GAYS Set Sail

LGBTQ boat-lovers launch Gulf Area Yachting Society.

By Marene Gustin

You don’t have to own a multimillion-dollar yacht or even be LGBTQ to join the new Gulf Area Yachting Society, which goes by the cheeky acronym GAYS. The club is a diverse group of LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly folk who love all kinds of boats and watercraft.

Commodore Michael Harrison explains that the idea hit him and some friends (who were part of another boating social group) earlier this year. “We just noticed there were more and more gays on the water,” Harrison says. “So we thought, let’s start a fun club that transcends gender identity, sexuality, age, race, and religion. Our only requirement is that you have to love the water.”

The Texas Gulf Coast has become increasingly queer-friendly, both as a tourist destination and as a home base. The area has sprouted a plethora of LGBTQ travel companies, cruise lines, Realtors, and bars. And now for the water-lovers, there’s GAYS.

Many inland Texas residents have vacation homes on Galveston Island, Kemah, Clear Lake, and Seabrook. And at many of those coastal homes you’ll find boats—or at least people with access to marinas where they keep a variety of watercraft.

It’s almost a right of passage for South Texans to spend time on the Gulf, soaking up sun, fishing, or just enjoying the breezes. And as boaters tend to be social folks, there are more social clubs than you can shake an oar at—including the Gulf Coast Nudist Yacht Club based in League City, for those who prefer sailing au naturel.

So Harrison and his partner, Constantine Volo, along with their friends Jerry Simoneaux, Christopher Brown, and Dee Latoilais, decided to form GAYS in March for LGBTQ boaters and allies. They held their first member party in June at the Houston Yacht Club. “We’re still pretty small, but we have one member in Mississippi who’s recruiting more out-of-state members,” says Harrison.

The idea is to have special sailing events where members get together and boat to yacht clubs or Red Fish Island, as well as monthly “docktail” parties. “That’s where we get together on someone’s boat at the dock and drink wine and cocktails,” he explains.

Members have sailboats, canoes, and powerboats; all kinds of watercraft are welcome. “And if you don’t own a boat, that’s okay, too,” Harrison adds. “People with boats are always looking for extra crew.”

Harrison says sailing the couple’s 36-foot French Joust sailboat is a constant pleasure. “There’s nothing like being out on the water and putting the sails up,” he says.

Latoilais loves the water just as much, but prefers her 38-foot Sea Ray motorboat. She and her husband have been on the water since 1987, starting with fishing boats. “I guess you could call me a free spirit and an ally,” she says. “I knew Michael and Constantine from another club, and when I met them, I just fell in love. They are so much fun—they have no pretentions at all, they just are who they are.”

Latoilais is looking forward to working on the board of GAYS and enjoying the social aspect of boating with fun folks. “Boat people just tend to be very open,” she says. “It’s all about boating and the water. If you’re in love with that, then we’re very accepting.”

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This article appears in the July 2017 edition of OutSmart Magazine. 


Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and, among others.
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