Gays by the Sea

As a South Floridian, I am blessed by this region’s warm climate and proximity to some of our best beaches. Sadly, most of my LGBT sisters and brothers are not as fortunate. Therefore, it is not surprising that during the summer months many LGBT people vacation by the sea.

“Some of the most popular gay destinations in the world are gay resort towns and small cities near or on the water,” Andrew Collins writes in “The calm of breezy seaside locales and pristine beaches is a tremendous draw among gay revelers, and many waterfront communities with sizable gay followings have gay-friendly B&Bs and clothing-optional resorts, not to mention festive open-air discos and bars.” All things being equal, queer vacationers choose the beach.

Wayne R. Dynes, writing about “Resorts” in the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (1990), analyzed the gay affinity for seaside frolic: “Resorts frequented by homosexual men—and to a lesser extent by lesbians—tend to be at the shore. A few inland exceptions, such as Palm Springs and Russian River in California occur, but winter resorts, such as skiing sites, have rarely developed a visible homosexual presence....An interesting contrast is that between nude beaches, which attract a gay clientele, and nudist camps, which rarely do.”

Sexual minorities have flocked to the seashore since time immemorial. For centuries Capri, “the island of pleasure” off the Bay of Naples, was the vacation spot of choice for queer tourists from Tiberius to Fritz Krupp.

Other historically popular hot spots for Europe’s gay elite include the English port of Brighton, the Greek Isles of Mykonos and Crete and the Spanish Mediterranean resorts of Sitges, Ibiza and Torremolinos.

Collins, writing in, lists “the world’s gay-friendliest towns and small cities on the water,” including Provincetown; Key West; Ibiza; Fire Island; Mykonos; Cairns, Australia; Laguna Beach; Sitges; Quepos, Costa Rica; and Rehoboth Beach.

Why are seaside resorts so popular with LGBT vacationers? Dynes, writing in the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, speculates that “this specialization lies probably in the association of sun and sensuality, and [the fact that] gay resorts function more clearly as places of sexual assignation than those family groups.” What happens on Fire Island, stays on Fire Island.

But there is another reason why gay people flock to the shore whenever we want to get away from it all.

As out of the way places that depend on the tourist trade for their economic existence, beach resorts have developed a “live and let live” attitude as far as visitors are concerned.

Beach resorts allow closeted tourists to “let their hair down” and to openly express themselves. “Distance leads enchantment,” Dynes noted, “or at least a sense of security inasmuch as those employed in such conservative occupations as banking and law often do not feel that they can truly relax except far from their business associates and family.”

For fifty years Cherry Grove on Fire Island gave LGBT people a sense of freedom that we often lacked back home. Places like Provincetown and Key West, traditionally havens for artists, outlaws and other marginal elements, easily adapted themselves to an influx of affluent lesbian and gay vacationers.

To many of us, beaches are oases of freedom in a homophobic desert. John Alan Lee, writing about “Beaches” for The Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, pointed out that “a gay beach may be more capable of defense against intruding or threatening heterosexuals than other territories such as a park or main cruising street. Teenagers intent
on harassment at a crowded gay beach are likely to find themselves surrounded by a silent but menacing group of gay men.”

Lee continues, “This added element of safety, even if only tacitly understood, often encourages gay men and lesbians to more outrageous behavior for their own entertainment on a gay beach than in other public spaces. This in turn helps establish the beach in heterosexual minds as a gay beach.” Half the world knows that Cherry Grove and Mykonos are queer territory.

As a Floridian, I am well aware of our state’s popularity with vacationers of all sexual orientations. Gay and lesbian tourists in particular come to places like Key West, South Beach, Fort Lauderdale Beach, Daytona Beach, St. Petersburg Beach and Pensacola Beach to enjoy the amenities that those of us who live often take for granted.

Whether or not Florida continues to be a favorite with LGBT vacationers depends on the way that we treat them. After all is said and done, what draws our sisters and brothers to the beach resorts is the company of friendly, compatible women and men.

That’s us, folks. Let’s live up to our visitors’ expectations.