Great Destinations for Gay Families
[A]lso indicative of the family-travel movement is the growth of vacation rentals, more suitable for families, thanks to one-to-five bedroom properties that give greater control over vacations with convenience for larger parties. According to the 2011 US Census Data, an estimated one-quarter of all same-sex households are raising children, providing one of the first portraits of gay American families. Like any other family, gay couples with children like to travel, and spend money (almost $65 billion according to a recent study). In fact, gay travel is so popular and common these days, The US State Department added a LGBT section on its website.
Gay-specific family travel is hot in the United States. Destinations that have already had a positive reputation for hosting gay visitors are further amping up amenities to attract more gay families and accepting them unconditionally.
In a survey conducted by Community Marketing, approximately three percent of gay men and 19 percent of lesbians have children under 18 who live at home. Once gay men and lesbians have children, child-friendly travel options become more important. In fact, when the same group surveyed was asked what’s more important when visiting a destination, a whopping 68 percent answered “child-friendly destination” over “LGBT-friendly destination,” which garnered 32 percent. While “gay” and “family” will eventually be the perfect marriage, it’s the acceptance of both that really counts.
Amy Ballard and Fee Johnson, who live in Vancouver, are a married gay couple who travel often with their son, Bodhi. “When we travel as a family, it is important for us to feel completely accepted in our surroundings,” says Amy. “We choose destinations that openly express support of the gay and lesbian community, whether it is political expression, as in San Francisco and Boston, or through reputation like P-Town, LA, and British Columbia.” The family recently visited Los Angeles with Bodhi. “We love the choice of beaches. Venice is wonderful for keeping kids busy. We ride the longboard down the promenade, watch the skateboarders at the park, and build sand castles. We can hike Runyon Canyon in the morning with our dogs, have lunch in West Hollywood, and take a surf lesson in the afternoon. We vacation in LA every year.”
Some cities stand out more than others, and I highlight here just some of the top destinations in the United States that exceed expectations when it comes to gay-family travels.
Atlanta is the ultimate destination for gay families in the South thanks to the positive reputation it’s fostered from gay icons who hail from the area like Indigo Girls, RuPaul, and Elton John. There’s also a wealth of history, attractions, and all-around discoveries for families to explore. Children will leave their vacations knowing everything there is to know about Margaret Mitchell, Martin Luther King, Jr., and even CNN. Visitors of all ages enjoy the Center for Puppetry Arts, an institution in Atlanta where kids can design their own puppets. Another must-visit is the Georgia Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the world with more than eight million gallons of water comprising fascinating marine life.
While there are specific neighborhoods that have strong gay presence like East Point/Jefferson Park, Midtown, and Decatur, the entire city is practically a hot zone for the LGBT community. What families especially love about Atlanta is the multitude of outdoor spaces, like the gay-friendly Piedmont Park, home to the annual Atlanta Pride. Nearby Stone Mountain Park is perfect for outdoor adventures with walking trails, a Summit Skyride, and, at night, the world’s longest running laser light show. Speaking of outdoors, grab lunch at the Atlanta Food Truck Park where there’s a playground for kids and often live music.
While there are three W Hotels, stay at W Midtown, which is close to all the action. The 466 guest rooms are hip and stylish. I’d recommend the Fantastic Suite, which has commanding views of the city and plenty of space. There’s also an outdoor pool for those hot summer days.
It might come across as a shocker, but Bloomington, Indiana, is known as the gay capital of the Midwest. This city is home to the nation’s fifth largest per capita population of same-sex households. Many couples continue to choose Bloomington, thanks to its laid-back, gay-friendly communities. The city offers health benefits to domestic partnerships, regardless of gender, and there’s a gay radio show, the only one in Indiana, called bloomingOut. It’s also one of the friendliest cities in the nation, and one of the most welcoming for the LGBT community. In fact, Indiana University had the first student-sponsored drag competition held on any campus and its MISS GAY IU, which has been a tradition for more than 20 years. Oh, and if you know Kinsey (and we all do), the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction is based here. For art lovers: mark this summer on your calendar for their annual Juried Art Show, which is best for mature teens…or prolific toddlers!
Outdoor enthusiasts will want to take the whole family to Lake Monroe, Indiana’s largest lake: for hiking, boating, fishing, and picnics. Expect terrific views thanks to the surrounding Hoosier National Forest.
For connoisseurs of culture, including music, theater, ballet, and opera, head to the famous IU Jacobs School of Music. There are more than 1,000 live musical performances here every year, including The Nutcracker, which is a favorite for both locals and visitors. There’s also a terrific and diverse restaurant scene, from Thai to Tibetan, Irish to Indian, so options are endless. The Dixie Chicken Sandwich is a favorite at Sweet Grass Restaurant. This popular joint uses local ingredients for great American feasting.
While there’s a shortage of luxury hotels, check into the Hilton Garden Inn, a fine option for the family. Located in downtown Bloomington, it offers 168 well-appointed rooms, a hospitality center with microwave and fridge, indoor pool, and the comfy Garden Sleep System bed for a good night’s rest.