain separating Brava from Olho de Boi. Along the way I met three proud fishermen carrying the morning's catch (this evening's dinner), a burnished mare grazing on hillside vegetation, and a small crab skittering down the basalt that frames the beach. The morning sun smiled on me as I windmilled down the steep path, tore off my sunga, and raced across shell fragments worn smooth by the waves to float in the warm tidal pools that make this cozy cove a bather's paradise. Though not specifically a gay beach, Olho de Boi is popular with gay men and straight couples, resulting in a relaxed mix of blissed-out nudists.

If Ipanema is where Brazilians go to cruise, and Búzios is where they go to relax, then Porto Seguro is where they go on honeymoon. Here in the Bahia, 600 miles north of Rio, Brazil was born. Pedro Cabral, a Portuguese explorer, discovered this coastline in 1500, and it retains a rustic, historic authenticity. Small
pousadas (guesthouses) are the rule in the neighboring beach town of Arraial d'Ajuda. The beaches here are narrow and tranquil, the waters clear and green. The surf is calm, tempered by a long offshore reef system, and when you wade into the waves the sand is so soft that your ankles sink into the seabed. You literally become one with the beach as the water cascades ashore in a cool, gentle froth.

Just south of Porto Seguro is the Atlantic rain forest, large parts of which are still protected. I wanted to see the savage coast and booked a trip through Selvagem Adventure, a gay-friendly company that specializes in taking visitors to the remote cliff towns that date to the earliest Portuguese missions. Eduardo, Selvagem's owner, put his Land Rover into four-wheel drive, and we chugged through arroyos cut deep into dirt roads from the recent rains. A swath of blue appeared to the east. As we approached the last hill before the coastal town of Espelho, the Atlantic wind pushed the southern clouds behind us into the forest. We trekked down a wild oceanside bluff and found ourselves facing a lashing steely sea. To our right was infamous Praia do Amores.

"How did it get the name?" I asked.

"In the 1950s, before TV," explained Eduardo, "Teenagers used to come down here at night. Now away from their families, they would light bonfires, talk, and have sex for the first time. And even now"--his eyes lit up--"it is very private."

Bordered by sharp coral formations that were left behind when the seas last receded, Praia do Amores was uninhabited this cloudy morning. But our presence there triggered the sun to fight its white cover and cast it away. I pretended I was a castaway as we wound north down the flat white virgin sands to Praia Espelho. I stood on the veranda of a gracious guesthouse and watched the sun advance from the sea. A great band of vibrant green striped the cobalt cloud shadows one cresting wave at a time, until what came crashing to the shore was not just meringue foam--or salt or wind or sand--but the very soul of Brazil, the equatorial inferno of the bright spring sun.

In an open-air café that night in Arraial d'Ajuda, a bossa nova singer swaggered to my table and handed me a gourd to shake in rhythm to his fingerpicking. "Tall and tan and dark and lovely," he sang gently, "The girl from Ipanema goes walking / And when she passes, each one she passes goes, ‘Ah.' " I understood then the true nature of saudade, my longing deep as ocean blue for Rio de Janeiro. For if you could bring together the finest aspects of every urban beach you'd ever been to, you'd wind up on Praia Ipanema in Rio, a mile-long strip of soft natural sand blessed with tropical weather virtually year-round. It has the surf of Waikiki--and its surfer mentality--with the diversity and tolerance that comes from big-city life and centuries of cultural blending.

Ipanema shares with Waikiki a glorious vista of natural beauty (Rio has Sugarloaf, Honolulu has Diamond Head) and a promenade of luxurious hotels ringing the ocean. Yet Ipanema--and its more famous neighbor, the curvaceous Copacabana--also contains the playground athleticism, contented faces, and gleaming hard bodies of Mediterranean beach towns. There's the happy backbeat of lapping surf, soccer balls smacking off thighs, the slap of paddleballs on wood. Silent capoeira dancers leap to these rhythms and to the laughter that accompanies another Brazilian invention, futevole, which resembles beach volleyball (only it's played with a soccer ball, and you can't use your hands).

Rio's beaches are a wonderful mix of locals and tourists, as in Barcelona or on Venice Beach in Los Angeles, with room on the sand for necessities like jungle gyms and free weights. Brazil promotes a culture of the body, and the most beautifully honed muscles in the world are here. Ipanema has inherited the drumming counterculture of Holland's Zandvoort, and like the Caribbean beaches of Montego Bay, Jamaica, it is fragrant with bonfires, incense, and marijuana without Montego's homophobia or violent hustling. It has the open gay life of parts of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Sitges, Spain, with an entire section dedicated to gays and lesbians. Cariocas practice the "any excuse for a party" joie de vivre of boozy Midwestern lakefronts, giving it a cruisy down-home feel with plenty of beer and boom boxes, even steamed corn on the cob. This close to the equator, the Atlantic is warm and welcoming year-round, and if the surf's high, it only means it's happy to see you and wants to take you for a ride.

My friend Rostand, cofounder of Rio G, a gay and lesbian travel center just off the beach, was not impressed.

"There's nobody here," he protested. I looked around. There were at least 200 people on the gay beach: coupled barbies (gay yuppies) lounging with friends and small children, single buffies (muscular machos) strutting from parasol to parasol, a happy threesome of two guys and a girl toweling each other off. "Today it is completely empty. It is like having sex without an orgasm. You must return in the summer when there are 2,000 of us."

I didn't agree with him then, but now that I'm back in the States I know he's right about one thing. I have to go back--and the sooner the better.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lesbian cruising with Olivia: Top 9 tips for cruise virgins

By Jennifer Vanasco ,
07.23.2010 11:03am EDT

My partner Jenny and I didn’t know what to expect on our first cruise. Would we get seasick? Would we get along? Would we get the Norwalk Virus?

Our ship- The Ryndam!

In our first year and a half together we had done only a little traveling – to Chicago, to DC for the Inauguration, and to North Carolina to visit relatives. We have pretty different styles: Jenny is more social and does more advance destination research; I’m more spontaneous, bring a lot of reading material along and am more prone to napping.

Neither of us were sure we were “cruise people.” Jenny worried about feeling trapped or getting sick. I worried about hating everyone and seeing only Disneyfied versions of the countries we were visiting.

It turns out that we I had a great time on Olivia’s 20th anniversary cruise to the Western Caribbean (we were their guests) – still, there are things we wish we had known before stepping on board.

Here are the nine things you need to know before you go off cruising into the sunset.

Jenny and Jay monkey around on an excursion to a Honduras zoo.

1. Know thyself.
There is a lot to do on a cruise ship. Maybe too much. Every hour or so on our ship, there would be an announcement about some incredibly fun activity happening somewhere else.

There are BBQs. Pool games. Informative seminars. Comedians. Dessert extravaganzas with chocolate fountains and bread baked in the shape of mice. Before you go, talk to your partner (or have a long conversation with yourself) about what you actually need.

- Are you looking for serious R&R? Then limit yourself to one activity a day, sleep in, and don’t get off at every port.

- Trying to immerse yourself in the lesbian community you don’t get at home? Go to the social hours, sit with new people during meals and dance into the night.

- Looking for adventure? Get off the ship early at your port of call and have your excursions lined up in advance. Use your at sea days to relax.

- Just know what you want before you get there, so you don’t stumble off the ship needing a vacation from your vacation.

We did not do this. Instead, we tried to do everything possible (you’ll get a hint of what “everything possible” is by watching the video we made of Jenny. And no, she wasn’t really drinking a beer on the treadmill.) We took a dance class. We swam in the pool. We went to mixers. We went to the shows. We met the Indigo Girls.
We were so tired that we got off the ship and slept for two days straight.

One of the many social events onboard - a lesbian dance.

Bring a sweater. In my imagination, cruises are all bikinis and fruity drinks on the outside Lido Deck.
In reality, when the boat is moving, it can be windy and cold. Also, ships keep the air conditioning up high in the inside public areas. So have a light jacket – and have warm clothes for dinner, socializing at the bar, gambling, and other indoor activities. You see the same people over and over. Don’t let them see you in the same sweatshirt every night.

3. Carry business cards.
Maybe not those stodgy ones from the corporate office. But a lot of women made
up special couple cards from places like that had both their names, their home contact info and their cabin number.

Then carry them. Business cards do you no good if they’re hiding in the top drawer of the dresser in your cabin.

Also, if you’re floating away on Olivia, decorate your door. That way people can find you – and they will leave you messages if you put up a wipe-off board. It’s like college! But no homework. And, unless you went to a women’s college (I did!) a lot more ladies.

The Indigo Girls were on board!

4. Do your research.
Sure, you can let the cruise line do everything for you, including selling you port excursions. But you’ll spend a lot less money – and likely have more fun – if you plan your excursions yourself.

TripAdvisor and CruiseCritic have advice in each port of call; sometimes you can get actual footage of excursions on YouTube. Olivia has a great bulletin board where you can meet women before you sail and invite others to join you on excursions you plan yourself.

Jenny and I went swimming with dolphins in Cozumel, inner-tubed down a river running through a cave in Belize and made friends with locals in Honduras. We did our sightseeing with smaller groups than if we had gone with the cruise line’s choices, saw more areas that were not specifically geared toward tourists and saved about $350.

5. Watch your alcohol. You will be offered Bloody Marys with breakfast, beers with lunch, cocktails with dinner – and specialty drinks anytime you step out of your stateroom. All that drinking is expensive (even soda adds up), so know before you go how much you can afford and keep track of your libations. Some who have posted on cruise bulletin boards say that they have come home to several thousand dollars worth of drink charges. Yikes.

If you know that you need your nightly – and afternoon and morning – cocktail, then most ships have drink cards you can buy in advance at a discount. It’s likely only worth it for really big drinkers, though – most women on our cruise were giving their drinks away by the end.

6. It’s fun to be single.
Olivia has special meet and greets and excursions for solo travelers. On our cruise, they traveled in packs and always seemed to be having a great time.
We found it tough to make friends with other couples (women seemed to be looking for a romantic vacation for two, or already were sailing with many other friends) so if you’re cruising for the first time – weirdly – going single might be best. Or hey, just go to the single social hours. No one will stop you.

One of the ship's pools was outdoor when docked and indoor while seabound!

7. Sanitize.
The Norwalk Virus, H1N1 and the common cold are all hanging out around a ship’s handrails, doorknobs and public bathrooms. Try not to shake hands. Cough into your elbow. Wash your hands whenever you pass a sink. And use all that hand sanitizer that is everywhere.

If you get sick – you’ll be quarantined in your room. Jenny caught a bad cough the last day, but otherwise we were illness-free.

8. Lesbian cruises: they’re not for cruising.
Sure, there are women who met their partners on an Olivia cruise. But unlike cruises for gay men, there’s not much of a hookup vibe. Most people come with their partners or in tight groups. If you want some action, you should go looking on land.

9. Prepare for re-entry.
I didn’t get seasick on the ship – but I sure did get landsick when I got home. My kitchen floor was rolling for days (this is not uncommon for people on week-long cruises). Happily, we also had messages from people on Facebook we had met on the cruise, great stories to tell our friends and silly pictures of us playing with dolphins. (We also had a great 12 hours in Tampa after wards.)

Women who’ve been on one Olivia cruise tend to take another – and we can see why. By the second day, Jenny and I were making lists of what we would bring next time and how we would plan differently.

Once you know what to expect and how to plan, you can lay back and let the cruise ship do the rest.

Guests were greeted everyday with a new towel animal.
Provence to Burgundy Riverboat Cruise
July 20-27, 2010

Cruising the Greek Isles & Turkish Coast
Oct 3-10, 2010

Palm Springs Spa Escape
Oct 13-17, 2010

African Safari Adventure
Oct 15-22, 2010

Club Olivia, Columbus Isle Resort
Oct 16-23, 2011

Caribbean Sun Cruise
Oct 30-Nov 6, 2010

Costa Rica Cruise
Jan 22-29, 2011

Mexican Riviera Cruise
Mar 26-Apr 2, 2011

Thursday, June 24, 2010 Salutes Rainbow Team Founder Rick Cirillo

FORT WORTH, Texas – This June in celebration of LGBT history and pride, American Airlines’ Rainbow Team today released an exclusive first-person interview with former American Airlines sales manager and Rainbow Team founder Rick Cirillo. For the first time in public, Cirillo tells of his chance 1973 encounter with the late gay civil rights pioneer Harvey Milk – a once-in-a-lifetime friendship that simply began when Milk asked Cirillo, “Do you want to help?”

The Cirillo interview about his own times with Harvey Milk recites memories of the early days of gay civil rights organizing and their intersection with other early figures and leaders including the late journalist Randy Shilts and then San Francisco politician Diane Feinstein.

In 1994, Cirillo founded American Airlines’ innovative LGBT marketing strategy and launched the Rainbow Team, almost 20 years after first working alongside Harvey Milk in his Castro Street camera shop and serving as a dedicated campaign organizer for the next several years in San Francisco. Rick Cirillo at the age of 62 and following his retirement from American Airlines, works now in Spokane, Washington for People to People Ambassador Programs. He is also an openly gay father and grandfather with his husband of the past 12 years, Curtis Southworth.

Rick Cirillo has always been a trailblazer,” said George Carrancho, present day manager of the Rainbow Team, and former colleague of Cirillo. “While serving here at American, he dedicated his professional career to building bridges and to taking our first steps as an inclusive and respectful partner for the LGBT community. To the best of our knowledge, just by starting the Rainbow Team, he began the very first dedicated LGBT marketing group at a major American corporation. We all stand on his shoulders today.”

In addition to the Team’s dedicated community website, -- Carrancho connects with thousands of LGBT customers, friends and allies through a monthly Rainbow Newsletter to share special events, promotions and travel tips. For this month’s issue of Rainbow News, Rick Cirillo agreed, for the first time, to tell his entire story and to recount his friendship with Harvey Milk that began nearly 40 years ago.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hyatt Signs On as Top-Level Partner of IGLTA

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (April 8, 2010)–Hyatt recently upped its commitment to global gay tourism, becoming a Platinum Level Partner of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association. The hotel company is a longtime sponsor of the gay travel association's annual convention, and this new top-tier partnership further demonstrates Hyatt’s dedication to IGLTA and the LGBT community.

"Hyatt values our long tenured partnership with IGLTA and is proud to support its efforts with an increased level of sponsorship in 2010," said Salvador Mendoza, vice president of diversity and inclusion for Hyatt. "We look forward to having the opportunity to connect directly with the LGBT travelers we welcome every day."

IGLTA President/CEO John Tanzella said that the agreement clearly sends the message to gay travelers that they can feel comfortable staying in a Hyatt hotel. "Hyatt keeps raising the bar when it comes to support of gay tourism," Tanzella said. "Very few hotel brands have shown this level of commitment."

IGLTA, which has staff and representatives in 17 countries, is the leading global organization dedicated to connecting businesses in the LGBT tourism industry. The association spans 70+ countries and consists of accommodations, airlines, tour operators, travel agents, destinations, media and other key players in the tourism industry.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Gay Ski Week

We’ve rounded up some of the best gay ski weeks to help you find the one nearest you. Check out the list and we’ll see you on the slops!

GayWhistler Winter PRIDE: March 1-8 — The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver directly precede WinterPRIDE this year, making this our pick for gay ski week of the season. GayWhistler is even setting up a special “Pride House” for the games where gay athletes, their friends and family can meet to watch the Olympics on TV together. The house will remain open through WinterPRIDE.

Winterfest Lake Tahoe: March 7-14 — a local pick for the gays by the Bay, Winterfest attracts hundreds of skiers from San Francisco and Oakland to the Tahoe social event of the year.

Elevation Mammoth Mountain: March 17-21 — Elevation is the gay ski magnet of Southern California, temporarily transporting West Hollywood up 11,000 ft. The weekend features world-class DJs and dance parties–who knew winter could get so hot?

European Gay Ski Week: March 20-27 — this year’s event in Tinges, France, draws participants from across Europe. Pack up for a road trip and get out of the cities as you won’t want to miss this celebratory week of events and recreation. Or check out the sexy Euro Ski Pride which takes place the same week in Saalbach, Austria. Nonstop parties, an abundance of hot skiers, and a performance by Boy George–what else could you need?

If you are looking for more gay ski events, please visit our list of gay ski events located near you.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Popular Gay Las Vegas Nightclub Krave Files for Bankruptcy

According to the Las Vegas Sun, the owner of Las Vegas’ favorite gay nightclub Krave has filed for bankruptcy reorganization. The report further notes that Krave is currently behind on rent and tax payments, but hopes that things will improve now that the massive new City Center development has opened and brought new life to the area surrounding the once happening nightspot.

In court papers Krave Entertainment LLC President Sia Amiri said that the businesses at the Miracle Mile Shops at the Planet Hollywood resort on the Las Vegas Strip suffered last year because of the recession and construction on Harmon Avenue and CityCenter.

Amiri is now hanging his hopes on last month's opening of MGM Mirage's CityCenter complex.

"CityCenter revitalized the entire area, and debtor’s operations are now located at a prime site on the Las Vegas Strip. The new road route is expected to facilitate customer access," Amiri said in the filing. "With respect to the nightclub operations, the Krave brand name is popular with its clientele, and debtor plans to revamp its marketing plan and add new events."

Krave is the first gay/lesbian/alternate lifestyle club to make a home on the Strip.