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Allyship in travel writing | Pitch calls
We've talked about being an ally to writers and travellers of colour, but what about LGBTQ+ travellers?
It’s an exciting time for travel and travellers — and not only because Lottie’s Dog-Friendly Weekends guidebook is finally available for pre-order on the Bradt Guides website (how’s that for shameless self promotion?). For anyone who has been put off hopping on a plane because of the often nonsensical and last-minute restrictions the UK’s Transport Secretary seemingly loves to impose, news of scrapping the day two test for fully vaccinated travellers will have been a welcome development. This could, pundits are saying, be the return to “normal” the travel industry needs (although it’s worth remembering that the destinations we visit often have testing requirements, too).
However, for anyone who is still nervous about international travel, or for anyone who might be immunocompromised, this isn’t brilliant news — although the main blow to anyone a little Covid-cautious was dealt when the government lifted rules on the pre-departure test, which was one of the last barriers between you and Covid on your flight home. It’s a complex situation and one I (Lottie) struggle to reconcile. I want travel to be easy because I want my job to continue to be lucrative, but I also want travel to be as safe as possible — especially as I am about to embark on yet another cancer treatment journey with my mum. I grapple with guilt around travelling, wondering if I’m putting my mother at risk, which contradicts my desire to thrive in my job. Like I said, complex situation.
Anyway, while I’m sharing my inner thoughts, here’s some musings on taking up space where you don’t (or perhaps do) belong — the kick off for this month’s theme: LGBTQ+ travel writing.
On allyship in the LGBTQ+ space
The only international trip I did in 2021 was four days in Sweden. I spent a day at a conference, and then two more days eating, drinking and dancing my way around Stockholm with a group of really rather exceptional humans. But I couldn’t shake this feeling of being a little bit out of place — and not just because I was one of only two journalists on this largely influencer and travel agent-focused trip. I had a niggling feeling of guilt and a little imposter syndrome because the trip was with Stockholm LGBT, and while I consider myself a strong ally of the community, I don’t personally identify with any of the letters in that acronym. I am your very average, basic bitch cis-gender white woman, and I was slightly nervous about my LGBTQ+ colleagues on the trip finding out.
When I was invited by an editor to go on the trip for their B2B mag, I asked if there might be a writer who could better communicate the issues at hand, someone who could represent the views of the community in a more genuine way. She said she had every confidence that I could do the job required, and that she trusted that I’d get a diverse range of voices in the articles through direct quotes. OK, I said, let’s do it. And that’s when the initial guilt set in.
How was it my right to cover this one-day symposium all about LGBTQ+ travel? Was I really the right person to do this? What if I got it wrong? What if I said something stupid? Was I taking up space that would have served someone within the community better? Was I being selfish and denying an LGBTQ+ writer this opportunity?
Maybe, but probably not, is the very short, un-nuanced answer. But here’s the longer one…
I learned a hell of a lot on that trip. I came away enlightened and enthralled by the people I’d met and heard from during the Symposium. Gabrielle Claiborne, co-founder of Transformation Journeys, schooled the entire room of 60 or so people on gender identity and shared her own moving story as a trans woman. John Bridge from Travelbeat shared some staggering statistics about LGBTQ+ travellers, and my colleagues told me stories about gay and trans rights and history across the world that I may otherwise never have encountered.
When I came home I waxed lyrical to family and friends about the experiences and things I’d learned. I passed on some of that new knowledge, I tried to help others understand the perspective of an LGBTQ+ traveller a tiny bit better, and I felt empowered to have more constructive discussions with people who might still hold outdated views. And that, really, is the point. It was at dinner with Gabrielle, her co-founder Linda Tatro Herzer and the excellent LA-based journalist Dan Allen that I was finally convinced it was okay for me to be there. I bashfully admitted that I was worried I’d be criticised for attending as a straight woman, and that I felt like I was taking up space where I didn’t belong, but their argument went something along the lines of:
“Often, when speaking to people with outdated views or bigoted opinions, your ally’s voice is stronger and more powerful than ours.”
Linda explains it better in this Facebook post she shared during the trip, but ultimately the message is this: allies have an important role to play in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance around the world. We are more likely to be listened to than the people who are being marginalised, and so we should engage with the community in constructive ways and shout loudly for them.
And that should seep into our journalism, too. We’ve written about allyship with regards to decolonising travel writing and championing diversity in our industry, but what about allyship in our content when it comes to our LGBTQ+ colleagues and travellers? How many of us regularly consider how a feature we’re writing might change if we knew we were writing for a gay, lesbian or bisexual traveller? How many of us really know what matters to a trans traveller when they’re seeking somewhere to stay or a destination to holiday in? When was the last time an editor asked you to include information on the LGBTQ+ friendliness of a place?
Besides the single page, and sometimes single paragraph, that sits in the context or introduction section of a guidebook, LGBTQ+ travel considerations rarely make it into mainstream media. That’s why, this month, we’re going to explore the ways in which we can be better allies to our LGBTQ+ colleagues and fellow travellers.
Here’s what’s coming up:
8th Feb: The facts — what you need to know about LGBTQ+ travel and allyship
15th Feb: Ask the editor — how to write for an LGBTQ+ audience
22nd Feb: Does mainstream media cover LGBTQ+ travel?
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Calls for pitches
Hidden Compass is commissioning again — and they’ve put their rates up!
Sally Coffey is the new editor of Discover Britain magazine, as well as continuing her role as editor of Scotland Magazine. Her inbox is open for pitches, so get your thinking caps on. You can find her email in the sidebar of the Discover Britain mag website.
Lodestars Anthology, who we featured a few months ago, is commissioning an Ireland issue. Learn a little more about their content in our newsletter on photography, and try to read a digital edition of the magazine before you jump in with a pitch.
Tweet of the week
Who to follow
DIVA Magazine’s travel editor Joanna Whitehead, who I bumped into in a pub in the Yorkshire Dales last year, writes on LGBTQ+ lives, travel, feminism, culture and the criminal justice system. Plus, every finalist on the shortlists for the TravMedia Awards deserves to be on your timeline. Go follow.
Megan Eaves has penned an excellent and insightful piece on decolonising her own trip to New Mexico for the Indy, which relates to a lot of what the Unpacking Media Bias team wrote for us in October 2021. The Indy has also published this interesting trend piece on “people-empowering trips”.
Of course Lottie thinks you should read this piece on dogs in the Arctic by Jamie Lafferty in the FT. While we’re on the subject of animals, we loved this piece on Scotland’s wild wallabies by Richard Franks, too.
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