When asked to recommend the most engaging capital cities in Europe, Berlin and Copenhagen invariably spring to mind. I’ve been struggling to find reasons as to why the German and Danish capitals are treated with such fondness in my thoughts. The penny finally dropped when Lonely Planet published its list of the most gay-friendly places on Earth last October. Low and behold, Copenhagen topped the list with Berlin in sixth place. I had my answer. Even as a straight person, the list is relevant for it is a list of tolerance. And tolerant environments are where I’m at my most comfortable.
Also in October, Irish economist David McWilliams posted a blog entitled Get tolerant, get rich whereby he illustrates the economic and social importance of tolerance and goes on to say that “tolerance of gays also means tolerance of trying new things, being open to new ideas”. John Browne, former BP CEO, tackles the issue from a corporate perspective in his book The Glass Closet.
Both the Lonely Planet list and Mr. McWilliam’s post got me thinking…thinking about the members of the Irish gay community whom I’ve met in a social and professional capacity and their love of Kerry, putting it at the top of their favourite holiday places in Ireland. Perhaps it’s personal flattery. Perhaps, as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ireland, it’s a statistical inevitability. But perhaps tolerance is a contributing factor to the Kingdom’s success? And if so, are our tourism chiefs recognising this? Do we even recognise this tolerance within ourselves?
A Fáilte Ireland representative confirmed that it markets specific gay events such as Pride in mainstream media but doesn’t promote general Irish tourism in gay media. This is a pity on three fronts. Firstly, the world’s gay community remains, by and large, oblivious to Ireland’s qualities as a holiday destination. Secondly, Ireland loses out on the virtues that the LGBTI community can bring. Thirdly, as one of the most indebted nations on the planet, we can ill-afford to omit an invitation to a market which in the US, according to Witeck Communications, has an estimated buying power of $830bn. In the UK Stonewall estimates the buying power of the LGBT community to be £70-£81bn.
Personal friends and acquaintances – gay and straight – are in favour of promoting Ireland amongst the gay community abroad, and those employed in the tourism industry have no objection to having a few pink pounds in their pocket after a hard day’s work. One might point to the lack of LGBTI venues outside the main cities as a disadvantage but this shortage hasn’t stopped the gay community from flocking to Kerry, a county with no gay venues. Clearly we’ve created a community based on diversity and inclusiveness. Carrauntoohil doesn’t discriminate on grounds of sexuality so neither does the rest of the parish.
I contacted a number of high-profile members of the LGBTI community in Ireland and LGBTI representative groups regarding this topic but only got a reply from the office of one individual. I received a future invite to one group’s meetings, so at the time of writing I had little feedback to work from. I asked for thoughts on promoting general Irish tourism in LGBTI media, if Ireland is a gay-friendly destination and how Ireland can enhance the tourism experience for the LGBTI community. The reluctance to comment was surprising. Yes, like everywhere, homophobia exists in Ireland but I believe such attitudes belong to a minority. Perhaps I’m wrong. But if I am, why are the vast majority of voters in Ireland in favour of same-sex marriage in the upcoming Marriage Referendum.
77 countries have anti-homosexuality laws. This is a frightening figure. Personally, I notice prejudices come in bundles: Looking at the list of 77, discrimination on several grounds such as gender, religion or race is prevalent in many of these countries . With this in mind there is a glaring need for a concept which I’m christening Tolerance Tourism where diversity is not simply a revenue-generating token gesture but the provision of a safe and re-assuring environment for locals and travellers.
Some might say that Ireland isn’t ready for tolerance tourism yet but I’ve clearly shown it’s already happening. Yes, many in Ireland are not comfortable with diversity. For example, the religious bigots I encounter fear a secular society based on equality and inclusiveness simply because their personal shortcomings are disguised in an unfair society.
Last year, I organised a dating game for a farming charity event and not one eyebrow was raised when the event invited the LGBTI community to participate as well. Truth is, being gay no longer means being side-lined. It means being part of the whole community. And this is why I’d like to see our whole community being promoted to everyone.
Barriers will not be broken down and lives will not be enriched if only specific activities/events are marketed towards gay tourists. The island of Ireland has a long history of religious divide and we must not repeat history with respect to other discriminatory grounds. I hope I’ve made a compelling case for Fáilte Ireland to advertise in gay media. Then again, a yes vote in the upcoming Marriage Referendum might be the best advert of all.
UPDATE: This post was published in April 2015. One month later, the Republic of Ireland became the first country in the world to legislate for same-sex marriage by popular vote. In June 2017, Leo Varadkar became Ireland’s first openly-gay head of government.
Interested in visiting Ireland? Check out my Planning a Trip to Ireland post for further information.