Yes, Kalamazoo is a real place! I personally never questioned its realness, however, I did see a ton of souvenirs with that slogan so I guess that may be a question on some of your minds. Kalamazoo is located in southwest Michigan, not too far from Grand Rapids and Saugatuck, two destinations I reported on a few years ago.

Kalamazoo is one of those cities that you may not know a lot about, which is actually really exciting for me. I love to travel to those type of destinations, so I have absolutely zero expectations going into the trip. I really didn’t know what to expect. This may make some people nervous, but I love going on new adventures.

My guest Devin and I drove to the city from Indianapolis. We were running a bit early, so we decided to swing by the Lillian Anderson Arboretum for a quick hike and to see the beautiful fall foliage. The 140-acre property is a private facility, owned by Kalamazoo College and can easily be passed if you aren’t paying attention, but once you enter the property, guests are drawn in by its natural beauty. We were lucky enough to have visited at the perfect time of year to get those Instagram-friendly photos of the beautiful fall colors.

The goal of this trip was a fall getaway, so Devin and I wanted to indulge in all the fall activities humanly possible in two days. We stopped by Kalamazoo Candle Company located in the heart of downtown. Here you can either purchase the perfect fall-themed candle, or if you are brave enough, you can make your own. The homemade candles, which are very affordable, take about an hour to make. While you wait for your candle to settle, you can visit the dozens of quaint boutiques along Kalamazoo Mall – it’s a street, not an indoor mall. My candle was exactly what I was hoping it would be. I’m not sure what I put in it and will certainly not be able to recreate the scent, but I love it.

Conveniently located a block from the mall is Radisson Plaza Hotel, a modern property complete with tons of amenities including multiple dining options as well as a Starbucks. Check into the Upjohn Suite, a magnificent room consisting of a full living room, dining room, kitchen, master bedroom and two bathrooms. This suite was larger than my loft in Indy. The property offers a huge pool, fitness center and sauna and really is in the heart of downtown. Almost every activity we had planned was a quick 5-10 minute walk from the hotel.

Kalamazoo loves its beer and Bell’s Brewery is one of the local favorites. Although not gay-owned, the brewery is a huge supporter of the LGBTQ community as well as the local pride events. If you visit, make sure you check out the gift shop and ask for one of their rainbow beer sweat shirts.

You can either grab a quick bite at Bell’s or head back over to the Mall where you will find an Italian restaurant called Rustica. Devin began his meal with an incredible Wedge Salad while I opted for the Braised Heirloom Beet salad with currant, hazelnut, ricotta and port glacé. My salad was so large I decided not to finish it as I wanted to save room for the main entrée, Bouillabaisse, a seafood stew made with shrimp, scallops, mussels, salmon, and potatoes in a delicious saffron broth. This is one of the items I always look for on a menu when I travel and is wonderful on a cool fall evening. It’s the perfect sharable entrée and this time was no different. We had to order extra bread to soak up the broth.

Rustica restaurant, Kalamazoo

We didn’t mind consuming that many carbs at dinner because we were booked on the Haunted History of Kalamazoo walking tour organized by Paranormal Michigan. The nearly two-hour tour snakes you around downtown to some of the city’s most haunted locations and buildings. You don’t get to go inside the buildings unfortunately, but the knowledgeable tour guide recants stories of paranormal activity that has taken place throughout history, in some cases dating back to the 1800s.

After a wonderful night’s rest back at the Radisson Plaza Hotel, head to Air Zoo, one of the most unique attractions in the Mid-West. The Air Zoo is a Smithsonian-affiliated museum containing over 100 air and space artifacts. The experience begins with some of the earliest forms of flight including a Curtis Pusher from 1911. Guests journey on a chronological history of aviation, up until the modern age and space era. Some personal favorites included the Lockheed SR-71B Blackbird, McDonnell F-4E Phantom 2 and the Grumman Cougar. This is the perfect place for LGBTQ families as well. The staff and volunteers at Air Zoo have undergone extensive diversity training and are welcoming to all!

Henderson Castle

After Air Zoo, head to Henderson Castle, a magnificent mansion completed in 1895 by Frank Henderson, a successful Kalamazoo businessman. The Queen Anne style house was designed by C. A. Gombert of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and constructed for $72,000, a lofty sum for the time. The castle is known as the Jewel of Kalamazoo and was voted one of the top historic inns in America. Guests can stay at the inn or visit for one of their popular murder mystery dinners. Henderson Castle also offers Sunday Brunch, Afternoon Tea and is available for private events.

Before heading out on the town, grab dinner at Theo & Stacy’s, a family-owned Greek restaurant originally established in my hometown of Flushing, New York, before relocating to Kalamazoo in the 1970s. The menu contains traditional Greek favorites including Mousaka, Grape Leaves and Gyro’s but if you want to sample a bit of everything, try the Greek Combo Plate.

No trip would be complete without visiting the local LGBTQ establishment. Club Vortex is technically located in Blue Dolphin restaurant, but on Saturday evenings, the restaurant converts into the hottest spot in KZOO. Devin and I arrived a bit early to get the lay of the land and meet some of the locals. The owner of the club introduced himself to us and asked us if we wanted to be the spotlight dancers of the night. The evening’s theme was wigs & heels and even though we had neither, the locals still made us feel welcome. It was an unexpected memory that made this trip so much fun.

To book your Kalamazoo gaycation, visit www.Orbitz.com/Pride

Photo courtesy of KimChi Chic Beauty

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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.