Summer 2007 | Gay Family Travel
Rose Leder-Lee still does much of her sightseeing from a stroller, but at age of three she has already logged 13 cross-country trips with her mothers, journalist Gretchen Lee and filmmaker-media producer Evie Leder.
"She's enrolled in three frequent flier programs," Lee says. "And the points are starting to add up!"
The San Francisco-based couple started flying with their daughter when she was only four months old, joining the expanding ranks of gay families contributing to the $54 billion gay travel market. According to a recent study by Witeck-Combs Communications and the research film Packaged Facts, an estimated 1.8 million gay and lesbian households now include at least one child.
But planning a gay-friendly family vacation isn't always as simple as heading to the nearest airport. It requires striking a balance between the gay and heterosexual travel worlds. Many destinations known for catering to gay travelers -- such as Palm Springs, Fort Lauderdale and Key West -- focus their marketing on singles looking for a party atmosphere or romantic getaways. Gay guest houses in those cities often have a no-kids policy.
Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the national LGBT family advocacy organization Family Pride (www.familypride.org), is well versed in the push and pull between a location's appeal as gay hotspot and family attraction. The organization draws as many as 500 gay families to Provincetown each summer for its Family Week activities.
"We've always really enjoyed being in Provincetown, and for the most part have had great experiences -- but I definitely know there's a little undertow from restaurant owners and shop owners who rely on a certain profile in terms of their businesses," she says. "They worry that a huge influx of families means they won't see the same bar receipts or the same nightclub activity. It's an interesting juxtaposition."
Taking a mainstream approach to travel provides access to family-friendly amenities like homey hotels, restaurants with high chairs, and playgrounds, but it can also attract unwanted attention for a gay family.
"For dads in particular, it's a really sensitive issue," Chrisler says. "In this society people still don't expect to see two men with a baby -- and particularly not traveling."
Minneapolis residents Tim Creagan and his life partner, Fred Bertron, say that when they adopted their son Thomas six years ago, it changed the way they looked at travel.
"Now we worry about what potential things our son might hear," Creagan says. "We were driving through the Carolinas and passed through some small town that all these Confederate flags flying. There was a time we would have probably stopped and still had lunch -- when we were just two guys. But when it's two guys and their baby, you definitely keep the gas pedal down and make your way through town. It's important that Thomas have a great time on vacation; we don't want to put ourselves in a position where we're going to feel uncomfortable."
Major cities like New York, Miami, Chicagoand San Francisco are popular choices for gay parents who want to balance kid-friendly museums and attractions with hiring a babysitting service and taking some couple time at night.
"Places where there are so many interesting people and walking around is an adventure are good for gay families," Leder says. "As gay travelers, we want to be appreciated. I would prefer that we be noticed as a two-mom family rather than misunderstood as being 'sisters' or 'friends.' "
Vacations marketed specifically to gay families used to be non-existent, but that changed in 2004 with the launch of R Family Vacations (www.rfamilyvacations.com), which single-handedly brought attention to this overlooked niche within the gay travel market. The Rosie O'Donnell-backed travel company hosts cruises and land-based vacations that merge a gay-affirming environment with kid-friendly activities.
The rest of the travel world is slowly following in her wake. Olivia Cruises and Resorts has held family-oriented weeks at Florida Club Med, and South Florida women's event promoters Alison Burgos and Yesi Leon launched Gay Day Family this year, three days of activities surrounding the annual gay weekend at Disney World.
In Fort Lauderdale, where there are nearly 30 gay guesthouses catering predominantly to men, the gay-owned Sandra Lee Inn (www.sandraleeinn.com/family) is building a word-of-mouth following as "the family alternative for alternative families."
This year, Family Pride celebrates the 12th anniversary of Family Week in Provincetown (July 28 to Aug. 4) by partnering with R Family Vacations in an effort to make it the biggest gathering to date. Family-themed events include beach bonfires, dances, carnivals and a pirate dinner.
"The most important thing gay families look for when deciding on a destination is a safe environment," says Chrisler, who travels frequently with her life partner and 5-year-old twin boys. "I think that's why you've seen such tremendous growth and success with companies like R Family Vacations, while we've seen such incredible growth in the number of families that attend Family Week."