The Best Destinations For The Modern LGBTQI Traveller
The world's top 7 up-and-coming gay hubs.
Travelling while gay, lesbian, trans* or otherwise offers a slightly different experience to that of your straight counterparts. The good thing is that most travellers you encounter are open-minded people who aren’t adverse to a little diversity – but continuously having to come out of the closet to every new person at a hostel can get tiring. Plus, many old-school gay cities like San Francisco or Berlin aren’t even so queer these days. Case in point: San Fran’s last lesbian bar closed earlier this year. So read on and discover some up-and-coming cities with amazing “you do you” vibes where you can just be your queer self.
Iceland has a population the size of Canberra, yet it has a company dedicated entirely to queer travellers. Plus, around half of Reykjavik’s population turns out to the city’s annual Pride celebrations – and despite the 100,000-odd turnout, it still feels like a warm ‘n’ fuzzy community gathering where everyone is a potential pal. Check out the Reykjavik Queer Choir if you can – they do a mighty fine rendition of Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’ – then head to Kiki Queer Bar: ain’t no divisions between gay bars and lesbian bars here. Stay until closing time, and you’ll experience the pinnacle of Icelandic warmth: they offer you a take-away cup if you haven’t finished your drink when you leave.
#2 Mexico City
In a country where acceptance of queers is spotty, Mexico City is a oasis: trans* people can legally change gender and anyone can marry or adopt. With 20 million people, there’s every flavour of queer fun available. Peak gaytimes can be found by lurking the Zona Rosa district, home to around 50 gay venues and one of the world’s few “gaybourhoods” that’s still vibrant and not overly gentrified. It’s a little gay dude-heavy so if you fit that bill, well, enjoy the buffet. If you’re looking to machear (playful Spanish for “dyke around”), Zona Rosa’s Cabaretito is packed with lots of queer ladies, especially on women-only Thursdays. Don’t forget the Frida Kahlo Museum – Mexico’s #1 queer export.
Nearby Toronto may have the bigger Pride festival, but Montreal is the Canadian capital for year-round queer fun. There’s numerous queer festivals, including two LGBTQI film festivals and Pervers/Cité, a non-commercial alternative to Pride. Bypass the unimaginatively named “Gay Village” and head to where the arty kids are: north and south-west of downtown. Rent is cheap, so they’ve got lots of spare time for creative fun, like converting lofts into show venues, or running bike-powered outdoor movie projections. Parties like Cousins (for queer hip-hop) and Pompe (for the punkier gays) are friendly mingle-fests, and the live music scene is pleasantly non-blokey and pretty queer, too. Don’t leave without getting your locks done at Lesbian Haircuts For Anyone, a pay-what-you-can hair salon for the hip queer.
A lot of what you saw on the sketch show Portlandia – while exaggerated – is true. In a city that emphasises its own weirdness, it’s unsurprising that queerness is wholly embraced. You don’t need to be nightlife-inclined to slide into Portland’s queer scene: it’s a great city to just hang out. Check out feminist bookstore In Other Words (yes, the one from Portlandia), or if you’re well-coordinated, strap on some rollerskates for Gay Skate. The superbly body-positive swim day Chunky Dunk will let you splash around with lots of painfully hip local queers, too.
If nightlife is your thing, don’t fret: there’s Lesbian Arm Wrestling at Florida Room (exactly what it sounds like), Stripperaoke at Devil’s Point (more or less what it sounds like), or the phenomenally debaucherous queer party Blow Pony.
Although Brighton isn’t quite up-and-coming, it’s one of few cities that has stuck staunchly by its queer community: key example, as of 2013, the city is home to one of the world’s few trans* pride festivals. A bus or train from London takes under an hour for as cheap as $6AUD. If escaping the bustle of London is your goal, consider board games at lesbian chill-spot The Marlborough Pub; play Piano Bingo at the Bedford Tavern; or just creep Brighton’s winding streets to check out the numerous fledgling tattoo shops and salons. At night, the all-inclusive queer night Traumfrau can’t be overlooked, for literally anyone who doesn’t hate fun.
#6 Ho Chi Minh City
Save Thailand and Bali, southeast Asia isn’t generally the most welcoming place for gays to take tropical holidays. But in Vietnam, acceptance is creeping up. As the country’s prime metropolis, Ho Chi Minh City offers a relaxed atmosphere (in spite of the millions of rumbling scooters, everywhere at all hours), free of the “partying is mandatory” attitude in much-gayer Bangkok. Find ridiculously fun (and/or gaudy) outfits during the day around the Ben Thanh market, get them tailored for cheap, then head to a cheerfully-named monthly queer night called Bitch Party – or check out Samsara Bar for something a little quieter (and a little more man-centric).
If it’s beaches you want, head north towards Hoi An: there aren’t explicitly “gay friendly” beaches, but with chilled attitudes abound, you needn’t worry about morality police or full moon parties packed with boozy backpackers.
#7 Buenos Aires
Having shrugged off the more conservative Catholic attitude of neighbouring Chile, Argentina has become a hit with the gays – but even the straight guys here greet each other with kisses. Hit up the city’s annual queer tango festival if you want to help blow heteronormativity away even more. Buenos Aires is very much a European city with Reject Store prices. Walk around, check the pretty architecture, inhale as much Dulce de Leche (a local milky-caramel concoction) as you can. Thirstier queers might want to stake out a space at the city’s oldest lesbian bar, Bach, or catch some drag queens belting out show tunes at Sitges.
(Lead image: Pieter Morlion/Flickr)