Last June, Jenni and Lisa, a couple from San Francisco, left home to travel the world for a year in search of the “supergays,” gay people who are actively creating change for the LGBT community. In order to help spread the word about their mission and about LGBT travel, they created the website Out and Around: Stories of a Not-So-Straight Journey. Editor Jessica Festa was lucky enough to get to chat with these ladies about their project and their journey.
You both manage the site “Out and Around: Stories of a Not-So- Straight Journey”. Can you tell me more about the concept?
Jenni: I had wanted to travel around the world for a long time, and when Lisa and I started dating I knew I had found the right partner for the journey. But rather than spend a year being tourists, we wanted to use our trip to make a difference in the world. We started Out and Around to strengthen our LGBT community by sharing our experience of world travel as a lesbian couple while meeting queer individuals across the globe.
Lisa: This project just kept getting bigger and bigger. We’ve done over 50 interviews of LGBT leaders around the world, blogging and making videos along the way. One of our short films premiered last month at the Mumbai International Queer Film Festival.
Last June, you left your home of San Francisco, California, to travel around the world and search for the “Supergays”. Who are these people and how do you find them?
We define Supergays as individuals who are leaders in bringing LGBT equality in their countries. Supergays may be directly involved in community organization, or they may be using their influence in politics, health, arts, entertainment, or business to raise awareness and make progress on gay issues.
Was there any particularly influential person you met along the way?
Lisa: I was most impressed by two lesbians we met in New Delhi, India. They opened their homes to queer women needing a place to live after coming out to their families. They’ve sacrificed all their personal space to create a family environment for others.
Jenni: For me, I most remember two Reverands in Kenya working to educate African religious leaders about homosexuality. These two guys are heterosexual with families and continue to do their educational work despite death threats, loss of friends, and loss of their positions in their churches. Having grown up myself in a conservative Evangelical church, I understand the importance of fighting religious based homophobia.
Were there any countries you visited where being gay travelers presented obstacles?
Lisa: We’ve had a lot of heart-breaking moments when we’ve witnessed the struggles of queer individuals in the developing world. In Kenya, we met many LGBT activists who have received death threats. As a gay couple, it certainly can be nerve-racking to travel in countries where homosexual acts result in imprisonment.
Jenni: While in East Africa, we tried to keep public affection down to a minimum. But after being together for years as a couple, it’s hard to act like we’re just friends. I have to say we were really happy when we left East Africa and arrived in Rio de Janeiro, one of the gayest cities in the world.
Lisa, you recently wrote a really interesting post on “My Year As A Man”, which talked about how people automatically treated you as if you were the male in the couple. How did you respond to this?
Lisa: In many parts of the developing world, gender roles are strictly defined with traditional customs and expected behaviors. There are expectations for men and women. I obviously don’t fit the binary gender roles. When I got mistaken as a man while traveling, I corrected people and told them that I am a woman and that I am simply different. Sometimes I still got strange looks, but I would like to think that I opened up people’s minds.
If you could return to one country you visited on your previous “round the world” trip, where would you go and why?
Jenni: We just wrote a post about our Best and Worst Top Picks around the world because so many people have asked us about our favorite city, beaches, and tours. I would have to say Rio de Jainero, Brazil. We felt comfortable there as a gay couple, the beaches are spectacular and the music scene rocks.
Lisa: I would love to return to India someday. We interviewed Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, the first member of the royal family to come out. Although his family publicly disowned him, he focused his energy on creating an important HIV NGO that makes a large impact on the gay community. He invited us to stay in his palace, and I would like to take him up on that offer someday!
What’s one travel tip you would give to others embarking on a “round the world” trip?
Lisa: Simply, just go! You can worry about the details later. The more flexibility you allow the better. But so many people never get through the fear of packing up, leaving behind their comforts, and adapting to change. Once we made it to airport, we realized we had made the best decision of our lives.
What trends do you see in the world of gay travel? Do you see any changes in this area for the future?
Jenni: There are many reasons why LGBT tourists have reservations about traveling internationally, especially in the developing world. After all, 76 countries still criminalize homosexual activity. Incarceration and even death is a very real threat in some African and Middle Eastern countries. Also, many transgender individuals face limitations in travel due to their passports not matching their gender presentation. But the world of gay travel is growing exponentially.
Lisa: We would love to see more LGBT tourists globally to improve visibility and decrease homophobia. We had wonderful cross-cultural exchanges with the Supergays who we met in the developing world. With so few role models of healthy LGBT people in the developing world, an LGBT tourist can really make a huge difference simply by being out, open and proud.
What’s the number one item you always pack?
Jenni: My Kindle. The biggest luxury of travel is time. At home, I can’t remember the last time I read a novel. During our travels, we would borrow e-books from the San Francisco public library and read them on the Kindle (saves money too!). The battery even lasted through a two week trek in Nepal.
Lisa: Quick-dry underwear. Seriously, it was the best purchase that Jenni made me buy. Wash it at night, and they’re dry by the morning. Saves you from having to pack a bazillion pairs of underwear.
Do you have a travel philosophy you live by?
Jenni: Dream big. Before we left, we didn’t even own a camera or camcorder. Now we’re working on producing a documentary feature of our trip. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you have passion behind a project.
Lisa: Try everything. Between surfing, paragliding, and caving, we did about 14 new adventure sports this year. We also stuffed our faces with new foods. Continually learning and having new experiences is what travel is all about.
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