As I crossed the gangway to board the Celebrity Cruises’ Summit for VACAYA’s maiden voyage this summer, the Scissor Sisters serenading over the speakers reassured me that “a kiki is a party for calming all your nerves.” I took it as welcome foreshadowing that the first large-scale LGBTQ+ travel company to launch in decades had taken the initiative to musically score my journey from the moment I boarded. Yes, h-h-honey, they were serving and working and turning out VACAYA’s inaugural kiki.
I instantly became giddy with anticipation. This was my first gay cruise. Somehow, I’d made it this long — a seasoned gay man in his 40s — without ever specifically sailing with my community.
What was different now? VACAYA is setting out to change the existing model of queer travel. From its inception, it set the lofty goal of serving the entire LGBTQIAPK community. On its website it clearly explains and creates an alphabet soup utopia that welcomes (in its words): “Lesbian, Gay, Transgender/Transsexual, Questioning/Queer, Intersex, Asexual/Ally, Pansexual/Polyamorous and Kink.”
As VACAYA co-founder Patrick Gunn said, “If you believe love is love, you belong on our vacations.” And we did. Though the largest percentage of guests was men, they were men of all ages, shapes and sizes — another coup for inclusivity. And from my conversations with the topless ladies splashing in the pool and my new friends from East Lansing, Michigan, Jennifer and Johanna, who I met at the ship’s ice cream parlor, all shared in the joyous excitement.
On the first day, VACAYA organized meetups for every flavor and proclivity of our inclusive spectrum. From pansexual to trans to straight ally guests, everyone had the opportunity to meet their like-minded neighbors for the next seven days. However, to make friends all one had to do was step out of the stateroom. In my many years attending gay events, I can’t remember being surrounded by a more engaging, welcoming crowd.
And, truly, it was a run-your-own-race kind of experience…
Today is National Coming Out Day. And yes, I know you know.
I want to first thank all my loved ones (and even my new friends who I may only know through social media) for tuning in to my zany, gay travel adventures. I have now been an out gay man longer than I was a closeted boy and young person. And yes, that means I’m old.
I believe it is essential that I continue to be visible. I believe it is essential that we continue to be vigilant.
As I share this happy picture of me—a very out and proud gay man—at Stonewall during this summer’s World Pride celebration in New York City, I am both elated by my privilege of living my life so openly in this amazing city (there are still 72 countries where homosexuality is illegal) and devastated by the state of current affairs in the United States.
Just this week, the Supreme Court heard three cases that can ultimately decide if LGBTQ+ employees are protected from discrimination in the workplace. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin or religion.
Does that include sexual orientation or gender identity according to the federal laws of the United States? The Supreme Court decision is expected by June 2020.
The Trump Administration argued that Title VII does not cover sexual orientation or gender identify. It has also stacked federal courts throughout the country and appointed two judges to the Supreme Court to shift our nation’s Judicial Branch toward a conservative, potentially discriminatory power dynamic.
If it hasn’t sunk in, this affects me. This affects my boyfriend of 13 years. This affects my best friends. This affects the diverse members of my LGBTQ+ community.
And unless you’ve managed to live a sad, gray life without ever interacting with an LGBTQ+ person, this will affect a person you love.
So, if you have voted for socially conservative candidates in local, state and national races, I want you to know that you have voted against me, a person you may even love and “support.”
I am happy to be the smiley, rainbow-clad image in your mind when you weigh making these life-changing decisions at the ballot box. Or you can choose some other brother, sister, son, daughter, cousin, Pilates instructor, colorist or beloved cater waiter. But I am coming out to let you know that I—we—need your support and need that support to be stronger than niceties at our next social gathering.
I hope I can count on you. Happy National Coming Out Day.
Few U.S. cities embrace their diversity like San Antonio, Texas. At the intersection of American, Texan and Mexican culture, the seventh-largest city in the United States knows how to celebrate traditions while making everyone feel welcome. (Can we all please take a cue from San Antonio!?)
This season, though tricky Halloween festivities still abound, it is the Mexican holiday of Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) that treats visitors most in San Antonio.
The traditional Mexican holiday, dating to pre-Columbian time, professes that during November 1, the distance between living and dead is at its closest point, creating the perfect opportunity to honor our dearly departed loved ones.
Considered the largest Día de los Muertos celebration in the United States, San Antonio builds traditional altars, throws parades and delivers delicious Mexican food offerings that remind you it’s tastier on this side of the divide.
“Travel is about fun and exploration, coming out to a stranger is no way to kick-off a vacation,” says Robert Geller, Founder and CEO of FabStayz. “Be your ‘FabSelf’ wherever your travels take you. No more scouring listings for clues if the host is LGBT+ welcoming, an ally or member of our community. FabStayz wants to take away all the guesswork for the LGBT+ traveler.”
According to Geller, property owners listed on FabStayz must meet the platform’s criteria of seven months minimum hosting on another major platform (like Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking.com, TripAdvisor and HomeAway), with at least 10 great to excellent reviews. Additionally, all FabStayz hosts agree to FabStayz diversity and inclusion statement.
Within weeks of launching, FabStayz had quintupled its hosts and featured a castle in France, tiny homes in Portland, a vintage RV in Los Angeles, and rental listings throughout the United States, Brazil, Canada, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands and the U.K., among others.
Don’t be afraid to let them show Your true colors True colors are beautiful Like a rainbow
Owning our true colors has been a theme of self-acceptance in the LGBTQ+ community for nearly half a century.
In 1978, artist Gilbert Baker unveiled the original rainbow flag in San Francisco, as a new symbol to celebrate the love, beauty and diversity of our community.
In 1986, Cyndi Lauper’s song became an anthem for people struggling to be true to themselves.
Today, the celebration of our true colors continues with a toast.
Highland Imports introduced European favorite True Colours Cava to the U.S. last year, inviting the Spanish sparkling wine to celebrate love on our shores.
In keeping with Altia’s (its original distributor) commitment to support LGBTQ+ rights with every True Colours Cava bottle, Highland Imports pledged to donate at least $100,000 to GLAAD in its first year of U.S. distribution. As True Colours Cava expands its availability in more states this year, it is also expanding its promise by planning to support additional LGBTQ+ organizations from the sale of every bottle.
Challenging other beer and wine brands that only unveil LGBTQ-themed products during Pride season, True Colours Cava’s commitment is year-round and unwavering. “Highland Imports is boldly displaying their support for LGBTQ people at a time when the community needs brands to stand up proudly and loudly,” says Zeke Stokes, GLAAD Vice President of Programs.
It is also just damn delicious. And beautifully presented.
With a bright, crisp flavor and a rainbow colored bottle, True Colours Cava sparkles with activism at any event. It’s Estate bottled, 100% sustainably farmed and sold in select wine stores throughout the country in both the standard 750 ML bottle and the mini quarter-sized bottle.
Visit the “Find Us” tab at TrueColoursCava.com to learn where it is available near you. And propose a more accepting, truthful and colorful LGBTQ+ world with your next toast.
Start spreadin’ the news. We all want to wake up in the city that never sleeps—just not for an early morning checkout. Please!
For guests who want to take advantage of the pulsing New York City nights, the New York Hilton Midtown is offering “The City That Never Sleeps” package through December 31, 2019. Whether you’re arriving late from a long flight or you’ve been going non-stop, you can check-in at midnight and check-out at 3pm, after some restful daytime recovery sleep…
Sail with IQ! I’m so excited to take my first ever cruise today! Fresh off its completely revolutionized makeover, the Celebrity Summit will sail from New York (Port Liberty, NJ) with stops up the coast in St. John, New Brunswick-Canada; Bar Harbor, Maine; and an overnight in Provincetown, Massachusetts to coincide with the Carnival Week kick-off party.
The Summit will be the largest ship to ever overnight in P-town and I’ll be sharing this “first” with about 2,000 new best friends, all joining VACAYA’s inaugural cruise.
VACAYA is the first LGBTQ+, adults-only vacation company to launch in decades–focused on creating bespoke experiences that welcome all members of our community. In their own words: “Traveling with VACAYA is all about being completely comfortable in your own skin, no matter where you fall on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Whether you’re single, coupled, black, white, skinny, thick, or even straight, you’ll easily find a welcoming tribe.”
Follow my travels through Instagram posts and stories to experience all the theme parties, destinations and the entire extravaganza of my first ever “gay cruise.”
Anna Wintour take note: the campiest event in New York City this year was not the Met Gala
The scene opens on a red carpet in the lobby of a storied New York City hotel. Models dressed in costumes representing various cultures strut down the catwalk, while an emcee describes the inspiration for their looks in a posh accent—she might be English… she’s probably English… or she might be Madonna right around the time she fell off that horse.
In an attempt to promote various cultures, the theme is “It’s a Small World,” because, it is, after all.
The event is equal parts Parade of Nations of the Miss Universe Pageant, a stroll through Epcot Center’s World Showcase and an unconventional RuPaul’s Drag Race design challenge.
The contestants vary in size, origin, gender, temperament, and socio-economic status.
It’s a level of diversity in representation the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show has never achieved, or even attempted. The event is pure OPULENCE: They. Own. Everything.
Oh, and the models are all cats: like the real four-legged pet kind of cats… not Jennifer Hudson as a CGI Grizabella kind of cat.
To set the mood prior to the runway show, two opera singers accompanied by a piano performed a live duet, with full vocal commitment and physical gesturing, in a meow-like language. A reputable source reports the classical piece was written in “meow” originally and is attributed to Rossini. I can neither confirm nor deny the reporting, but it was a brilliant moment of performance art, nonetheless.
Patrons fumble, balancing a glass of champagne in one hand and a camera phone in another, maneuvering around each other for a clear photo of the feline fierceness. The woman behind me is so entranced that she spills a glass of wine down my back. At least it is white wine, and, frankly, my brain is exploding from so much excitement that I truly don’t even care.
The evening pays honor to one very special host: Hamlet VIII, The Algonquin Hotel’s resident feline, who has been greeting guests at the hotel’s reservation desk since the event began. He is adorable and a total hospitality pro.
The Algonquin Hotel has a long history of celebrating four-legged fuzzies and has counted a resident cat as a VIP guest since the 1920’s. Hamlet VIII is their 12th cat (boy cats are always named Hamlet while girl cats are always named Matilda). Our current Prince of Denmark is looked after by the hotel’s Chief Cat Officer, Alice De Almeida, and has his own Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. He also has a cat therapist and reiki practitioner, Carole Wilbourn, with whom I had a twenty-minute conversation prior to the runway show in the cat green room, where pet fashion designer Ada Nieves dressed the models with precise artistry.
Ms. Wilbourn eagerly explained how she helped Hamlet become the superstar he is now. After being rescued, Hamlet lived in the offices upstairs until, after reiki and play-therapy sessions, he became comfortable enough to use the hotel’s reception desk as his personal lounge area. He is also a fan of catnip and loves all types of food. Oh, and he’s currently on a diet.
I tell her how my cat, Dottie, passed earlier this year and she gifts me a cat toy so that my home can be ready for when I adopt my next kitty. It was an extremely kind gesture and I now wish I could afford to hire Ms. Wilbourn to therapize me. I too love all types of food and am currently on a diet. Her business card indicates that she also makes house calls and does phone and video consultations, for those interested.
Quickly becoming my-favorite-event-I’ve-ever-attended-ever, The Algonquin Hotel’s Cat Fashion Show donates 100 percent of its proceeds to the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a non-profit charity that works with more than 150 partner rescue groups and shelters that save the lives of NYC’s homeless animals.
During the event, an on-site mobile adoption unit sits outside the hotel to facilitate you meeting your new pet. Inside the hotel lobby, the $75 ticket includes cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, desserts and all the aforementioned awesomeness.
Please, if I am ever to influence you in any way, sign up for Traveling IQ’s “Email Subscription” to the right of this post so we can rejoice together when The Algonquin announces the official Cat Fashion Show date for summer 2020. And then immediately save the date on your calendar.
Enjoy some of the photos* from the event below …And you’re welcome.
“My name is Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruit you.”
Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay men ever elected to public office in the United States, started many of his most famous speeches with that line. He had a clear plan for LGBTQ progress: come out, be visible and take an active role in your community. And if you feel unsafe, seek refuge in the “nearest biggest city.”
Forty-one years after his assassination in 1978, I think Harvey would be very proud that a festival bearing his name—with the mission of “fostering the arts as a catalyst for social and political change”—marked its 10thyear in the not-biggest-city of Sarasota, Florida.
This May, the Harvey Milk Festival (HMF) celebrated the milestone anniversary with an art show and photo exhibition showcasing American LGBTQ+ history from the 1890’s to the times of Harvey Milk; a panel discussion with queer professors, historians and authors; an evening of dance, music and spoken word; and an all-day music festival in Downtown Sarasota, featuring 10 emerging musicians.
Beyond the yearly festival, HMF [a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organization] launched a Youth Outreach Program in 2014, with scholarships and internship opportunities open to all LGBTQ+ students in Sarasota County between the ages of 13 and 25.
According to HMF: “The most significant benefit to participants in the HMF Youth Outreach Program is the encouragement and financial support that youth are given to continue their education… Many of our youth have experienced alienation and discrimination from family, friends and schoolmates and lack the essential network of support they need when they are in school. HMF Scholarship and HMF Internship programs offer participating youth opportunities to connect with the LGBTQ+ community through their work, receive feedback from youth, artists, mentors and allies, and further their professional development with support and encouragement from their community.”
When in 2015, the governments of the Mexican state of Jalisco and its capital Guadalajara began a bid to host the Gay Games in 2022, they unwittingly set the city on a path to LGBTQ-awakening.
The Gay Games are an LGBTQ-Olympics of sorts, whose mission is to promote equality through sport and culture. They’ve been held every four years since 1982 and have grown into an internationally-popular event that in 2018 brought more than 10,000 participants to Paris.
For Guadalajara, the three-year bid process signified a shift in focus for a government that had not previously engaged the LGBTQ tourism market…