Friday, April 2, 2010
What does being "gay friendly" mean?
Recently, two news reports of gay travellers being refused accommodation by bed and breakfast owners, got me thinking about the subject of gay friendliness in the hospitality industry.
Years ago, a new B & B owner in Vancouver contacted me in order to introduce herself and her business and ask me for some tips on successful innkeeping. Over coffee and reciprocal visits to each other's guesthouses, she told me that she did not understand why I mentioned the word "gay" in describing Nelson House B & B. She said that Canadian society was moving beyond such labels. Surely no one had to worry over outright prejudice and wasn't one's sexual orientation just a private thing?
I hesitated as I didn't know her very well but I figured an honest question deserved an honest answer. First, I said that like most people(meaning the majority of heterosexuals) in the world, I would prefer that my sexual orientation remained a private and personal matter. However, now that I had opened my home to the public as a hospitality and accommodation business, I saw the need to flag sexual orientation to potential customers who might, for their own reasons, prefer to stay elsewhere. And also, I wanted to indicate to gay(and read lesbian too) travellers that no one at Nelson House B & B would blink an eye at an adult, same-sex couple wishing to share a bed.
My new innkeeper friend was too new in the business then to realize that gays form a loyal and highly desirable portion of the travel industry's client base. Even though she was a Jewish woman and probably knew something about prejudice and discrimination, she still found it very difficult to put herself in the shoes of someone suffering discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
All of this came to mind this week when the UK press gave national prominence on the BBC, newspapers and the internet to the denial of accommodation to a gay male couple once the innkeeper realized that the guests were actually a same sex couple. Simultaneously, here in Canada, an almost identical denial of service occurred in Kelowna, BC. The difference in the Canadian case is that the innkeepers defended their actions based on their evangelical Christian beliefs. In both England and Canada(and 50 other countries), national laws are in place to protect all citizens against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Incidentally, the United States is NOT one of those countries. Police in England decided not to press criminal charges and it is up to the English gay couple to pursue possible civil damages. According to media reports of the Canadian case, the couple chose to file a complaint to the BC Human Rights Tribunal. This interesting clash of rights will be decided by early next month.
Now lawsuits and heavily reported civil rights cases are not the reason anyone goes into the bed and breakfast business. In the ten years since I advised my new innkeeper friend, much of the mainstream hotel industry has discovered the reportedly lucrative "pink dollar" and most now trumpet their gay friendliness. Tourism Vancouver and many other cities, states and provinces now dedicate portions of their websites and other marketing campaigns to bragging on their non-discriminatory practices. A go-getter, gay-owned marketing company out of San Francisco has made a bundle by certifying the gay friendliness of corporate hotel chains with little icons of gay approval in the form of luggage tags. Many other PR executives have cleverly inserted a rainbow flag somewhere on their website to reassure and attract gay customers.
I now look back on twenty years of successful innkeeping and look forward to many more ahead. To me, even though times have changed, I know not everyone has changed with the times. As the gay owner of Nelson House B & B, of course I understand and genuinely welcome gay and lesbian travellers. As a man who believes in treating everyone with dignity, fairness and respect, I have long since dubbed our brand of hospitality as people-friendly!