Arts and Humanities Collection Spotlight: A Guide to Gay Travel in 1997

May 8th 2018

Guest post by Kayleigh Fischietto

With the spring semester officially over and summer fast approaching, many of us are already thinking about summer travel plans. The ease of internet travel booking has made visits to a local travel agency all but obsolete, their once vibrant posters promising world travel curling and sun-bleached. Configuring phone plans may tax the international traveler, but at least the hassle of keeping track of telephone cards has become a thing of the past. Notable changes have marked the face of travel in the last twenty years for some travelers more than others.

The 1997 edition of USA Cities: Essential Information for Gay and Lesbian Travelers attests to the increased access to services within the travel industry that gay and lesbian tourists had achieved in part through activist efforts. Published in a historical moment when even state-sanctioned domestic partnerships were unknown and violent discrimination a tangible concern, the guide promises to put vacationers in the know about gay and gay-friendly accommodations, eateries, and nightlife. 

In the years leading up to Y2K, gay and lesbian* travelers looking for a travel experience beyond the straight and narrow had growing options. Cruise events catering exclusively to gay and lesbian clientele are recommended in the guide as an ideal large group experience, especially for singles looking to mingle. Olivia Cruises and Tours, still in operation today, is noted as a popular choice for lesbians, especially “politically correct San Francisco Bay area types,” even if about 80 percent of participants have already paired off. Nowadays events catering to gay and lesbian travelers are common on most major cruise lines and even Rosie O’Donnell has launched a company offering family-friendly cruises for gay and lesbian travelers.

The guide encourages lesbian travelers more at home in a pair of hiking boots than sandals to check out wilderness excursions offering both feminist and eco-consciousness raising. The women-owned company Hawk, I’m Your Sister promises that travelers who leave drugs and alcohol at home will find themselves high on the natural beauty of locales as diverse as Peru and Russia. Those looking to experience the great outdoors without forgoing the party scene could mark their calendars for Aspen Gay Ski Week, an annual event that continues to this day.

Hardcore party-goers could choose from a number of colorful circuit parts including the crown jewel, the Saint-at-Large Black Party, which drew gay men from across the country for nights of decadence. Despite concerns about the role of these high-profile parties in HIV transmission among gay men, these few-holds-barred events drew impressive crowds even into the late 90s. The Dinah, held to coincide with the Nabisco Dinah Shore Golf Classic in Palm Springs, was and continues to be the preeminent event for lesbian party-goers looking to beat the desert heat.

The Out & About newsletter which predates this guide was critical in increasing tour operators and travel service providers’ awareness of the largely uncourted pink dollar. Industry players began taking note including Travel & Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler, which featured the term ‘gay’ for the first time in their coverage of the newsletter. After 12 years of publication as Out & About, the newsletter became part of Out Traveler magazine in 2004, which is partially available through IU Libraries in print and electronic formats. 

(*The terms ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ are used throughout to reflect usage in the guide; however, they do not accurately represent the diversity of sexual orientation and gender among readers for whom the travel suggestions contained therein apply.)


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