King Kamehameha was a handsome, muscular, nearly seven-foot-tall
monarch who united the Hawaiian Islands with a firm hand for the first time
in their history. In the end his reign was one of unparalleled peace among the
previously warring islands. On his deathbed in 1819 in the quiet cove of Kailua-Kona,
his very last words to his people were "Enjoy what I have made right."
I lived on the Big Island for years and spent a long time
soaking up its natural mystic atmosphere. Hawaii may be part of modern America,
but it is very much its own universe, full of lava goddesses and menehune
(leprechauns) and a tangible feeling of existing amid thousands of miles of
open ocean. The peace that Kamehameha created is still as strong there today.
This profound uniqueness of place--in all its geographical specificity and human
drama--is what traveling, in my view, is all about.
As the current battle for same-sex marriage rages on the
mainland, many forget that Hawaii was where it all began in 1990, when three
gay couples applied for marriage licenses in Honolulu. The issue was eventually
put to a public vote in 1998, when it was resoundingly defeated.
The fact that minority rights were put to a majority vote
is another topic altogether. But what struck me as funny is that before contact
with Europe, Hawaii was a society with blurred sexual lines, a very loose definition
of marriage, and a culture of aloha (love)--where everyone was included
regardless of their differences.
Despite political setbacks, Hawaii is still one of the most
gay-friendly, laid-back places on the planet. And as more and more out gay and
lesbian travelers return to discover the 50th state, the traditionally conservative
Hawaiian tourism officials come closer to embracing the gay travel market. And
who knows--if Hawaii residents had been more acutely aware of how popular their
islands are for gay tourists, they might have drawn on their own history and
As my former colleague Arthur Frommer showed me, travel
is not one of life's extravagances but one of life's necessities. It has the
immense power to change our character, our preconceptions, our worldview. It
shakes us out of our ruts and expands our notion of what is possible in this
life. But often overlooked is the power that we travelers have on the places
we visit. As more and more gay and lesbian voyagers spread out into the world,
openly and happily and without feeling the need to be marginalized, we become
accidental ambassadors. The simple act of visiting other places in our casual
state of identity causes people in different places to alter their own preconceptions.
And the world changes.
I look forward to sharing this sense of the transformative
nature of travel in the future pages of The Out Traveler. I believe it
will be a revelatory journey for us all.