Girldar: The Evolution of Lesbian Travel Guides

by Heather Cassell

Published: Ocotber 3, 2011

Finding lesbians in New York City or London is somewhat easy, but it is a whole other story in distant lands, especially when women have very little if any rights at all - don't even mention the "L" word - but these are minor challenges to Gina Gatta and Tanya Churchmuch.

 


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Damron owner Gina Gatta with business and life partner, Erika O'Conner, enjoying Iceland.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Damron

Gatta is president and editor-in-chief of Damron, the oldest LGBT travel guide company in the world, and Churchmuch, is a new comer as founder of Girlports.com, an online travel guide for queer women.

Churchmuch and Gatta scout the globe finding lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women's bars, clubs, festivals, lodging, restaurants, retreats, and more for their respective guides for queer women travelers.

Queer women are definitely hitting the road. Vacations top lesbian travelers list of things to do to shake the recession blues off once the economy springs back to life, according to Community Marketing, Inc. 15th Annual Gay & Lesbian Tourism Study published in 2010.

Gatta knows it, for the more than 20 years, she has traveled the world seeking out the gay boys and queer girls for LGBT globetrotters.

"I'm very lucky to have this and I'm not ever going to take it for granted," says Gatta, 46, who launched the the Women's Traveller, a complimentary guide to the popular Men's Traveler, in 1989. The men's guide that lists LGBT-owned and operated and gay-friendly lodges, entertainment, and other information for queer travelers had been thriving for more than 20 years when Gatta launched the women's guide her first year at the company.

In 2009, Damron's Men's Traveler celebrated its 45th edition and the Women's Traveller celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Damron was founded by Bob Damron in 1967. An openly gay man, Damron turned his little black book of gay lodges, bars, and restaurants into photocopied guides until the mid-1980s when Dan Delbacks bought the business in 1987. Two years after Delbacks took over the San Francisco-based company he asked his friend Gatta to join him.

Four short years later, Gatta and her then business partners saved the company after Delbacks died of AIDS. Today, Damron is the only LGBT travel guide company for gay men and lesbians run by a lesbian. Under Gatta's more than two decades of leadership, the company has expanded to include iPhone apps - Gurl Scout and Gay Scout and launched accommodation and city guides - and expanded beyond North America to Europe and South America.

Lez Go

Guides with only addresses and some background information wasn't enough for former broadcast news anchor and international journalist Churchmuch, she wanted more.


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Founder of GirlPorts.com Tanya Churchmuch dines at her favorite Paris restaurant, Le Chartier.
Photo Credit: Carrie MacPherson

"I was somebody who always traveled a lot and always became frustrated by the lack of useful information for lesbian travelers that was available," says Churchmuch.

"It's important to understand the culture that you are traveling in," expressing that for any woman traveling solo or in a group she needs to be aware of the culture and customs she's visiting and environment she's in, much like if she's at home.

Listings of places with some descriptions were simply bullet points that didn't provide a sense of the place for Churchmuch. She wasn't alone.

In 2006, at Outgames in Montreal Churchmuch casually surveyed women she ran into. Over and over again women from around the globe told her that they expressed a desire to find out more information about women like them in other cities.

"I just said to myself, 'Okay, I've got to do it now and that's when the idea came to me,'" says Churchmuch, a former broadcast anchor and international journalist.

A year later Girlports.com, an online guide with personal travel insight for queer women, launched. She followed that by adding, assistant director and the media relations manager for the LGBT market for of Tourisme Montréal, to her name.

Today, Churchmuch speaks regularly at travel conferences about queer women's travel and she is one of only three women who hold a seat out of eight of the International Lesbian and Gay Travel Associations board of directors.


Sister travelers

 

Churchmuch is well aware that Gatta paved the way for Girlports.com with the pioneering Women's Traveller. Gatta knew where the girls were. At the same time Churchmuch recognizes the seismic shifts within the past two decades that have changed the lesbian community and the publishing and travel industries.

Print is no longer king. The Internet appears to have trumped print in the 21st century. Churchmuch grabbed the reins powered by the super highway and her journalism background she combined her passion for culture, travel, and women in a nifty online user-friendly guide for women with Girlports.com.

"Gina does a great job [for] what she does, especially in the lesbian community," says Churchmuch, giving Gatta "Kudos" for "everything that she has done for Damron, because those were absolutely pioneering guidebooks for the queer community."

Books are hard now. It's hard to keep up to date especially in the lesbian community and even more so in the past few years. The fact of the matter is that lesbian bars don't exist anymore and so much of what happens, especially in nightlife, is … these [circuit clubs that] change fairly regularly," Churchmuch continues expressing the difficulty of keeping up with the changes on Facebook invites, Twitter feeds, and more. Print almost instantly becomes outdated."

Gatta holds mutual respect for Churchmuch, "Girlports.com is great. It's necessary. I applaud them," Gatta says.

Churchmuch hopes more queer women take more leadership roles in the travel industry, especially those who focus on queer women's travel.

"Lesbians need to be more present in organizations," said Churchmuch. "It's important to continue standing up to take our place ... women have money [and] women travel."

To purchase reprints, contact editor@girlsthatroam.com.

 

Link to Girls That Roam: http://www.girlsthatroam.com/goroam/GTRGDar.htm

Take the International Women's Travel Survey September 15 - November 15: http://girlsthatroam.com/GTRWTSv1.htm

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