Red State Retreat? LGBTQ Hosts Encourage Regional Travel

by Merryn Johns

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 27, 2020

Christy Brennand and Avery Carpenter
Christy Brennand and Avery Carpenter  

Domestic travel is seeing an uptick now that many international borders are closed to Americans because of COVID-19. But red states hold the key to many of the nation's historical sites, natural wonders, and charming towns. How comfortable would you be taking a road trip to a destination with no LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws? It's a conundrum that many LGBTQ travelers face as they choose drivable destinations over long-haul flights.

"Previous studies have shown our community to be a resilient and loyal travel segment with a tendency to travel more than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts," says John Tanzella, President and CEO of the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA).

IGLTA's Advancing LGBTQ+ Travel survey supports Tanzella's claim, with 68 percent of respondents saying back in May that they would feel comfortable traveling again as early as this fall. But travel restrictions and a skyrocketing infection rate across the U.S. have impacted where queer travelers are heading. Cross country trips to big cities have been moved to the back burner, replaced with nearby options reachable by car.

But nearby travel may raise a red flag if you live in or headed to certain red states. Arkansas, South Carolina and Wyoming still offer no protection against hate crimes. Yet Purple Roofs LGBTQ+ Travel Directory has innkeepers and hosts eager to welcome LGBTQ travelers—such as lesbian-owned Pond Mountain Lodge & Resort in Eureka Springs, AR; gay-owned Rosewood Manor House in Marion, SC; and lesbian-owned Cowgirls Horse Hotel in Cody, WY.

Diane Kempson and her partner Pam own and operate the bed and breakfast, geared toward women and their horses. Tastefully furnished in ranch-style and offering scenic mountain views, it also happens to be near Laramie, where Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered in 1999. Since then, Kempson says Laramie "has made an effort to improve its national image."

Kempson and her partner have endured very little discrimination from locals — not, it would seem, because of widespread LGBTQ rights, but rather because the women are community fixtures.

"We're both university professors so that probably allows us a bit more latitude. I teach social work, and my partner teaches public health. And we're both in our 70s—how much harm can we do, right?"

Similarly, lesbian couple Christy Brennand 51, and Avery Carpenter, 48, are respected by their community. They operate a short-term rental in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where their clientele is 80 percent straight. The couple is out and proud in their community, where Carpenter is a doctor with her own practice.

"We've lived in Chattanooga for four years and have never experienced any homophobia," she says. "We never feel uncomfortable being together in public."

Their LGBTQ guests have not complained about local discrimination, and the property maintains a five-star rating on Airbnb. It's also listed on the fast-growing LGBTQ-ally booking platform Fabstayz.

Carpenter believes the health safety and privacy of a short-term Airbnb rental over a hotel have contributed to an uptick in bookings.

"We love being hosts," she says. "Everyone is welcome here, and we take good care of our guests." Hosts like Brennand and Carpenter have become integral parts of their communities and contribute to the local economy — much-needed during a time when small businesses are feeling the effects of COVID-19.

Tiffany Van Hoosan's Airbnb property in Fairfield, CA.  (Source: Tiffany Van Hoosan)

While LGBTQ travelers might obsess over acceptance from their destination, it's worth sparing a thought for their hosts. Fabstayz founder Robert Geller recalls his days as an Airbnb superhost where he found himself coming out to guests nightly, "a total stranger in my home in the next bedroom over," he says. "It was like reliving my coming out experience all over again."

Geller came up with the idea for Fabstayz to provide a mutually safe environment for guests and hosts. He cites a host in Australia who lamented the two guests who posed as roommates even though they were clearly more. "She felt bad that she had to go along with the charade, that she couldn't share with them that there was a cool gay bar down the street, and as a host could not improve upon their travel experience."

The platform screens out "haters," Geller believes, by charging an application fee and only accepting experienced, top-rated hosts who understand LGBTQ rights from an ally perspective.

One such ally is Tiffany Van Hoosan, 57, whose Fairfield, California, property is just 25 miles north of Napa Valley, a red pocket military town in a blue state.

Van Hoosan's son is transgender, and her two daughters-in-law are bisexual. Her mission has been to provide an oasis to LGBTQ travelers while feeling supported by Geller's cultivation of a "host community" — crucial at a time when the pandemic and the California wildfires put a dent in the region's tourism infrastructure.

Chad Daughtrey, 50, and his partner Shawn, 41, operate a property in a historic neighborhood near downtown Tampa, Florida.

"Tampa is a very gay-friendly town. Our current mayor, Jane Castor, is the city's first LGBTQ mayor. Many organizations support the LGBTQ community," he says.

But Daughtrey has experienced discrimination in the city when checking into a hotel where he and his partner had reserved one king bed.

"The front desk clerk asked if we wanted two beds. When I said no, they persisted and asked, 'Are you sure?' to which I replied 'Yes, I'm quite sure.'"

The incident helped inform Daughtrey's approach as a host. "I like to give my guests a lot of privacy," he says.

Like many LGBTQ hosts and allies, Daughtrey must navigate being out and proud with respecting his guests' wishes who might not put their sexual orientation or gender identity front and center while traveling. Nevertheless, his own wish is that the state swings blue this election.

Amid the volatile political climate, violence against LGBTQ people and other minorities has increased in recent months, regardless of state lines. Recent incidents in New York City, Miami and Boston prove that laws on the books don't necessarily prevent reprehensible acts of violence.

"We need to come together and find a middle ground so we can once again be a strong nation, a kind nation, and a generous nation," says Daughtrey.

Being a welcoming LGBTQ host is a step in the right direction.

Merryn Johns is a writer and editor based in New York City. She is also a public speaker on ethical travel and a consultant on marketing to the LGBT community.

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