Cities like San Francisco and New York are known for their thriving LQBTQ scenes, but GLAAD award-winning journalist Samantha Allen wants people to learn about the queer communities below the radar: the conservative states she’s visited and called home.
“I came out as transgender in Atlanta, Georgia; fell in love in Bloomington, Indiana; and found my ride-or-die friends in East Tennessee,” she wrote in her memoir, “Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States” (Little, Brown and Company, 2019). “This is what I’ve learned on my travels: America is a deeply queer country—not just the liberal bastions and enclaves, but the so-called real America sandwiched between the coasts.”
This summer, W Hotels made Allen’s book available for all of its guests to read during their stays as part a book club with the LGBTQ media platform them.
Allen spoke to USA TODAY about what she wants LGTBQ travelers to know, starting with: “The world is yours, too.”
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“We live in a world today that’s much more challenging to (traverse) than the world in 2019,” she said of the year her book came out. “But I think travel, for a lot of people, still feels like freedom. And I think you’re seeing LGBTQ folks continue to push for ways to make the experience reflect that.”
“I had spent so much time in red state LGBTQ communities that I knew that a lot of the stereotypes and misconceptions were not true,” she said. “But I think it still was … warmly welcoming to realize, a dozen times over, just how inclusive many of these destinations can be.”
In her book, Allen takes readers on a road trip through old haunts and new ones, like Encircle, a safe space for LGBTQ youth, young adults and families in Provo, Utah, that wasn’t around when Allen attended Brigham Young University, before leaving the Mormon church.
“Encircle is here only because people care enough about Utah to stay or to come back,” she wrote.
Of course not every space is safe – regardless of the state.
“Will you encounter, bigotry, prejudice, misunderstandings? Absolutely,” she said. “But you will also find plenty of acceptance, warmth and inclusion anywhere in the country, if you know where to look.”
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Allen makes it a point to look for LGBTQ-owned businesses wherever she travels, which is as easy as checking Yelp.
“To me that’s just my way of showing support for the community,” she said, urging allies to do the same.
“Whether that’s eating at an LGBTQ-owned cafe or bookstore or staying at an LGBTQ-owned bed and breakfast,” she said. “Every little bit helps.”