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Buyer Beware: 'Gay-Friendly' Hotels Are Not Always 'Gay Friendly' in Cancun

Who would want to advertise with a despised community if they weren't for real? Well, let's be honest -- marketing to the LGBT community is worth some big bucks.
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When Matt DeLeva got home from his trip to Cancun, Mexico with his boyfriend Eric Diaz, he sought comfort and support after what turned out to be a painful and humiliating trip. Matt and Eric had relied on a gay-friendly travel agency to select a gay-friendly hotel -- which turned out not to be gay-friendly at all. I heard about the incident and asked Matt if I could bring his story to the attention of others since so many SoCal LGBTs travel to Mexico.

But this incident raises the larger issue of how a straight venue is determined to be "gay-friendly?" Could it be as simple as taking a business' word for it because LGBTs are so happy for the outreach and the advertising? After all, who would want to advertise with a despised community if they weren't for real?

Well, let's be honest - marketing to the LGBT community is worth some big bucks. Community Marketing, Inc, which has been in business since 1992, says: "Based on tourism industry data from the US Department of Commerce and CMI sample demographics, the annual economic impact of LGBT travelers is approximately $63 billion in the US alone." Additionally, gays and lesbians primarily book their travel "directly via airline and hotel websites (56%) or through online travel agencies such as Travelocity or Orbitz (34%)." But sometimes LGBTS are too humiliated to complain about a bad experience, so I sent emails and called members of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association to get an explanation of standards by which a company or agency is determined to be gay-friendly, and therefore promoted to the LGBT community. I received an auto-reply that they are at a convention in Amsterdam and unreachable.

So the old adage holds true, even in 2010: buyer beware. For all the advertising hype to get LGBTs to spend money, it falls on the consumer to follow up and make sure the straight venue is as advertised: gay-friendly. As Matt asks at the end of his story: "How is one to feel safe booking a gay friendly hotel that is not so gay friendly after all?"

Here's Matt's story:

'Gay-Friendly' Hotels Are Not Always 'Gay-Friendly'

By Matt DeLeva

This weekend my boyfriend Eric and I went to Cancun. We stayed at The Gran Melia which was listed online by Expedia as a gay friendly hotel. At check in the man at the front desk asked repeatedly why we as two men would want a king size bed instead of two doubles. He tried to persuade us that two men in a bed was not allowed in the hotel. We brushed it off and were still ready to have a beautiful vacation.

That night on a walk on the moonlit beach my boyfriend Eric proposed to me. I said yes. The next day was beautiful, or at least we wanted it to be. At lunch Eric and I were holding hands. A waiter came over to our table and told us that public displays of affection were not allowed at the Gran Melia since it was "family hotel." When we pointed out the straight couple holding hands across the room he reminded us that it was over the fact we are gay. The waiter became very hostile towards us and I had to step in the way to cool down both Eric and the bigot waiter.

We then went to the front desk and told them the situation. We were promised an upgrade to a suite over our whole ordeal. The general manager of the hotel followed us to our room and told us that the Gran Melia is not a gay friendly hotel. It is a "family hotel" and if we wanted a gay friendly hotel to go down the road. He even gave us a list of other hotels. I asked him to refund our money and we would be glad to make a reservation at one of the other hotels. He said he was not willing to do it. We stayed one more night and barely left the room because we were both so hurt and embarrassed over the way we were treated.

I have always considered myself lucky. I was openly gay in high school and never received any criticism. Continuing through life I have never personally been discriminated against because of my sexuality. This ordeal made me feel like such a second class citizen. The general manager spoke to me with such hatred that it hurt me more than I have ever been hurt. Eric and I are good responsible people who treat others with nothing but respect. We, nor anyone, deserve to be treated that way. We were discriminated, publicly humiliated and degraded.

On our check out the last day the general manager tried so hard to get every dollar out of us that he could. He tried to charge us for food and drinks that had been included in our all inclusive stay. He made us wait to leave until the room was checked for any damages. And he threatened to call the police if we left before that. He and Eric got into a verbal altercation in the lobby, and he again threatened to call the police. He even came out from behind the desk and got in Eric's face aggressively. I got between the two of them and I told him that the only thing that was thrown were words and you cant arrest someone for that. He told me that in Mexico you can. I have heard the stories of people being thrown in Mexican jails for no reason with no way out and I was scared for my freedom. I paid whatever nonsense charges he threw at me so that I could ensure my safety and leave the hotel as soon as possible. This weekend was not a vacation for me.

We returned home that night feeling sad and helpless. The next morning I decided to email the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles. They are a group of men I am proud to call my brothers. I received tons of email of support and encouragement to stand up against this cruelty. I was put in contact with this blog by John Duran. He and others urged me to share my story. I would hate for others to feel the way I felt this weekend. We have since spoken to Expedia who has removed the Gran Melia Cancun off of their gay friendly hotel category. They spoke to the hotel who stood strong on their homophobic stance, claiming that it is a "family" hotel. This is only a start. How is one to feel safe booking a gay friendly hotel that is not so gay friendly after all?