Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Greece: tourism losses prompt change

The Greek Government has signaled that it will recognize same-sex civil unions in a bid to attract more gay and lesbian tourists to the country in the face of mounting financial woes.

Tourism is Greece’s largest industry and the global pink tourist pie is estimated to be worth more than $140 billion a year.

Gay and lesbian tourists have been moving away from the traditional gay travel meccas of Mykonos and Lesbos in recent years, according to OutNow Consulting, a global firm specializing in marketing to the LGBT community.

Tourism makes up 16 percent of the Greek economy.

“Rights do not cost much in terms of finances, but they do a lot to promote the countries that adopt them,” co-chairman of the European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, Martin Christensen said.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Gay Tripping

By Cherry Trifle via Edenfantasys.com

Gay resort chains are nothing new abroad, but what about closer to home? As the tendrils of marriage equality take root and the gay community continues its slow, measured march toward ubiquity, are LGBT hotels becoming just another no-big-deal niche in the travel industry?

My first awkward kiss occurred at 13, halfway through ninth grade — me and Eddie, alone in my best friend’s bedroom. Aside from the fact that I was kissing a boy I liked and he was kissing me back it was not spectacular, not in the way kisses can drop the floor from your stomach like that fearsome, fabulous first dip on a roller coaster, but it was my first. And in that there is inherent sweetness.

As our romance bloomed, we grew more comfortable with PDA. We’d walk holding hands, share pecks between classes and more lingering (and steadily improving) episodes at day’s end. We did it all in plain view of our classmates, our teachers, the guy at the pizza place — and didn’t think much about any of it.

This is the first in a two-part series about an emerging travel trend: American hospitality companies very publicly courting the gay community and a flurry of glamorous, purpose-built “gay” properties. Even famous hotel chains are upping their ad dollars in gay publications. So, why the trip down Cherry Lane, circa 1983? Because on a quest to discover what makes a resort gay, I found the concept isn’t as much about what we see — fabulous decor or $17 lychee martinis or Shirtless Show-Tune Karaoke Night — as it is about the stuff us breeders take for granted.

Like being able to just be yourself.

For an out-and-proud radio personality, Anthony, 46, and one-third of the BlogTalkRadio trio ”Two Fags & A Hag,” admits that historically he’s been something of a homebody. “The gay travel thing is very new to me.” A recent trip to Hawaii was his first with a deliberate LGBT slant. “The retreat itself was not exclusively gay, but the program I participated in was for gay men.”

Anthony went alone, so being around people with whom he’d feel free to be open was important. “Vacation is about being able to relax, not something that’s easily achieved when you’re anxious. As much as things have progressed in general, there’s still the very real possibility of finding yourself among travelers who at best are uncomfortable around gay people, and at worst, hostile toward them. I prefer to hedge my bets and knowingly go where I won’t be the only one of my kind… I like knowing that there’s some ‘family’ to turn to, especially when I’m far from home.”

It Makes The World Go 'Round

Before we get mired in the touchy-feely, however, let’s get pragmatic: No entity, neither chic boutique hotelier nor vast hospitality empire, is building a fancy hotel with high-end vodka for a bunch of broke-ass bitches.

“Every study I’ve seen shows that LGBT people travel more often and spend more money when they travel,” says freelance travel writer Mark Chesnut, who serves as a Contributing Editor at Passport, the nation’s largest gay travel magazine. “Businesses both large and small are catching on … They realize that targeting a well-traveled niche makes sense.”

Chesnut adds that while economics are certainly at play, reasoning behind recent trends is multifold: “Shifts in society’s attitudes,” he says, “and the increasing acceptance of gay people in the mainstream have [also] been deciding factors in the recent growth in the segment.”

Hotelier Brian Gorman summarizes: “Gays are like blondes — ‘they just have more fun!’ — and, they’re willing to pay for it.”

As founder of the new Lords South Beach, he would know. Lords’ Miami venture is the maiden property in what’s being billed as “America’s first gay hotel chain.” With hopes for expansion to cities including New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco, Gorman envisions his brand’s rainbow arcing from coast to coast.
Says Gorman, “Lords is “a celebration of the gay community that embraces everyone.” Its main goal: “To promote fun and community.” In that spirit, Lords runs programming that fosters connections between travelers. “Sunday night, all our guests get complimentary drinks during cocktail hour and we have a weekly pool party that brings out locals, as well as hotel guests,” says Gorman, stressing the importance of that local angle.

Lords is smack in the middle of a multitude of homo-centric attractions and venues, including the city’s premier nude beach and several popular nightspots. Though the property boasts kitschy, playful design (“that’s a little tongue-in-cheek, just like our guests!”) and even its own app — Out and About; something of an insider’s guide to Miami — Gorman notes the most important element is “giving people an environment where they feel comfortable just being themselves.”

The Queer Apple

New York is one such place, and THE OUT NYC is aiming to become “the epicenter of LGBT life” in a city that’s already one of the world’s most gay-friendly. “It’s a tall order,” says Chesnut, “but they seem to be approaching it in the right way, working with some of New York City’s real gay nightlife gurus — which should help bring in the locals, while attracting visitors who want to tap into the excitement.”

The project appears to be taking its cue from the successful “hetero-friendly” Axel Hotels brand. (Chic and upscale, Axel operates some visually stunning properties in Barcelona, Berlin and Buenos Aires. THE OUT looks to draw on the 7 million gay tourists that visit New York annually, a new wave of “DINKS” (double-income, no kids) they say haven’t let the down economy get in the way of their spending, and become the United States’ first property on an Axel scale. (Check out their investor video at: www.theoutnyc.com.)

Riding in on the heels of legal same-sex marriage in the Empire State, timing for the project — a $30 million complex including a nightclub, wellness center, retail shops and a 105-room hotel that’s slated to open in early 2012 — couldn’t be better. “This is an idea whose time has come,” says Ian Reisner, managing partner, Parkview Developers. “THE OUT NYC will become a ‘can’t-miss’ for gay tourists…. We look forward not only to hosting countless gay couples, but marrying them as well.”

Birds of a Feather

The gay community is largely comprised of thoughtful, well-informed consumers. Their spending patterns can be motivated, in part, by things like charity and workplace sensitivity; companies that pay attention are often rewarded. Kimpton Hotels, for example, was the first hotel group to score 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index (they’re oft-touted as the gay-friendliest chain around). Gorman recognized this from the get-go, building a charitable component into the Lords concept. “Ten percent of proceeds from certain rooms go to support local and national LGBT organizations.”

Rick, 38, says he and husband Cleve, 52 — the pair married in British Columbia in 2006 — travel and spend with community in mind. He likens the sentiment to cheering for your country at the Olympics. “I’m of Portuguese descent and if I see a Portuguese establishment, I’ll eat or shop there. Gay people like to support other gay people — hence, ‘gay pride!’”

Matt, a 39-year-old attorney, says he’d only book an all-gay resort for a leisure trip. “But on business, I’d still probably stay at a gay-friendly hotel if all other employer-imposed requirements were met.” Why? “I want my money going to companies who support my community, I want to be appreciated, not viewed as an anomaly, and gay-friendly resorts are more likely to have information on local places of interest.”

Climate Control

Gay travelers are often adventurous. They want to discover diamond-in-the-rough destinations, too. “I prefer small towns and road tripping,” says Todd, a 27-year-old publishing professional who is presently single. “I don’t want a ‘scene.’ I’d rather hike or find a waterfall to swim under.” But, he admits, “I can be leery of just blazing into some beautiful mountain town for fear of an anti-gay climate.”

He does due diligence, researching beforehand. “Most of the time I just go, anyway. But I tend to tone myself down, travel with less obviously gay friends, try to blend. It’s sad, but it’s reality. I love the idea of stumbling on a new town or trail or diner, but there have been times when I’ve pulled in somewhere, looked around and thought, I might not be welcome here — so I just kept going.”

Todd has enjoyed stays at gay resorts in his home state of California, “but it would really be nice if orientation was a non-issue,” he says. “I know ‘it gets better.’ But it’s not better enough yet…. In a lot of the ‘small-town America’ places I’d most like to visit, gay people don’t seem to be welcomed let alone gay marriage!”

But in the places where it does exist, same-sex marriage opens an entirely new market. “Google gay weddings or honeymoons for any state in which marriage is legal — you can even check Gay City News for a special section — and the options are vast,” says Chesnut. “This only gives hotels more reasons to create special packages to bring in more revenue — it’s a boon to tourism and the hotel industry.”

Gorman, down in South Beach, agrees, though he doesn’t see gay marriage passing in Florida anytime soon. “Now, if Miami were its own state…?” he jokes. “But yes — all venues would see increased revenue. Gay people enjoy celebrating!”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Airline passengers get new protections

By A. Pawlowski, CNN - Flying may get just a little less frustrating and a bit more transparent starting Tuesday, when new federal airline passenger protection rules go into effect.

"It's huge," said Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org, who has fought for the changes for years.

"If you're flying on (Tuesday), you're 400% better off than you were before."

The Association of Passenger Rights also applauded the rules, calling them long overdue.

"If you talk to most air travelers ... traveling on the airlines is about as popular as the U.S. Congress right now," said Brandon Macsata, a spokesman for the group.

Here is what you need to know about the Department of Transportation's new protections:

Bumping compensation gets a boost

Passengers involuntarily bumped from oversold flights are now eligible for more money.

Under the new rule, bumped passengers can get up to $650 if the airline can get them to their destination within a short period of time (within one to two hours of their originally scheduled arrival time for domestic flights), or up to $1,300 if they are delayed for a long time.

Before Tuesday, the amounts were capped at $400 and $800 respectively.

Inflation adjustments will be made to the compensation limits every two years.

Always take cash rather than flight vouchers, Hanni advised.

"Vouchers come with a lot of caveats. Anytime the airline offers you a voucher, it's to their benefit, not yours," Hanni said.

"If they give you a $1,300 voucher, it's worth about a quarter of that to the airline as opposed to having to give you cash."

International flights get tarmac delay limit

International flights stuck on U.S. airport tarmacs more than four hours must now allow passengers to get off the plane or face huge fines, with exceptions allowed for safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons.

Macsata called it a step forward, but said he would have preferred for this protection to be consistent with the three-hour rule that already exists for domestic flights.

The domestic provision has significantly reduced the number of lengthy tarmac delays since it was implemented last year. Fourteen flights were stuck on the tarmac for three hours or more in June, compared to 268 flights in June 2009, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

But Hanni said the extra hour allowed for international flights is still an improvement.

"Four hours is a heck of a lot better than 12 and we've had a lot of complaints from people who sat for 12 hours on international flights prior to takeoff or after landing," Hanni said. "So we're making headway, that's a huge deal."

International airlines operating to and from the United States must now post contingency plans for lengthy delays, customer service plans and contracts of carriage on their websites.

Bag fee refunds

If you pay extra to check a piece of luggage and the airline loses your bag, it must now refund the bag fee. (Airlines already must compensate passengers for lost or damaged baggage.)

"That's just common sense," Macsata said.

Hanni also wanted the airlines to be required to refund the fee if your bag is delayed, but wasn't successful in having that provision included.

Where refunds are due, airlines must now provide prompt refunds of fares and optional fees.

More to come

This isn't the end of new rules for fliers.

The federal government postponed a handful of other consumer protections that were scheduled to go info effect Tuesday after airlines and travel agents said they needed more time to implement the changes.

Those rules, now set to begin on January 24, 2012, will require airlines to prominently disclose all potential fees on their websites and will ban carriers from raising prices after a ticket purchase.

Friday, August 5, 2011

TSA Workers to Undergo Sensitivity Training

By Andrew Harmon via the Advocate

Transportation Security Administration managers at Los Angeles International Airport will undergo required sensitivity training as part of settlement terms in a lawsuit filed by a transgender former employee.

Ashley Yang was fired in July 2010 from her job as a security checkpoint screener at LAX after she was observed using the women’s restroom, according to her termination letter obtained by the Associated Press. Managers had forced Yang, 29, to present as male at work; as a result, she was routinely harassed by male passengers.

Yang sued for sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The settlement, finalized last month, includes a five-figure award for pain and suffering as well as five months of back pay.

“Ashley lives her life as a woman. Her co-workers recognized her as a woman. Passengers recognized her as a woman. But her employer didn’t,” Transgender Law Center legal director Kristina Wertz told the AP. “She was asked to hide who she was just in order to earn a living.”

Read the AP story here.

The full news release, via Transgender Law Center:

Case Brought By Transgender Law Center Illustrates Need for Strengthened Non-Discrimination Policies And Transgender Sensitivity Trainings Throughout Country

In July 2010, Ashley Yang was fired from her job as an officer for the Transportation Security Administration for being a woman. Her termination followed two years of harassment, discrimination, and managers forcing her to pretend to be a man to keep her job. On the anniversary of her termination, Ms. Yang and the Transgender Law Center completed a settlement against the TSA, representing a major step forward for the treatment of transgender people in the workplace.

The Transgender Law Center is now calling for the TSA to update their policies and practices to ensure that TSA workers throughout the United States are treated with dignity.

“No one should have to choose between their gender and their job,” said Masen Davis, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center. “Every employee has a right to expect the opportunity to work hard, to provide for themselves and their families, and to do this in a workplace free of harassment and discrimination. Ashley was fired simply for being who she is. In this economy where jobs are scarce, this isn’t only unfair and unkind, it is cruel.”

A month after hiring Ashley Yang, TSA managers informed her that she would be required to start working as a male and that failure to do so could result in disciplinary actions. They required this of Ms. Yang, despite the fact that she informed TSA that she is a transgender woman and after they hired her as a woman.
To keep her job Ms. Yang bought a short “male wig” to hide her long hair, complied with TSA’s male dress code, and pretended to be a man at work. Despite her efforts, passengers continued to recognize her as a woman and subjected to her to sexual harassment. Ms. Yang was fired almost two years after being hired and just five days before the end of the standard TSA probationary period.

The Transgender Law Center (TLC) took on Ms. Yang’s case. The TLC argued that the TSA had engaged in discrimination based on sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The TSA found the legal arguments persuasive enough to agree to a settlement with TLC and Ms. Yang. The settlement agreement included a financial payment to Ms. Yang and transgender sensitivity training for TSA managers at the Los Angeles International Airport.

“TSA will be a better agency by taking steps to make sure this never happens again,” said Kristina Wertz, Legal Director of the Transgender Law Center. “Unfortunately, what happened to Ashley is not an uncommon experience for transgender employees. We are advocating for the TSA to expand their employee trainings across the country and to change their policies in regard to transgender employees.”

“Working for the TSA was my way of contributing to society,” says Yang. “I valued talking with passengers and was inspired by helping to protect people and making sure they are safe.”

As Ms. Yang worked at the checkpoint pretending to be male, she was subject to lewd comments from male passengers who recognized her as a woman. For example, one passenger said “a little lower there, darling” while she patted him down. Other comments include “I reaaaally enjoyed that pat-down,” “pat down much lower on my back,” and “I haven’t gotten this much attention from a girl in a while.”

Ms. Yang was fired from her job on July 1, 2010, just five days before the end of her trial period. She was not fired for job performance. She was fired by TSA for being who she is and not being able to pass as a man. She was fired despite only missing two days of work in two years, enduring harassment, and attempting to comply with degrading requests by the TSA to adopt a more “male look.”

The Transgender Law Center is at the heart of a movement of transgender people, our families and our allies who recognize that our struggles for equality and authentic self-expression are all connected and related. TLC fights tenaciously for the physical, emotional and financial wellbeing of transgender and gender non-conforming people through trailblazing projects that transcend traditional lines of service and advocacy. By working for and with transgender people and our allies to change laws, policies and attitudes, the Transgender Law Center makes it possible for all of us to be who we are and live safe and fulfilling lives. www.transgenderlawcenter.org.