This Pride month, we are celebrating travel's capacity for discovery, renewal, and love through a lens of queerness—and its power to open up ourselves to seeing not just the world, but also who we are, in a new light.
“Are you sure about Montana?” asked a coworker when I told her about our family’s summer travel plans. Her concerned tone caught me off guard. Until that moment, I hadn’t really given the politics of the state a lot of thought, focusing instead on where we would stay and what hikes we would do while visiting Glacier National Park, a favorite haunt of mine.
This was to be our first trip as a family: myself; Lance, my partner (now husband); and my two sons (aged 6 and 12) from a previous marriage. As an interracial gay couple with young children, the four of us stood out from the crowd in multiple ways, and maybe we’d be an unwelcome sight in rural Montana, where gay marriage was still unlawful at the time in 2013. I started second guessing myself and our travel plans.
We had decided to spend most of our time in the park. However, it was significantly cheaper to fly into Helena, the state capitol, drive northwest toward the park, and then continue westward, returning back home from Spokane, Washington. This, I had thought, gave us a chance to see more of Montana, as well as a sliver of Idaho and easternmost Washington state.
Lance was cool as a breeze about the whole thing, but I began to worry after that conversation. Would we be safe? Would we encounter stares or rude behavior in places? And how would that affect the kids?
We’d planned a couple of days in Missoula after our park exploring, so I called the Destination Missoula office. I described our family and said we were looking to stay in the city that summer. Were there any hotels that might be better choices for us than others? The kind gentleman on the other end of the call must have heard the concern or shakiness in my voice—I’d only been an out gay man for a couple of years at that point—and he reassured me.
“Don’t lump us in with other areas you might see on the news,” he said. “I’m confident that your family will find Missoula to be a friendly and welcoming place, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with us and Montana in general.” He provided many suggestions for family-friendly activities around town, and even suggested hikes while we were in Glacier, as well as restaurants in that part of the state. His openness reassured me, and I shed the fears that had been piling up since my work conversation.
We arrived in Helena on a warm, sunshine filled day, and decided to see what the state capitol building looked like before heading to the national park areas. A security guard invited us to come inside and see the magnificent interior, no questions asked or sideways looks. In Glacier, our older son bonded with another boy at the nightly ranger bonfire talks, and they looked for each other every night. We smiled and exchanged nods with the parents each time the boys reconnected.
We learned about the Blackfeet peoples, the history of the glaciers, and the geography of the region. We hiked up to incredible viewpoints of craggy mountains and turquoise lakes. We woke up in the middle of the night to lie in front of our cabin and stare at the Milky Way, meteors occasionally crisscrossing the dark skies. We discovered quaint Whitefish, Montana and wandered its sweet downtown area, chatting with locals. As promised, we found Missoula to be accepting and lovely, and enjoyed the people we met there and the wonderous scenery around the city. Plus, we checked Idaho and Washington off the kids’ quest to visit all 50 states.
Our experience is not to say that there aren’t problems for queer families traveling—or that we’re living in a wholly accepting society. Over the years since, we’ve had our own share of encounters with unfriendly hotel employees, rude wait staff, and TSA agents who didn’t believe we were, in fact, a family. While visiting Jamaica on a cruise stop, we were asked repeatedly where our wives were. We had explained to the kids ahead of time how dangerous the island could be for LGBTQ+ people, and that we would pretend to be brothers-in-law for the day. I wasn’t happy about the situation, but I think it gave the kids some needed perspective on the real world. Once, while checking into a famous hotel on the Las Vegas strip, the front desk clerk stopped in the midst of the transaction to admonish Lance, who was standing with the kids directly behind me.
“Sir, can you please step back while I’m helping this family get checked in?!” she said to him pointedly, concerned that he was standing too close to us. I responded with a polite but firm, “That’s my husband you’re talking to.” She was mortified and apologized profusely—and hopefully doesn’t make that mistake again in the future.
Yet, in spite of these occasional negative experiences, we’ve been undeterred. Following that memorable Glacier and Missoula trip, we have continued to venture to new places. My husband and I have always been passionate travelers, and we’ve worked hard to show our sons the variety of cultures in America and beyond: We’ve taken them to states as varied as New Mexico, Oregon, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Utah. We’ve explored Kauai’s glorious beaches together. We’ve wandered through vibrant Hong Kong and sailed around the Greek islands.
I’m happy to report that by and large, we’ve felt accepted in many of the places we’ve visited.
I think back to our Montana trip, and the woman in Whitefish who pleaded for us to stay another day in her town to explore a nearby lake that she and her friends loved. Or the sassy customer in the pie shop near Glacier who teased us endlessly about our indecision over which flavors to choose. Family vacations have always been an important bonding experience for the four of us, and I hope our sons will always look back fondly on these memories. And really, isn’t that what any parent truly wants out of travel?
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