Rafael is a travel blogger and a communication specialist who started the first LGBT+ tourism blog of Brazil, Viaja Bi!. Rafael champions the cause of gay travel and can’t stress enough how important it is for community representation. Read the following conversation to know why gay travel is important for the entire tourism industry and uncover stories from Rafael’s travels along the way.
When did you realize that you want to travel the world?
I do not know the precise moment when my interest in travel was born because my family had the habit of traveling inland frequently, so I think it turned out to be a natural and prolonged transition. I remember that my first plane trip to Fortaleza had been very striking. When I went to live in London, my second international destination, I traveled a lot there and the desire to explore new places only increased. It was a gradual process that rose from a deep-rooted passion.
Does being a part of the LGBTQIA + community enrich your travel experience or does it land you in murky waters?
Both. Being LGBT + in non LGBTQ-friendly countries such as Brazil, my homeland, is not easy, especially nowadays. Working with this market puts me in the spotlight even more and there's constant tension. So, my identity does make my life somewhat difficult.
But my travel experience is certainly richer. Living how I live in Brazil makes me have a more open and human outlook towards all kinds of people. Curiosity is my inherent characteristic, of course. So I discover destinations like any curious traveler. But I add a few other layers that are inexplicably attached with gay travel -prejudices,exclusions, struggles. I try to understand who people really are in the light of all these so that I can translate it into a different reality.
Do you like to label yourself as a "LGBTQIA +" traveler?
Yes, I think it is important as a political position and because it defines a type of tourism that I like to do. LGBTQ tourism is as important as other types of tourism like adventure tourism. It is just another segment of tourism, but it is a segment that has to do with my essence and my life and one that is quite profitable for the market.
What are your favorite travel destinations - places that you think cater to the community extensively?
I am passionate about discovering Europe and South America. To list friendly destinations, there are several European ones, such as London, Berlin, Madrid, Barcelona, Amsterdam, among many others. Here in South America, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia really impress in how I can work with the communities in the respective countries.
Has there been any specific incident, good or bad, that has left its mark?
If you mean LGBTQ-phobia, I have been very lucky and haven't had encountered any such remarkable moment. Usually, the people already know that it is my work and life. But there was a case during the Inca Trail in Peru, where a guide made some comments that were homophobic and not legal. I reported the incident to the company and they promised to take action. I explained that they should not reprimand him harshly and rather train staff and guides so that something similar doesn't happen again.
Are there people LGBTQIA+ travellers you look up to?
I have a few names I admire. In Brazil, Átila Paixão (Viaje com Orgulho) is a guy who always seeks to innovate and does a lot with few resources. Outside Brazil, Richard Gray of the Greater Fort Lauderdale tourist office is a personality that I admire for the avant-garde position he plays in everything he does for the LGBT + community. Felipe Cardenas (LGBT Chamber of Colombia) and Pablo de Luca and Gustavo Noguera (LGBT Chamber of Argentina) also have my admiration for being avant-garde and able, for placing two destinations of South America in the main destination circuit of LGBTQ+ travel in the world, especially at a time when the international travel circle did not look at the continent as a gay-friendly destination. Peter Jordan is also someone I admire a lot for helping in bringing data to market. There are also many LGBTQ+ travel content producers such as Fabia Fuzeti and Gabriela Torrezani (Estrangeira), Meg Cale (Dopes on the Road), Stefan Arestis and Sebastien Chaneac (Nomadic Boys), Ryan Woods (Out With Ryan), Adam Groffman ( Travels of Adam) among many others.
What laws do you think should change around the world when it comes to the community?
At first, the 70 or so countries that still criminalize homosexuality must revise these retrograde laws. But speaking of countries that are already more in line with current times, the intention is that there be fairness in the laws, in the sense that if a straight citizen has a specific right, another gay citizen can enjoy the same right under the same conditions. At the same time, it is important that there are specific laws protecting LGBTQ+ citizens from crimes motivated specifically by LGBTQ-phobia. If this is a differential for violence against the community, it is important to have laws that guarantee that all citizens can enjoy the same rights without having this "differential" in the way.
What precautionary measures do you take when traveling to conservative countries like the Middle Eastern countries?
I have yet to visit any Middle Eastern country. But I went to Namibia, Africa, which is not receptive to the LGBTQ+ community. In Namibia, religion also helps to increase conservatism. I believe that the ideal thing, first of all, is to do a lot of research about the destination before embarking on a trip and to contemplate whether it is worth investing your money in a place where the people and the laws are not welcoming. But if you really want to visit any country of that type, understand that it is their home and that, unfortunately, there are rules that you have to respect. If you are traveling with your partner to these places, avoid any public display of affection and ask for two single beds instead of a double bed. Use a VPN when using dating apps at these places, because, in some countries, various bodies track internet activities.
Do you usually find gay bars or other such places to meet fellow queers while traveling?
When I travel, I try to attend the local LGBTQ+ nights. I found the gay nightclub complex called Theatron in Bogota to be the most impressive. It is huge, occupies an entire building and boasts 13 different dance floors. It really made a mark. At Key West in Florida, USA, it is worth taking a stroll through the bars and nightclubs of Duval Street, such as the Bourbon Street Pub which is coupled with a gay hotel. I also like Heaven and G-A-Y in London.
Moving away from travel a little, when did you discover about your sexuality?
I discovered about my sexuality in my teens when I was roughly 12 years of age. I began to understand that my sexuality was a bit different from most people around me. It took me 8 years to be really aware of my sexual identity and accept it wholeheartedly.
In your own words, yours is the "1st blog dedicated to LGBT + tourism in Brazil". How will you describe the gay scene in your country?
Yes, the Viaja Bi! was the first for LGBT + tourism in Brazil and remains the main one to this day. But I'm very happy to see other similar initiatives springing up. The more the tourism market understands our potency and value the better. It's a win-win for everyone.
Brazil can be considered a progressive country in terms of laws. We got same-sex marriage legalized in 2013, before admittedly friendly countries such as the USA (2015) and Germany (2017), for example. But all's not well. Although we have cities and places where the LGBTQ+ community is very well accepted, like São Paulo for example, Brazil is the country with the highest number of transgender deaths in the world. It is a country full of contradictions. We are fighting tooth and nail to move towards being an increasingly open and tolerant nation, but at the moment our efforts are getting thwarted due to indirect attacks by the new government.
Brazil has some destinations that are perfect for LGBTQ+ tourists. São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Florianópolis, Salvador are worth mentioning among many others.
Which Pride event have you enjoyed the most till date? And which such event do you plan to check off your bucket list ASAP?
I love Pride at São Paulo because it is the biggest in the world, it is emblematic and the fact that it is not a closed street with a parade but a party where everyone participates and makes our community visible, makes it important.
I have not been to many PRIDE events but I really enjoyed the last one I went to in Naples, a small town in Florida, because it's totally different from what we have here. It happens in a park, with drag shows, more than 90 exhibitors and a real sense of community. Everyone chooses to make it happen, united by the same cause. Gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, straight, old, young, drag queens, mothers- you name it and they are there reveling in the same spirit. Loved it! And this year, I will finally visit the PRIDEs I have wanted to visit the most since forever, the ones at New York and Amsterdam.
Finally, what is the essence of traveling to you?
Travel is to leave your comfort zone, meet different people and experience new cultures and gather stories. It's one of the best and most effective self-knowledge tools out there. For me, it's fuel, it keeps me going is life.
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