Provincetown serves as model for how LGBT tourism can encourage tolerance among an area’s residents
We’ve got it pretty good in Dallas these days, but it only takes a visit to Provincetown, Mass., on Cape Cod to realize how far our LGBT community still has to go.
After spending a week in Provincetown in late August, I came home to Dallas declaring it the gayest city I’d ever seen, and I’ve seen most of the big gay tourist spots.
Everywhere I went, I saw gay and lesbian couples walking hand-in-hand on the street without attracting attention from anyone.
The transgender community, a minority group that sometimes finds itself discriminated against even by the gay and lesbian community, enjoys widespread acceptance in Provincetown.
One of the more humorous sites I saw was a group of straight couples asking a group of drag queens to let them take pictures of their children standing with them.
Even the local straight bars, of which I understand there are only two, often get mistaken for gay bars.
But no one seems to mind.
One of those bars, Governor Bradford’s, features female impersonators leading karoke shows every night. It was the gayest straight bar I”‘ve ever visited.
And if you hear anything about discrimination involving sexual orientation in Provincetown, it will more likely be about straight people complaining gay people are discriminating against them.
But that sort of dissension is rare in Provincetown.
On the trolley car that takes tourists on a tour of Provincetown, the guide bragged about the diversity and the accepting nature of the town’s residents. She noted that Provincetown has always represented freedom. It was the site of the Pilgrims’ first landing in 1620 before they moved on to establish their colony in Plymouth across the bay.
Provincetown was incorporated in the early 1700s after a century of being home to what has been described as a “wild unprincipled and undisciplined crew of traders and fishermen from European ports.” In the 1800s Portuguese fishermen began settling in the area. Descendants of those families still live in Provincetown today.
In the 1950s, according to local lore, the wives of Portuguese fishermen began renting rooms to artists and writers who flocked to the picturesque area. Many of them were gay, but that seemed not to bother the Portuguese women who quickly noted the men were more responsible and pleasant than the fishermen who had previously boarded with them.
A tradition was started and today Provincetown is filled with gay guest houses that line the two major streets, and many if not most of the restaurants, shops and art galleries are gay-owned.
After a 90-minute ride on a “fast ferry” from Boston Harbor, I stayed at Romeo’s Holiday on Bradford Street, where I joined a group of guests from cities across the nation and from Canada. We met on the deck for coffee every morning before heading out for our tourist destinations, then reassembled every afternoon at cocktail hour to discuss what we had seen.
At night we ventured out alone and sometimes together to see the sights. Someone venturing into the popular dance bar the Atlantic House, might think the old hotel was being haunted by those characters from the 1700s. Just kidding, but I did see some pretty wild and uninhibited, shirtless dancing. A more sedate crowd was found at the Porch Bar, so named because of its large wrap around veranda.
The food was spectacular in Provincetown’s countless restaurants. I repeatedly ordered clam chowder and feasted on a variety of seafood. One of the most popular restaurants is the Lobster Pot, and it lived up to its reputation the night I was there.
One of the things that surprised me most about other tourists, who live in large cities with strong LGBT communities, was their impression of Dallas. They assumed people would be unable to live openly as gay and lesbian partners in Dallas. They had no idea we had a large gay entertainment district where gay and lesbian couples are actually known to occasionally hold hands.
They were amazed when I told them about Mayor Laura Miller and a majority of the City Council members riding in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade every year. They couldn’t imagine an openly gay City Council member like Ed Oakley being able to win office and to be considering running for mayor in the next municipal election.
They also had no idea Dallas has a city ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. When I told them about lesbian Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, they were really blown away.
All of them said they would like to visit Dallas now that they know it welcomes gay tourists. The Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Dallas Tavern Guild are working hard to promote Dallas as a gay travel destination, but the message obviously is still not being heard by many.
It’s become clear to me that the development of Provincetown as a gay tourist destination contributed mightily to the atmosphere of acceptance in the town and the successes of its LGBT community. That might be the key to realizing even more success for Dallas’ LGBT community, but we’ve got a long way to go in getting the word out about the progress we’ve already made.
Maybe when we travel we should always make a point of promoting Dallas as a great LGBT travel destination.
The city would have tough time competing with the natural beauty of Cape Cod and its seashore, but we do have our attractions. I think I sold them pretty well to the dozen or so people I met in Provincetown.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, August 25, 2006.