Security policies need to protect gay travelers, speaker says

As more states acknowledge same-sex marriages and tourism companies recognize the value of marketing to the gay community, police and security forces in tourism destinations need to expand their policies to be sensitive to providing a safe environment for gay travelers, a speaker at a security conference said Thursday.

Ed Salvato, editor in chief of ManAboutWorld, an online gay travel publication, said the growing importance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender demographic to business dictates that security officers and police agencies be prepared to handle issues specific to gay relationships.

Salvato was a speaker at the five-day International Tourism Safety Conference at the Sands Expo and Convention Center. The conference, sponsored in part by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, has attracted more than 200 security and police officers from around the world.

Gay athletes raised awareness of safety issues in February when they were in the spotlight at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

“There was an incident in Sochi where a group of demonstrators was attacked,” Salvato said. “The police arrived to stop the violence, but they ended up arresting the protesters because of Russian laws against gay relationships.”

Russia is among 82 countries that outlaw gay relationships. Most North American countries have decriminalized them, although several Caribbean nations still have laws on their books. Several Middle Eastern countries have imposed a death penalty against people who violate their laws on same-sex relationships, but in the U.S., 17 states acknowledge same-sex marriages.

Because most gay travelers rank their safety as the most important component of their travel experience, they’re aware of a company’s efforts to welcome their business, Salvato said.

Gay travelers, particularly gay couples, are a coveted market because most of them have dual-income households with no children.

Salvato said gays and lesbians spend $70.3 billion a year on travel — that’s $6,300 per person spending $1,250 per trip. He said single gay men spent an average $800 on their last solo trip compared with $540 by their heterosexual counterparts.

Salvato said gay travelers view safe environments as places known to be safe from harassment, intimidation, threats or physical violence.

“It’s a place where I can hold my partner’s hand in public,” he said.

Gay travelers also look for cities and communities known to be culturally welcoming and have supported diversity and LGBT civil rights. They listen to recommendations from their gay friends and check to see if there are any clubs or bars that cater to gay customers.

Salvato said gay travelers also keep their eyes on the news, watching for incidents of violence at gay pride parades and other festivals and how the police respond to hostile events.

Salvato said Las Vegas has a good reputation for being hosts to gay tourists, but he hasn’t done enough research to determine how safe it’s perceived.

Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at or 702-477-3893. Follow him on Twitter @RickVelotta.

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