This week we at Travel + Leisure found ourselves at the center of a surprising dust-up: an organization called the American Family Association started a petition against the hotel company Hilton Worldwide, thanks to an advertisement that appeared in our June 2016 issue. While the petition has gathered some steam (reportedly more than 40,000 people have signed it), many have also come out against the AFA’s stance.
The ad, which encourages the reader to book a room at one of Hilton’s many brands at Hilton.com to get the lowest price, includes a photograph of two young and attractive men in bed together, one with his arm around the other, smiling warmly as they listen to something through a shared set of earphones. There is nothing overtly sexual about the image, and the men are not even shirtless (which is how I sleep, personally). It’s a shot that captures an intimate moment of happiness—maybe even love.
So what’s the issue? According to the AFA, by placing the ad in a “mainstream” publication like Travel + Leisure, Hilton is “purposely marketing the promotion of homosexuality to a large segment of the population who finds the idea of two men sleeping together unnatural and offensive.”
Hmm. I think you could also say Hilton is promoting the joy of travel, and the simple fun that two people can have together when they are relaxed and staying in a nice hotel room. But then again, I’m not someone who is offended by the idea of two men sleeping together. Because that’s what I do every night.
I came out when I was 19, and have lived openly and proudly as a gay man ever since. Three years ago, I married my husband, a wonderful man who makes my life—and my travels—so much richer. I write about Charles and the places we’ve gone together fairly often in my Editor’s Note in the magazine, and I have been quietly pleased that there’s been no hate mail or threats of canceled subscriptions. To me, that’s a reflection of how open and accepting the Travel + Leisure audience is—qualities that I think go hand in hand with a love of travel.
Two days ago I got a long voicemail at the office from one of these people outraged by the ad. I could tell, based on what he said and how he said it, that he didn’t know he was leaving a voicemail for one of those people that “disgust” him so much. He thought he was talking to someone who would be worried about the business ramifications of a man on a mission to besmirch T+L far and wide. He didn’t, I don’t believe, know he was talking to someone who would find his words hurtful, who would take them personally.
I have written many times that travel works against bigotry and hatred. I believe few things more strongly. Everyone has a right to his or her opinion, and to express it in legal and respectful ways, but I absolutely, utterly reject bigotry of any kind, and I think most serious travelers do too. Bigotry works better for people who stay at home.
Despite all the progress we have made in recent years, it’s still relatively rare to see depictions of gay life like what we see in that Hilton ad, including in “mainstream” magazines like ours. Few companies have the vision or the courage to do it. I was proud to run that ad in Travel + Leisure. I applaud our partners at Hilton for creating it, and I thank them for placing it with us.
The AFA is worried children will see that ad and therefore think there’s nothing wrong with being gay. Me, I’m not worried. I’m glad. Because if I had seen that ad when I was a scared, sad little kid in a small Midwestern town so many years ago, maybe I would have suspected for a moment that there was a better life ahead for me, which indeed there was: adventures to have, someone to love, and quiet moments in a light-filled hotel room to enjoy together.