On the plane ride home from IGLTA’s 30th Annual Convention in Chicago last week, the woman seated next to me asked if she could borrow my newspaper. I had just tucked away in the seat pocket in front of me a copy of the Windy City Times that I had picked up during the media trade show. The front page wasn’t visible and looked like any mainstream publication. So I excitedly handed her the leading Chicago LGBT newspaper and secretly observed her reaction because I presumed that she and the man next to her, whom she shared the paper with, were an average straight and married Baby-Boomer couple (the gold wedding bands and hand-holding were clues). After a moment of confusion upon discovering that it wasn’t USA Today, they read Windy City Times intently, cover to cover, for the next 30 minutes. I was tempted to lean over and give them an insider’s perspective while they pored over the article highlighting the convention but, as they were so voracious in their reading of the latest LGBT news, thought it best to leave them in peace. Then satori happened.
Increased global visibility of LGBT people is largely a result of travel and tourism, a growing trend thanks to IGLTA and all of its members. And I just participated in it simply by lending a newspaper. I get it now, I said, smiling to myself. I get that it is in these moments where the power of travel is a force for good for the LGBT community.
It would be inaccurate to say that my encounter above was the most inspiring (perhaps bordering on saccharine) moment of the convention; there are too many to share. But in the days since, I’ve culled great meaning from the conference; more importantly, I have already begun actively transforming inspiration into tangible results. My fellow scholarship winners and I left Chicago brimming with ideas for projects to tackle when we returned home. The real work now is to capitalize on this energy and spur each other to do, not just talk.
In June, I will be a guest speaker in a graduate hospitality class at my university, where I will share insight into why it is important for a business or destination to create an LGBT-welcoming culture. I am also developing a business proposal to present to a former employer on integrating LGBT educational tours into its current tour itineraries. At some point, I’ll find time to write a research paper on Responsible Tourism in Myanmar, in which I think there will be an opportunity to include the LGBT travel segment. It will be a busy summer, but a productive one with the help of my dear scholarship participants, those four bright and fearless individuals to whom I owe the motivation to carry out my vision. But my biggest thanks is to IGLTA and the IGLTA Foundation for providing me with a starting point.
And so, beginning with sharing a newspaper to…well, who knows? I’m hopeful, excited, and apprehensive about where this journey will lead – and I couldn’t be happier.
Kathy Eow was a student participant in the 2013 Building Bridges Scholarship Program. She is studying Hospitality and Tourism Management at Florida International University.
Views and opinions expressed in the IGLTA Foundation Blog are those of individual authors and do not reflect official policy or positions of IGLTA or the IGLTA Foundation.