6 gay-friendly trips

If we’re going to get out there and travel no matter what, where should we go? Matthieu Jost, the chief executive and a founder of misterb&b, a website that helps travelers find gay-friendly bed-and-breakfasts around the world, said Santiago, Chile, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, have been popular searches on his site recently. And those who responded to our callout on the Scruff app, when we also asked them for lesser-known destinations that they have found to be lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-friendly, suggested many, including Ogunquit, Maine; the Scottish Highlands; the Smoky Mountains and Malta.

Here are some other places recommended.

The Philippines

Nomadic Boys (Stefan Arestis and Sebastien Chaneac), globe-trotting bloggers

To some, the Philippines will present a conundrum: It’s a religious place with a strong Roman Catholic presence, and there have been some high-profile stories of violence there, including the 2015 murder of a transgender woman by a U.S. marine. But the country is also considered by many to be one of the most friendly places in Asia for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and voters there even elected a transgender woman to their congress recently.

Most travelers to Asia tend to head for the more obvious gay-friendly spots like Thailand and Bali, Stefan Arestis, of Nomadic Boys, wrote in an email. “But we found the Philippines to be incredibly open to us. This is largely because the Filipinos are well known, and very proud of their Filipino hospitality.”

Arestis and Sebastien Chaneac are a gay couple who quit jobs in London in 2014 and have been traveling the world ever since, writing about their adventures on their website.

“Places like Boracay in the Philippines are particularly gay-friendly, with both party venues and some beautiful beaches,” Arestis wrote. In Boracay you can even dress like and learn to swim like a mermaid at the Philippine Mermaid Swimming Academy.

Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico

Merryn Johns, editor-in-chief, Curve

These two New Mexico cities are currently popular with lesbian travelers, Merryn Johns, of Curve magazine, wrote in a recent email. Both have vibrant lesbian scenes that are significantly supported by “female business owners and local lesbian entities,” she wrote.

The current mayor of Santa Fe, Javier Gonzales, is the city’s first openly gay mayor and one of his first acts upon taking office in 2015 was to propose an ordinance requiring single-occupancy public restrooms to be gender-neutral. The ordinance passed the city council last June.

Among Johns’ specific suggestions when visiting Taos are the lesbian-owned-and-operated Sugar Nymphs Bistro and a visit to Mabel Dodge Luhan’s historic inn and former residence. “She was a bisexual New York socialite and friend of Gertrude Stein who married a local Indian from the Taos Pueblo (indigenous village, the longest continuously inhabited in the United States), and conducted a literary and artistic salon in her distinctive house that attracted the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe, Willa Cather and Martha Graham.”

Nashville, Tennessee

Jim Werner, co-founder of the gay travel website Fagabond

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender travelers may be tempted to write off the entire American South as a stretch of homophobic red states that simply must be tolerated (or flown over) en route to the gay-friendly environs of Fort Lauderdale, South Beach and Key West, Florida. But there are a number of cities that are very LGBT-friendly in that swath of red, said Jim Werner, co-owner of a website that focuses on U.S. travel from a gay perspective. Nashville; Asheville, North Carolina; and even Birmingham, Alabama, he said, deserve consideration.

Werner is especially fond of Nashville, which has gay bars and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-friendly businesses like the lesbian bar Lipstick Lounge in East Nashville and Suzy Wong’s House of Yum, an Asian fusion lounge in midtown known for its “Drag’n Brunch.” The most popular area for the LGBT crowd, Werner wrote, is in midtown around Church Street. “This area has several gay bars and clubs well suited for everything from casual drinking to all-night dance partying,” he wrote.

And of course any tourist is sure to be taken with the Nashville music scene. “In addition to the gay night life there’s something about crooning cowboys in Nashville that makes us swoon,” he wrote.

Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia

Ben Lambert, traveler and blogger at High Society Hobo

Ben Lambert spent six months traveling around Southeast Asia last year, he wrote in a recent email, and while he was not shocked to find Thailand, especially Bangkok, to be lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-friendly he said he was indeed surprised by the positive reception in some of the other countries he visited.

“While there are a great many people in these countries who cannot accept homosexuality, there are large communities of people who do — especially among the younger generations,” Lambert wrote. “This leads to the creation of flourishing, yet discreet, LGBT communities throughout the region.”

There are many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-owned or LGBT-friendly businesses — bars, clubs, saunas and hotels in cities including Saigon, Vietnam; Yangon in Myanmar and Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, Lambert wrote. And “while these places may not be brazenly waving the Pride flag, they are not hidden. They do not exist behind unmarked doors with secret passwords and handshakes required for entry. They exist in regular neighborhoods and are open to the entire public. The locals, including police, know exactly what they are and tend to leave well enough alone.”

Manchester, England

Kelsy Chauvin, freelance travel writer

The freelance travel writer Kelsy Chauvin wasn’t surprised that Manchester has a strong LGBT community — the British version of “Queer as Folk” was set there, after all — but she said she was nonetheless “blown away” when she visited for the first time last year. “It was like West Hollywood, England style,” she said. “But more gritty.”

The city’s gay village (simply called “The Gay Village”) is full of bars, shops and restaurants including many LGBT-owned businesses, like Richmond Tea Rooms, she said. There’s even a festival devoted to transgender people — “Sparkle: The National Transgender Celebration” — running July 8 to 10.

Manchester is home to LGBT Foundation, a national charity, and Manchester Pride, another charity that supports numerous community organizations. They know how to hold a party, too: The annual Manchester Pride Festival is a big undertaking that has its own fringe festival comprising events around the city in August.

Another Manchester advantage: “This is a rare case of a city that has actually more than one lesbian bar and they were both happening,” Chauvin said, recalling her visit. “I think that’s pretty indicative of a thriving gay community.”

Puna, Hawaii

Davey Wavey, storyteller, self-described gay guru and Facebook/YouTube personality

Davey Wavey, who has almost a million subscribers to his YouTube channel, where he posts funny and frank videos about gay sexuality and acceptance as well as reports from Pride events and street interviews from around the world, spends at least seven months a year traveling, he said in a phone conversation. He had recently returned from Puna, Hawaii, where he had stayed at Kalani, a retreat center founded by Richard Koob, a gay man.

Puna, he said, is “a very queer community. And it’s not just gay men; there are a lot of transgender individuals, people who are gender queer and lesbians. It’s really a more diverse spectrum of LGBTQ than you see in most of those other places like Provincetown or Palm Springs.”

Outside of the confines of Kalani, all of Puna is welcoming and the natural environment affords plenty of reasons to visit, too, he said.

“It’s this incredible, almost magical place where the rain forest meets the ocean. Just imagine this lush, juicy jungle abutting black lava cliffs and these deep, rich black sand beaches.”

In a follow-up note after the shooting in Orlando, he underlined yet another reason to consider Puna: “One of the things that struck me about my time in Puna or Hawaii was that so many people went there to heal, especially after the death of a loved one,” he wrote. “There’s something about Puna, the people and the land that’s very healing and nurturing. And a lot of us need that right now.”