The words gay-friendly get bandied about a lot these days. Is it simply a desire to benefit from the pink dollar or does it go deeper? Whistler has been on the forefront of the gay-friendly bandwagon for a number of years now and we wanted to take a closer look as to what it means for the businesses, residents and LGBTQ visitors to this outdoor oasis.
“The LGBT market is a very important segment both to The Fairmont Chateau Whistler, and the destination of Whistler as a whole,” said Jennifer Tice, Public Relations Manager for the hotel. “With Whistler Pride hosted here year after year and the 2011 North America Outgames coming this month, Whistler is obviously a very popular destination for the LGBTQ community. As a hotel, it is part of our Fairmont culture to make all our guests feel at home when staying with us.”
Having recently experienced the hospitality of The Fairmont Chateau Whistler with my partner as we celebrated our anniversary, it was obvious to us that what Tice says is true. We got the distinct impression it isn’t just about chasing those double-income-no-kids couples and our larger disposable incomes, but really is about making us feel welcome with no judgment, no eyebrows raised or indifferent service simply because we are two guys sharing a king-size bed or enjoying a romantic evening in The Wine Room.
For a hotel like The Fairmont Chateau Whistler though, they have worked hard in reaching out to our community. In 2006 Whistler and the hotel were the location for the season finale for the hugely popular television series The L Word. In addition to being the location for the show’s finale, the Fairmont also came on board in creating a special romantic “L Word Package” at their hotel.
In 2008, the hotel was also the presenting sponsor and host to the inaugural Mr Gay Canada competition, which saw 25-year-old Darren Bruce from North Vancouver (featured as part of a photo shoot above and left) walk away with the prize.
The hotel is also home to the first same-sex wedding in Whistler at the resort’s only on-site wedding chapel, which today remains a popular wedding venue among the LGBTQ community looking for something a little more unique. And of course, the hotel is TAG approved and members of both the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGTLA) and Travel Gay Canada (TGC).
Of course, for a lot of people, Whistler’s gay-friendly reputation comes from the world-renowned gay and lesbian ski week, WINTERPride. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2012 the force behind this annual week of skiing, parties and fun is CEO Dean Nelson, who reinforces Whistler’s gay-friendly attitude.
“For the most part Whistler is a very open and accepting destination,” he said. “Take a diverse workforce and add over four million tourists that visit the resort each year and you can quickly see that the need for embracing diversity and being inclusive is important in the sustainability of the resort.”
And while Nelson realistically admits that there are a small number of businesses that are only ‘gay for a day’, that is certainly not something unique to Whistler. Nelson says he prefers to focus his energy on the dozens of businesses, like The Fairmont Chateau Whistler, who are engaged with the LGBTQ community beyond gay ski week.
But what about the rest of the year, after the LGBTQ community heads home at the end of the annual gay ski extravaganza in February? With no self-proclaimed gay bar in Whistler, what’s a boy (or girl) to do on a weekend? According to Nelson that isn’t much of a problem.
“Whistler is a very unique destination where the average permanent residence’s age is approximately 28 years old, who are fresh out of high school or university and taking a year to two off before setting into their careers,” he started. “This is a time of experimenting and exploring oneself and could be the reason why there is a large percentage of ‘hetro-flexible’ or bisexuals in the resort.”
Coupled with what Nelson says is an attitude of ‘whatever goes’ and a younger LGBT generation that doesn’t necessarily need a dedicated queer space, the traditional gay bar is not needed: “the clubs in Whistler are mixed and for the most part snogging a guy on the dance floor really isn’t any more of an issue than with a gay bar.”
26 year old Rohan Hare, a Whistler resident for two and half years, would tend to agree. Hare says that while you might get a double-take or people staring if “you’re dressed overly gay or holding hands” he doesn’t think those types of reactions are any different in Whistler than they are elsewhere unless, he says, you live on Davie Street in Vancouver.
“I’ve been out clubbing, dinners, drinking and it’s been quite obvious that we’re a gaggle of gays and never had anything said or felt uncomfortable,” said Hare.
32 year-old Whistler resident Michael Frolick echoes Hare: “on the whole, people here are chill – they don’t seem to care one way or another that you’re gay. I personally have not experienced any negativity”.
As Nelson prepares for WINTERPride 2012 he helped to sum things up nicely about the gay-friendly nature of this mountain paradise: “Whistler prides itself on being gay welcoming – a destination that celebrates and embraces all people, all spectrums of the rainbow.”
Tice and the team at The Fairmont Chateau Whistler obviously get it too, and something I can attest to firsthand: “the Fairmont Chateau Whistler is proud to be a gay friendly hotel, where all visitors can feel welcome and are treated with respect.”
Isn’t that all we’re really looking for?