Gay and lesbian travel seems to be moving in the direction of trips that are either all-men or all-women. Does that matter?
Above: The nighttime parade at Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras lasts about two hours, but many of the floats and costumes have been a full year in the making. Americans who have journeyed to Australia for the event say it's more spectacular than anything in the United States.
The author: Sasha Alyson is the founder of Alyson Publications, the country's leading publisher of gay and lesbian books, and of Alyson Adventures, which specializes in active and adventure vacations for gay men and lesbians.
Also of interest:
Active vacations that make it easy to meet other gay men and lesbians
After nearly a decade of offering adventure vacations for gay men and lesbians, Toto Tours has decided to specialize in trips for gay men. This seems to be part of a wider trend toward same-sex trips.
Toto will continue to offer one tour a year, its designated "Family Values" trip, open to all who considers themselves "family." In the past, guests have included gay and lesbian parents with their children, gay people with their parents, and gay men and women with straight friends.
Dan Ware, the wizard behind the screen at Toto Tours, is himself a gay parent, and particularly looks forward to the variety of people who show up for this particular week each year. "Everything that broadens our horizons is good," he says; in this case, it's also fun.
Past Family Values groups have headed to a dude Ranch in Michigan, and canoed the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. Ware makes it a point to keep these trips budget-priced, a feature particularly welcome to gay and lesbian parents with an eye on future tuition bills.
Family Values trips have provided some memorable past experiences. Before the group arrived in Gaylord, Michigan, reports Ware, a local minister feared that Gaylord would turn into another (and better named) Provincetown. He started the usual soapbox campaign, distributing flyers at supermarkets and on car windshields. Toto alerted the national media, and found several reporters and photographers waiting when they arrived in town.
By then, recalls Ware, the minister was so deluged with media calls that he had gone into seclusion. Meanwhile, several rather closeted members of the Toto group were so outraged at the turn of events that they volunteered to get before the cameras and make a public statement.
The 1998 Family Values destination is Costa Rica, July 12-19. If you like the idea but can't join that one, give Toto a call to stay informed of future itineraries. (800-565-1241)
Other Toto adventures will now be all-male adventures. One that consistently has a wide appeal is the Grand Canyon rafting week, August 19-26. "It's a real male-bonding trip," says Ware. "A mile down in the earth, in the wilderness, you really get to know the people you're with."
Tour operators I've spoken with all agree that most gay men and most lesbians prefer same-sex trips. Yet those who have been on mixed-gender trips feel something is being lost, as such groups become scarcer.
"The mixed group felt more like family. There was less of the inherent sexual tension of having a bunch of men together," says Leo Lopez, who's traveled with both mixed and all-male groups. Both experiences were enjoyable, he says, but he is sorry that mixed groups are not more prevalent.
Lesbians looking for an organized all-women experience have several long-time traditions: Olivia Cruises, the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, and the Dinah Shore weekend in Palm Springs each draw enormous crowds. Those looking to escape the crowds also have an increasing number of options.
A women's wine-wasting cruise in Burgundy is offered by Remote Possibilities (800-511-3121), which says it is "dedicated to bringing women together in the style we deserve at first-class tourist destinations." The seven-day canal trip, Sept. 26-Oct. 2, winds through forests and vineyards in France's fabled wine country.
Most offerings from OutWest Adventures are open to both men and women, but the company now offers a women-only trip in the Montana wilderness. The August departure includes horseback riding, cattle drives, rafting, fishing, and hiking, with accommodations in ranch lodge and cabins. (800-743-0458)
One event that draws a good mix year after year is the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, which again drew record crowds last February for the extravagant parade. Every American I have known has asked the same question, as the elaborate floats and festive marching groups pass by: "Why isn't there something like this in the United States?"
Until there is, the Sydney mardi gras will be a popular destination. Gay men, lesbians, transvestites, and spirited straight people are all well represented, and nobody's asking questions. Next year's parade and party take place on Feb. 27, but many hotels are already booked. If you'd like to go there on your own, it's time to make reservations. A number of tour groups offer Mardi Gras packages, as well.
Next Month: Quebec and Amsterdam