And why sex on the balcony isn’t a good idea
by Marene Gustin
If your summer vacation plans include a cruise, you might want to be careful where the ship is headed. And what you do on deck.
In March, two California men pled guilty in Dominica to charges of indecent exposure. They were onboard the Celebrity Summit as part of a gay cruise sponsored by Atlantis Events when a cocktail-infused romantic moment got the best of them. Which seems like what you’d want from a gay cruise, except they were on their balcony in full view of the folks on land. Dominica, while a lovely Caribbean vacation spot, does not take kindly to public sex displays, particularly between same-sex partners—being that homosexuality is illegal there.
By pleading guilty to indecent exposure, they dodged the bullet of being convicted on sodomy charges. But they also missed the rest of the cruise because of their court date.
Dominica Tourism Minister Ian Douglas was quoted as saying, “It is expected that any time people come to a country, they will respect the laws of the country.”
The news sparked a debate on whether gays and lesbians should visit antigay countries, and the Huffington Post followed up in April with a feature on the 10 sights you’d miss by avoiding antigay countries, such as the pyramids of Egypt. But the comments on the post were almost all negative. Bestgaycities posted: “That’s fine! I will have to miss them. Because I WILL NOT spend my good hard-earned money in an antigay country. If you don’t like me, you don’t need my money. I can look at the photos online!”
Kim Gustavsson, VP of sales and marketing at Concierge Travel here in Houston, has a different view.
“In that case, we shouldn’t even be [visiting parts of] the United States,” he says. “Should we spend our gay dollars in countries that don’t support our lifestyle, or should we go and set a good example?”
Gustavsson’s Concierge Travel is a leader in LGBT travel, booking tours and even designing its own land tours and small-ship cruises specifically for gay and lesbian travelers. And even though they do visit certain countries that are antigay, they’ve never had any problems.
“But any country where being homosexual is punishable by death, I would never visit,” he says. “Nor would I recommend that anyone travel there.”
The key, Gustavsson says, is to do your research. And a good place to start is with the Spartacus Gay Travel Index. Published every year for 40 years, the guide rates 128 countries on the basis of their laws regarding homosexuals, the state of gay marriage and adoption, entry restrictions for HIV-positive people, religious influence on governments, and the ban of Pride parades and specific marketing activities for gay and lesbian tourists.
The newest edition rates Sweden as the most welcoming country, and Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death, as the worst. Also not recommended as LGBT destinations are the United Arab Emirates, Jamaica, Nigeria, Jordan, Russia, Egypt, and Malaysia. India and Turkey are on the watch list due to recent antigay laws.
In Zimbabwe, male-on-male sex is illegal, and a 2006 law banned same-sex couples from holding hands, kissing, or hugging in public. Yet it is a popular destination for LGBT travel due to the spectacular Victoria Falls.
“We’re taking a group back there in 2013,” says Gustavsson. “We haven’t had a problem there. It’s up to us to educate and inform, but it’s also up to the clients to behave responsibly.”
While some destinations in Africa are not advised, South Africa, since the fall of apartheid, has become more open to the gay community—even recognizing same-sex marriages and adoptions. And Cape Town certainly takes advantage of that, actively pursuing its share of the $142 billion worldwide gay travel market. They even hand out “Pink Maps to Cape Town” at the airport for the quarter-million gay tourists who arrive every year.
Cape Town Tourism is even a member of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association, which in 2010 became the first gay organization accepted as an affiliate member of the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
As destinations like Cape Town chase those pink dollars, the niche gay tourism market continues to grow, accounting for more than 15 percent of worldwide travel. At the ITB Berlin—one of the world’s largest annual travel trade fairs—there was even a gay pavilion highlighting gay travel.
Gustavsson says the most popular gay cruises this summer will be headed to Europe and the Greek isles, while the Caribbean attracts tour ships in the
colder months. Wherever you’re headed, remember to do your homework or book through a gay-friendly travel organization like Concierge Travel that can advise you on the laws and customs of your destination.
“Make an educated choice,” reminds Gustavsson. “We once had a cruise ship that docked in Jamaica—one of the most homophobic countries in the Caribbean. But our clients didn’t get off. We advised them to just stay onboard and enjoy a day at the spa. That’s one way to boycott a country. And if you really want to boycott an antigay country, take the money you would have spent there and donate it to an organization to create change. It’s up to the community to be responsible and informed, and work for equality around the world.”
Going Abroad for the Summer?
Some health tips you should consider
An exotic cruise or tour sounds like a splendid idea for summer vacation, doesn’t it? Whether you’re thinking of sunny beaches, dark jungles, or even the culture of Europe, maybe the first stop you make shouldn’t be to a travel agent, but to a doctor.
And not just any doctor, but a specialist in travel medicine, also known as emporiatrics.
“It’s not a new field,” says Dr. Bonnie M. Word of Houston Travel Medicine Clinic. “But more people are getting familiar with it now because of the boom in international travel.” Particularly in Houston, a hub for international travel and an increasingly diverse city where many residents often return to visit their home countries.
When most people think about going abroad, they think about travel arrangements, what to pack, exchanging currency, and maybe whether their iPhones or laptops will work in another country. But the first thing they should be thinking about is their health and how to avoid coming home sick.
Certain countries require specific vaccinations for entry visas; other countries may have active health threats that you should protect yourself from. Either way, you need to know about the risks you face.
“Your family doctor can’t be expected to stay up on all the latest laws, regulations, and health concerns in foreign countries,” says Dr. Word. But physicians specializing in emporiatrics do.
Going to a country that has a limited safe water source? Travelers’ diarrhea is a common complaint.
“People often drink bottled water, but then order a drink with ice or brush their teeth with tap water,” says Dr. Word. Remember the poop scene in the Sex and the City movie?
“We ask where you are going, how long you are staying, and what the accommodations are,” Dr. Word says.
If you are going to Africa and staying in a family’s home for a month, your risk factor for certain health problems may be different than if you are spending a weekend at a five-star hotel.
Houston Travel Medicine Clinic recommends that international travelers see a doctor two to four weeks before leaving. Some vaccines take that long to become active. Although there are some preventive interventions available for last-minute travelers, “We prefer to see them as early as possible,” says Dr. Word. “I’ve had patients that I’ve recommended different destinations to because they had health issues and the country they want to travel to doesn’t have the medical support available should something happen to them.”
In particular, those with HIV or compromised immune systems need to be very informed about countries they are traveling to. If your CD4 cell count is below 200, you cannot receive live vaccinations for diseases. Live vaccinations may be required for visas, or may be suggested.
“And if you are taking certain medications, your doctor needs to know that because they may interfere with medications that are recommended,” says Dr. Word.
If you are visiting an exotic locale, you certainly want to think about anti-malaria drugs, yellow fever vaccinations, hepatitis-A vaccines, and packing a stash of antibiotics for traveler’s diarrhea. But even in Western Europe you need some preventative medicine before you visit the Louvre or the London Summer Olympics this year.
“Measles had been all but eradicated in America,” Dr. Word says. “But now there are outbreaks here because people who weren’t vaccinated traveled to Western Europe, caught it, and brought it back.”
In fact, there were more than 26,000 cases of measles in Europe last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“So it’s important to be up on all your regular vaccinations as well as preventative medications for exotic diseases when traveling abroad,” Dr. Word advises.
And one other tip if you are HIV-positive or have other health issues: look into medical evacuation insurance.
“If you have underlying health issues, you really need to look at the healthcare support in the country you want to visit,” Dr. Word says. “If they don’t have the facilities to care for you if something happens, you need to be able to get out right away—or else you don’t want to book that non-refundable ticket.”
Bottom line: if you are going abroad this summer, do your research to stay healthy.
“You want to come back from vacation with fond memories,” says Dr. Word. “Not unwanted souvenirs.”
INFO: Houston Travel Medicine Clinic
Bonnie M. Word, M.D.
Marene Gustin also writes about Sean Hammerle in this issue of OutSmart magazine.