What's a Queer Family Vacation Without Kids? Kelli Carpenter Explains
The company that invented LGBTQ+ family travel is pivoting away from it.
Kelli Carpenter was once best known as Rosie O’Donnell’s ex, but now the lesbian mom is known for the company she co-founded, R Family Vacations.
R Family was previously synonymous with vacationing queer parents who had kids in tow, but now it has so many adults-only cruises the company has announced it will soon rebrand to better reflect its passenger demographic.
Carpenter was a featured speaker this June at the LGBTQ+ luxury conference PROUD Experiences in New York City. She shared the struggles she faced growing up (her conservative religious Louisiana family repeatedly subjected her to conversion therapy) and becoming a lesbian mom.
Kelli Carpenter pictured with her R Family Vacations cofounder, Gregg Kaminsky, on a recent excursion.
“When I started my own family 26 years ago, this was way more of a unique situation than it is now,” Carpenter explained. “Being in an LGBTQ family was a new concept back then. It came with many of its own challenges. As my kids grew older, I saw their need to see other families that were like theirs. I knew that if I was searching for this and living in New York City, I couldn’t imagine what other gay families in more remote locations felt like.”
Things changed in 2002 when she took her family to Provincetown, Massachusetts, for the queer Mecca’s Family Weekend (now a full week). “My kids were young but old enough to understand what they saw,” she recalled. “They saw for the first time, families that looked like theirs. It was really a moment of change for my kids. I felt an idea stirring inside of me after that first visit.”
Her friend, Gregg Kaminsky, had been with her in P-town that weekend. A gay man, he was working for Atlantis Events at the time, one of the largest gay cruise companies in the world. “He had a travel industry background and I had a marketing background,” Carpenter explained. “Plus, I felt like I understood what these families were missing.”
When R Family launched two decades ago, they created vacations for LGBTQ+ families but, Carpenter said, it quickly became more than just a vacation company. “It became a community, a community where everyone is accepted. And once a year, these kids that are members of a gay family could see other families that looked like theirs.”
It also wasn’t just booking queer couples and their kids. “Many of our guests are extended straight friends and family,” Carpenter said. “So we may have a family…book and it’s one gay couple with their children and their brother and his wife and their kids and their parents. So that’s what it looks like on board one of our trips. It was finally actually a place that was reflective of my own life. Not all gay; not all lesbian; including my allies and straight friends and family. With R Family Vacations, I was able to create the community that I had dreamed of having as a gay teen.”
A lot has changed since 2002, which is why R Family is now reconsidering how it identifies. “Since that first cruise ship charter I’ve shared the world with other 20,000 people and I’ve seen toddlers grow into adults,” Carpenter explained. “I now have a whole other branch with my company. That’s the older empty nesters that their kids have grown up so now we cater to them, too. We now have a whole adult-only side of our business.”
Since that initial R Family sailing 20 years ago, Carpenter said, “In some ways, we’ve made great strides as far as marriage equality and protections for our families.” But, speaking just days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, she added that we are entering dangerous territory. In the face of that, she concluded, “I hope we keep remembering that travel is a way that we open our minds and soften our hearts to new things. So along with exploring the world together and resisting this, we are all going to get through this together.”
R Family Vacations ‘OUT in Venice’ cruise was aboard a Uniworld riverboat