Traveling With Pride
As people all around the world commemorate over a half-century of Pride celebrations, I am proud to say that I’ve reached a quarter-century of traveling with pride.
I found myself, like so many Gen Xers, unemployed and aimless after graduating from college during the 1990/91 recession. As career prospects evaporated, so did my dreams of a yuppie career in the big city. I wearily moved back into my childhood bedroom on the family sheep ranch.
While my college and high school friends filled their time with similar jobs, my BFF saw that the sky was the limit and joined Continental Airlines as a flight attendant. She started on reserve, with five days on then five days off. She spent many days and hours sitting in the not-so-glamorous crew lounge at the airport waiting for someone to call in sick so she could work a flight. The glamorous part of her career were the five days off, jet-setting and globetrotting.
As I poured over the postcards she sent me from all corners of the world, I kept thinking, “How do I land a gig like that, but with reliable hours and paycheck?” The answer came to me one morning in black and white – an ad in the classified section of the newspaper. The Travel Trade School of Fort Collins was starting an 8-week night school course on Travel Agent Training. And, after being awarded my certificate of completion, I moved to the big city of Denver to work in the glamorous travel industry!
As a naïve, fresh-from-the-farm 20-something, I was excited about my new career opportunity, yet nervous and concerned about being a gay person in a professional setting. I had a wealth of knowledge from college and travel school, but no idea on how to be gay in the workplace.
As I started my career, I pulled my clothes (Gap Khakis, of course) out of the closet each morning and then stepped into the closet each day at work. While I tepidly dipped my toe into working in a 300-seat travel call center, I noticed something wonderful and amazingly comforting - gay men and women working in virtually every department of the company!
Once the travel perks and freebies kicked in, I headed to the airport with my smartly packed carryon roller bag in tow and set out to explore the world. My eyes were wide open now and I started seeing gay people everywhere – smartly dressed-and-pressed stews on my flight, handsome young men at the car rental counter, and welcoming chaps at the hotel reception.
NOW THAT IT WAS MY TURN TO SEND POSTCARDSfrom all corners of the world, I set out to explore the U.S. and beyond. I found liberating and inclusive experiences in cities like San Francisco, Key West, Waikiki, and Amsterdam.
I’ve sought out gay-friendly areas in London, Paris, Rome, Manila, and Mexico. I’ve attended “Friends of Dorothy” meet-ups on my cruise vacations.
To this day, the first item I pack is my old-timey and worn-out address book, because the “analog” Dave still sends postcards. I never pack my iPhone because the “digital” Dave always has this in hand to snap every and all Insta-worthy moments. We all know: “pictures or it didn’t happen!”
While I’m proud of all my passport stamps, I’m also very conscious that not all corners of the world welcome gay people – tourist money or not. I was once pared with a “beard” for a Fam Trip to a famous Jamaican resort. The trip organizer told me that I had to room with a woman because the island resort is for, “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” It was ironic that the woman organizing the trip was a lesbian. The unfortunate reality is that sometimes we need to don an invisibility* cloak to shield who we are in order to explore and experience different destinations. (*Invisibility cloaks not available at the Gap.)
There are many nooks and crannies of the globe that I may never see because they’re not safe for LGBTQ citizens or travelers. Luckily the world is a big place to explore and discover welcoming and diverse destinations.
While I have been out at work for the bulk of my 25+ years in the travel industry and working with other gay professionals, I’ve noticed an evolution in how employers acknowledge and empower diversity in the workplace. “Back in the day,” we were organically drawn together by our shared experience, seeking opportunities for both networking and camaraderie. Progressing into the new century, I’ve seen my employers actively work with employees to formalize Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs, for networking, community, support, and professional growth.
ERGs help foster a deep sense of belonging and inclusion – women, veterans, people of color, single parents, LGBTQ, and beyond. I am proud of the travel industry and proud that Deem is celebrating employee diversity and Pride month.
I’ve often said that jet fuel runs in my veins, and I cannot wait to get on a flight again to travel with pride!