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#gaycation

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The summer travel season is looking hot and crowded. The ongoing global pandemic, the war in Ukraine, skyrocketing inflation, and high gas prices are not a match for Americans’ pent-up wanderlust. Like everyone else, queer travelers are not staying at home sipping margaritas on the couch.

Most Americans (85%) plan to hit the road for long summer vacations, discovered Out of Home Advertising Association of America. Nearly half of Americans (48%) are taking at least two weeks if not more time off than in 2021, that’s 41% more than last year.

OAAA’s figure is nearly 10 percentage points higher than the 73% of LGBTQ travelers –85% of whom have passports – who were planning a major vacation before the end of last year, according to the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, the leading global LGBTQ travel market association.

According to the OAAA, 69% of Americans feel safe and comfortable flying again, 10 percentage points higher from April 2021 (59%).

Another survey conducted by vacation rental management company, Vacasa, found that approximately 3 in 4 travelers (74%) are planning to keep their summer trips within the U.S. Only 26% of travelers are planning international trips this year with Canada and Mexico tying as preferred destinations along with other countries further abroad on travelers’ lists, according to the survey.

This willingness to get back out into the world after a long pause due to the global pandemic and travelers facing new challenges in its wake demonstrates how resilient travelers are and just how desperately people need a vacation.

A day at the beach, exploring nature in national parks, wellness, and even distant lands are the top vacations travelers are booking, according to travel experts.

These five new LGBTQ travel companies want to take queer travelers on vacation. They want you to feel like you are on vacation before you even pack. They take the stress of planning every detail of the journey into their expert hands.

Out in Colombia

Out in Colombia tour in Comuna 13 in Medellin, Colombia.

Out in Colombia travelers exploring Comuna 13, locally known as C13, the infamous hilltop neighborhood once controlled by Colombia’s cartels transformed into a vibrant artist community in Medellin, Colombia.

Heather Cassell

The award-winning sustainable LGBTQ travel company, Out in Colombia, offers a wide variety of luxury multi-day tours and packages exploring Colombia, “the gateway to South America.

Founded by American expatriate Sam Castaneda Holdren, who resides in Medellin, in 2016, Out in Colombia’s team offers one-of-a-kind bespoke experiences for LGBTQ travelers. The travel company highlights Colombia’s best cities. Colombia’s capital, Bogota, has an out lesbian mayor Claudia Lopez Hernandez and boasts of a destination gay dance club that takes up an entire city block with 16 different dance floors and a concert theater. Cartagena, “The Walled City,” is home to the country’s famous beauty pageant queens on the shores of the Caribbean Sea the city features pristine beaches. Medellin transformed from cartel control into a vibrant artistic city. Salento is where travelers get up close to Colombia’s famous coffee grown high in the Andes.

Explore all of Colombia’s highlights on a 15-day trip to Bogota, Salento, Medellin, and Cartagena or a 10-day trip to Bogota, Medellin, and Cartagena.

Learn More at Out in Colombia

VACAYA

group of vacationers taking a group photo on Celebrity's Millennium ship.

Nearly 2,000 Vacayans, what Vacaya calls its vacationers, aboard Celebrity’s Millennium ship for Vacaya’s 2022 Caribbean Cruise in January.

Courtesy of Vacaya

The award-winning cruise and resort travel company, Vacaya, offers unique destinations and gaycations that bring everyone under the rainbow together for a truly LGBTQ vacation.

Founded by Randle Roper, Patrick Gunn, and John Finen in 2018, the cruise and resort travel company launched its inaugural cruise in 2019.

Vacaya is the marriage of a word from the secret gay language, Polari, used within gay communities to communicate with each other for centuries. The award-winning entertainment, hospitality, and travel gay executives who love traveling and the LGBTQ community wanted a different travel experience than what gay cruises and other LGBTQ travel companies offer. They wanted to travel with the entire L-G-B-T-Q community.

Travel they have. The company has taken thousands of LGBTQ travelers to Seychelles, Iceland, South Africa, the Caribbean, Mexico, Costa Rica, Provincetown, and other beloved and amazing places. Unique destinations, such as the forthcoming cruise to Antarctica or the Polynesia Cruise next year, are becoming Vacaya’s signature in line with its goal to be a different travel company for the LGBTQ traveler.

Learn more at Vacaya

Pink Coconuts

women on vacation with pink coconuts where queer travel meets community.

Pink Coconuts, Where Queer Travel Meets Community.

photo courtesy of Pink Coconuts

Launched by Donnya “Zi” Piggott and colleagues during the global pandemic, Pink Coconuts aims to take travelers to less-traveled destinations in the Caribbean and Africa that are often shunned by the LGBTQ travelers due to the regions’ anti-gay records.

Pink Coconuts started as a tourism and hospitality diversity and inclusion project of Barbados Gays, Lesbians, and All-Sexuals Against Discrimination, known as B-Glad. The project’s goal was to train travel and hospitality brands on how to be inclusive and the negative economic effects of not being inclusive. The company graduated from a project to a travel company when Piggott realized only a few people in the Caribbean were bringing LGBTQ travelers to the islands. Piggott decided to be the person to bring more queer travelers to experience other wonderful islands in the Caribbean that are not on many queer travelers’ radars. At the same time, they also set their sight on Africa.

The startup travel company allows queer travelers to build their own itineraries booking with their vetted and trained LGBTQ-friendly partners or Pink Coconuts can create custom vacation itineraries from girlfriend getaways, gaycations, engagements, honeymoons, and other romantic getaways; volunteering at a local organization, or simply to unplug and sit on a beach.

Learn More at Pink Coconuts

African Queens Travel

African Queens Travel founder Carla Smith and fiance Ramona Gatto on the Zambezi River in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

African Queens Travel founder Carla Smith, right, and her fiance Ramona Gatto, left, enjoying the local food and drinks on the Sunset Dinner Cruise on the Zambezi River in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Courtesy of African Queens Travel / Carla Smith

Founded by South African Carla Smith and her family who are rooted in the country’s travel and hospitality industry for generations, African Queens Travel launched just as the global pandemic shutdown travel globally in April 2020.

The company didn’t fully put plans on hold. Instead, the company built out its itineraries offering eight 6- to -15-day trips from the highlights of South Africa to romantic getaways to rainbow family safaris to Cape Town Pride 2023 for when travel returned.
The lesbian-owned travel company’s 2023 itineraries include roundtrip airfare from select U.S. airports, stays at luxury resorts, tours, and nearly all meals and other amenities.

Learn More at African Queens Travel

Lesmon Experience

Lesmon Experience, a new lesbian travel company.

International business partners and couple Montse Serrano, right, who is Spanish, and Aimee Bucher, left, who is American, kayaking in a lake with the Arenal Volcano in the background in Costa Rica. The business partners and couple launched Lesmon Experience to travel the world with other lesbians.

Courtesy of Lesmon Experience

International business partners and couple Montse Serrano and Aimee Bucher launched Lesmon Experience in 2020 right before the global pandemic hit. The name mashes “lesbian” and the Catalan word “món,” which translates to world, together to create Lesmon, lesbian world. The company paused waiting out the pandemic, two years later, Bucher, who is American, and Serrano, who is Spanish, can’t wait to bring queer women to the private gay-owned Costa Rican resort in Manuel Antonio, the LGBTQ Tico beach destination, as their first adventure. The company is offering three different all-inclusive trips set for July, including one during Manuel Antonio’s beach Pride festivities, July 16. All you have to do is get your plane ticket and pack your bags, Lesmon Experience will do the rest.

Learn More at Lesmon Experience

OAAA, the national trade association for the out-of-home advertising industry, partnered with The Harris Poll to conduct the survey published in March. The Harris Poll conducted the online survey from February 9 – 14, 2022, with a representative sample of 1,000 United States adults older than 18 years of age. Data is weighted to reflect the U.S. general public across age, gender, race/ethnicity, region, income, household size, and employment.

Vacasa partnered with Allison+Partners surveying 1,001 individuals over the age of 18 in the United States in March 2022. The survey was fielded using Qualtrics Insight Platform and the panel was sourced from Lucid.


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Mjolnir

Like many of the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe films, LGBTQ+ fans awaited the release of Thor: Love and Thunder in open anticipation of the inclusivity that both Marvel and Disney had promised. However, the fans were only setting themselves up for disappointment when the film was finally released.

Despite passionate assurances from studio heads to key actors, Thor: Love and Thunder was NOT spectacularly gay. It wasn’t even that good…

Premiere Night Promises

A bolt of lightning cuts across a rainbow on a dark and stormy night.

Lightning bold across the sky

Photo by Bill D.

Standing on the red carpet at the London Premiere of the film, director and actor Taika Waititi and fellow cast members Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson were offered up the inevitable question: “How gay is the film?

Amidst some laughter from the crowds, Waititi gestured towards Portman to respond. The actress (who plays Thor’s love interest, Jane Foster, throughout the franchise) raised the microphone to her lips and thought for a moment, before delivering a quiet yet fateful: “So gay!

Barely a moment had passed before the gathered fans went wild and Taika Waititi gave his own verdict: “Super gay!”. Tessa Thompson made no statement on the ‘gayness’ of the film, instead opting to swing her microphone around suggestively. As more cheers erupted, a second round of “super gay” slipped out of Waititi’s mouth, before he urged the fans to enjoy the film.

Thor: Love and Thunder’s LGBTQ+ Potential

Thor’s movie-goers were definitely hyped up for a gay extravaganza and they had a specific character in mind. The fan-favorite Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson, stumbled her way into the MCU during Thor’s third film, Ragnarok. The Asgardian warrior won many people over with her wit, sarcasm, and pure badassery.

After the events of Avengers: Endgame *spoilers*, Thor Odinson gives up his claim to the throne of Asgard and names Valkyrie as king in his stead. This left many fans excited to see what would become of the character, especially after certain revelations were made at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con:

“As a new king, she has to find her queen. So that’ll be her first order of business.”

With these words, Tessa Thompson threw her LGBTQ+ fans into a frenzy, with heavy expectations for the then-upcoming fourth installment of the Thor films. Indeed, in an interview with the LA Times, shortly before the film's release, Tessa Thompson was asked to comment on the sexuality of her character. She responded with several promising remarks, including “there’s a lot of folks that are righteously very hungry for that representation to exist in these movies, as am I”.

*Warning: spoilers ahead!*

So, How Gay Was Thor 4?

To put it simply: not gay at all. Not only did Valkyrie end up without a fabulous new queen, her non-heteronormative sexuality only got the barest mention (a brief line about a previous, now dead, girlfriend). Valkyrie may have made bedroom eyes at some pretty ladies before an action scene spoils the moment, but that’s about as much as we get.

The film does get some credit for introducing a trans character in a minor yet significant role. Thor returns to his people (after a brief stint as a Guardian of the Galaxy) only to find out that the daughter of one of his closest (and deceased) friends is now a boy. The issue is, whether due to personal prejudice or some alien inability to grasp the concept of being transgender, it does take Thor a frustrating few moments to come to terms with the change. And to stop deadnaming.

In fact, the only concession to the queer community was Taika Waititi’s extraterrestrial character Korg finding a husband in one of the closing scenes. This heartfelt moment was somewhat underscored by the revelation that Korg’s entire species is male, meaning he had no other choice but to be ‘gay’.

This Is Not Marvel’s First Queerbaiting Attempt

Close up of an eye reflecting an unknown scene as a rainbow crosses the image.

Photo by Harry Q.

This is, by far, not the first time that LGBTQ+ fans have been sorely disappointed by the workings of Marvel and Disney. In fact, people across many social media platforms have been chiding expectant viewers for once again falling for classic queerbaiting tactics. “Being queerbaited by the MCU is like being a golden retriever with a human who always pretends to throw the ball”, one Tumblr user declared.

Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson, was the perfect moment for the MCU to introduce its first lesbian lead. Larson’s character seemed to have an intense relationship with another woman, going so far as to help raise her child (before Larson’s Carol Danvers disappeared from Earth for 6 years). Despite leaning into several romantic tropes, the status of their relationship was never fully fleshed out. However, it was also the franchise’s first female-led superhero movie, so maybe they thought that introducing her as a lesbian would make the film too awesome.

The heavily anticipated Avengers: Endgame was also slated to introduce the MCU’s ‘first gay character'. While many fans were excited, particularly as this would be the second of Larson’s appearances on screen, the big gay build-up was a massive letdown. The film’s director Joe Russo made a cameo as a blip survivor mourning the loss of his husband. A five-second throw-away scene that had no impact on the outcome of the film. Big whoop...

Even when we did see a film with a gay lead, The Eternals, there were also ten other straight leads. At that point, it just seemed more like basic probability than an attempt at pushing LGBT+ superheroes into the spotlight.

Why Can’t Disney Let Marvel Be Gay?

The big problem with allowing a few characters to be anything other than cishet is that there are still many countries in the world that outlaw homosexuality. As much as we like to think that the MCU is being made for comic book fans, we all know the purpose of the films is to make money for Disney. And without certain markets in Asia and the Middle East, Disney wouldn’t be raking in up to (and over) one billion dollars per theatrical release.

Is There Any Hope For LGBTQ+ Fans In The MCU’s Future?

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the second in the much-loved Black Panther arc, will be released in cinemas this November. The studio has confirmed that the film will contain a queer character. Actress Michaela Coel will play Aneka, a warrior, and trainer of the king’s guard. Whether or not her diversity will stand out in the film (let alone endure for more than a 10-second scene that can be easily cut) remains to be seen.


Next year’s The Marvels film, starring Brie Larson, Iman Vellani, and Lashana Lynch may offer the MCU a chance to redeem itself in the eyes of its LGBT+ fans. The studios may feel it’s finally time to offer us the heartwarming lesbian relationship between Larson’s Carol Danvers and Lynch’s Maria Rambeau that seemed to be teased in the first Captain Marvel. Don’t raise your hopes too high, though, as you may yet end up as a stubborn golden retriever waiting for a cinematic universe to finally throw that rainbow ball.