Travel with pride
- Change on the ground may be slow, but Indian LGBTQ+ travellers are making their presence felt
- As the industry discovers ‘pink tourism’, a few Indian destinations find favour with LGBTQ+ travellers
Ayear since the Supreme Court of India read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalized homosexuality, not much has changed for Indian LGBTQ+ travellers.
“In my opinion, India is still ages away from establishing LGBTQ+ friendly spaces and destinations. There may be a property or two hidden away in a liberal destination in India but those are only exceptions and not norms," says Prathap Nair, a queer Indian journalist now based in Frankfurt, Germany. Ishaan Sethi, co-founder and CEO of Delta, India’s first home-grown LGBTQ+ dating app (Thedeltaapp.com), agrees. “Things are trickier in the Indian context due to deep-rooted stigmas and cultural and societal beliefs," he says.
So what makes a destination LGBTQ+ friendly? “Non-discrimination based on how a person looks, who they vacation with, and access to places regardless of how they identify; to be queer-friendly means you just have to stop making someone’s personal life your business," says Pooja Krishnakumar, digital editor and curator of Gaysi Family, an e-zine for LGBTQ+ Indians (Gaysifamily.com). Mumbai-based queer writer Vivek Tejuja, whose memoir So Now You Know: Growing Up Gay In India releases on 6 September, elaborates: “For me the parameters would be that I can hold my partner’s hand without being gawked at, and that I can easily book a hotel room," he says. “Access to a network of spaces that are LGBTQ+ friendly also adds a lot of value," says Sethi.
Change on the ground may be slow, but Indian LGBTQ+ travellers are making their presence felt. “Post (the reading down of) Section 377, the LGBTQ+ community has realized a sense of freedom, which has changed the way they travel. They are now more open with their requirements. At Yatra.com, we do receive queries from the community and we customize holiday packages on the basis of their requirements," says Sharat Dhall, chief operating officer (business-to-consumer) at Yatra.com.
Goa seems to be a firm favourite. “Goa would top the charts, mainly because of its give-a-damn attitude. Also, smaller destinations such as Pune, Coonoor, Coorg and Mahabaleshwar seem to be LGBTQ+ friendly," says Tejuja. Mumbai, India’s unofficial gay capital, is another popular destination. “It is one of the most progressive cities in India and also hosts the annual KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival," says Dhall.
Hotels are waking up to “pink tourism". “The hospitality industry is figuring out that LGBTQ+ is a superb market to cater to, with queer-friendly tours, queer group tours, hotels making ads about being queer-friendly, etc.," says Krishnakumar. Sethi picks the LaLiT hotels across India as the most LGBTQ+ friendly, followed by the Park Hyatt in Chennai.
Social media and community networks help the LGBTQ+ community navigate the travel space. In addition to being a dating app, the Delta app lists brands, restaurants and hotels that are LGBTQ+ friendly, says Sethi. “The Delta Network also lists various LGBTQ+ friendly events across the country," he says.
He also recommends using Misterb&b (Misterbandb.com), a travel and networking website that provides LGBTQ+ friendly apartment and hotel listings in 135 countries. Gaysi Family frequently posts about travel destinations, personal travel stories, and tips for companies to be more inclusive. “As a queer collective, we have a big role to play in how people understand LGBTQ+ travellers and their specific needs—for example, the right treatment of trans people when they approach hotel bathrooms that are usually gendered," explains Krishnakumar.
For a stress-free holiday, however, going abroad seems the best bet. “Countries with marriage equality or equal rights, e.g. the US, Canada, France, the UK, Spain, etc., are likely to be queer-friendly," says Sethi. New York City (NYC) takes the lead. According to the 2019 LGTBQ+ travel trends survey conducted by the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association Foundation (IGLTAF) in partnership with Airbnb, LGBTQ+ respondents are 13% more likely to travel to NYC than their non-identifying counterparts.
2019 is especially significant for NYC as it marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, a series of spontaneous demonstrations by the LGBTQ+ community against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. “We declared 2019 the Year of Pride to not only celebrate Stonewall 50 and WorldPride, the first time in the US, but to also celebrate a year-long calendar of Pride-inspired cultural programming," says Fred Dixon, president and CEO of NYC & Company, the city’s official marketing arm.
NYC is closely followed by Los Angeles (LA). “Visitors can enjoy everything from guided LGBTQ+ hop-on, hop-off and walking tours that offer a glimpse into LA’s rich LGBTQ+ heritage, to exhibitions that highlight issues like gender identity and celebrate LGBTQ+ artists," says Jamie Foley, vice-president, global communications, Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board.
Many European cities are queer-friendly. “I find Copenhagen the friendliest city for queer people, very closely followed by Berlin, San Francisco and Lisbon," says Nair. Dhall picks Montreal in Canada, which hosts one of the largest Pride events in the world, and Thailand for its warm acceptance of queer travellers. Hong Kong, Mexico City, Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro and Melbourne also make the cut. As does Tel Aviv in Israel, which was voted “The Most Gay-Friendly City in the World" by an NYC-based non-profit tourism promotion organization, Wow Travel. The city hosts the largest Pride parade in West Asia—some 250,000 people marched in celebration in June on Tel Aviv Pride’s 21st anniversary.
Prachi Joshi is a Mumbai-based travel and food writer.