Active Voice Column: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Advertising?
by P. Kristen Enos
(All rights reserved)
I have a soft spot for San Diego, California. I’ve always told people that if I ever moved out of Orange County, my next choice would be Los Angeles or San Diego. So how I ended up in Las Vegas is beyond me… Well, actually that’s not true. San Diego has mental and emotional associations of a vacation or a quickie and convenient getaway; so living there was never a realistic option for me.
My affinity for the city probably started with my yearly summer trips to San Diego Comic Con, which I’ve been attending religiously since 1987. So with these trips, best gay bud Nico and I have explored the city more and more with each passing year. In one of our early trips, where we had minimal knowledge of what the city had to offer, we were leaving downtown and driving north on the 163 freeway where took a random exit. The next thing we knew, we were driving through a pleasant neighborhood with rainbow flags posted outside. Thus we were introduced to LGBT-friendly area of Hillcrest, which became a regular stop on all of our trips from that point on. (For you uninitiated, LGBT meaning Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgendered.)
So in February of this year, I decided to do an impromptu getaway to take advantage of my new Diamond Membership at the San Diego Zoo. Since I tend not to be fussy about hotel accommodations for solo trips, I decided to book a room via the Priceline bidding option and see what fate might bring.
If you’ve never used this service, it works by letting you place a (reasonably discounted) bid and select geographic area(s) of a city and the star rating of a hotel. Then it’s a matter of waiting to see if a hotel will accept your request. Bids that are too low obviously don’t get accepted and you never know if your idea of a three star is really the hotel’s idea of a three star. Since I haven’t always had good experiences with it, this is a hit or miss process that I use maybe once every couple of years.
This time I placed a bid, selected various San Diego neighborhoods (of course including the areas that covered Hillcrest.) I was pleased when my bid was accepted by a motel that I hadn’t stayed at before. I looked up the hotel’s address and found that not only was it in San Diego’s hotel circle but also at the bottom of the ridge of the border of Hillcrest. But when I checked out the motel’s website, my eyebrows raised slightly to see that in its amenities list had “gay friendly”, despite general promotional description of being a family-friendly hotel… I’m assuming “family” defined in the traditional sense, not in the coded LGBT sense.
In my many, many trips over the years (solo, with girlfriends or Nico or others; domestic or international), it NEVER occurred to me to look for hotel accommodations that would cater to LGBT clientele. It’s not to say that I wasn’t aware that such hotels existed. – I think Vegas hotel and resort ads showing men intensely cruising each other are hilarious. — I just never looked at that as a quality to determine where I would stay.
Though thinking about it, I guess the cultural lesbian blind spot filters a lot of my activities, where two women checking into a single bed hotel room is not as suspicious if two men did it. However, I’m not sensitive to such attitudes that it would change my behavior or plans.
But, what does it mean to be gay friendly? And would it matter to someone who was visiting by herself?
I asked Nico since he has traveled domestically and abroad with hubby John. Nico admitted that in his mind “gay friendly” meant “clothing optional”.
I really didn’t see that applying to a cheap motel in San Diego that was in the heart of the tourist area. And if it did, it wasn’t something I was looking forward to, either as a participant or as a witness.
So with that, I just waited for the weekend trip to roll around to see the premises and potentially visitors for myself.
When I arrived, I have to admit the hotel desk clerk was a young man who completely triggered my gaydar, which is (believe it or not) an indication of his true orientation or the gay-friendly status of the motel. I also glanced around the lobby, taking in its pleasant and inexpensive furnishings. I didn’t see any rainbow flags or fliers advertising gay get-togethers.
I let the clerk continue with his spiel about everything the motel had to offer (including specials at the two connected family restaurants). I waited patiently to ask him why the hotel was listed as “gay friendly” on the website (in positive spirits, of course.) However, he ended his little welcome speech by letting me know that since I had arrived on a Friday, I was there in time to take advantage of their weekend nights sing-a-longs at the piano bar in the room next door.
As a jaded LGBT community person, I immediately thought “oh, that’s why it’s gay friendly”, and didn’t bother to ask for the official explanation. Focusing on the trip to the zoo was more important from that point.
When I sat down tonight to write this column, I went back to the motel’s website to double-check a few things and noticed that the “gay-friendly” amenity had been removed. It made me wonder if I had imagined it the first time around. But I’m not the type to make up such memories, especially when it involved talking to friends about them.
Did someone finally ask or challenge them on the amenity? Perhaps they got a homophobic reaction and decided it wasn’t worth it because LGBT tourists would come anyway?…
Or perhaps the piano bar sing-a-longs weren’t considered friendly enough – or they knew they couldn’t encourage clientele to be “clothing optional”.