Three Texas cities in top 20 destinations for LGBT travelers, but why did Dallas beat Houston?

City Halls

Plus, our city hall is prettier.

The Sixteenth Annual Gay and Lesbian Tourism Report is out and Houston is listed as one of the top twenty business and leisure destinations for American and Canadian LGBT travelers. Three Texas cities made the top twenty and, in a ranking I’m sure Houstini’s Dallas Voice overlords are itching to rub in, Dallas scored best, tying for 10th place. Austin and Houston tied at 18th. [The complete ranking is after the jump]

The study, produced by San Fransisco based Community Marketing, surveyed over 10,000 LGBT respondents in the U.S. and Canada about their travel habits and what motivates (or demotivates) them to pick a destination. It doesn’t say what would posses someone to pick Big D over the Bayou City as a destination, so we’re left to simply guess. As someone who’s lived in both cities I feel uniquely qualified to wager that guess and so, in no particular order, follows five reasons to pick Dallas over Houston as your LGBT travel destination:

5. You base your travel decisions on which city has the most severe crystal meth problem.

4. Who cares about art or culture when Dallas has such great shopping! You can go the Highland Park Mall, or to… um, (isn’t there some kind of department store downtown?) You can go to the Highland Park Mall!

3. You find mayors who don’t support LGBT inclusive policies sexy.

2. You enjoy the existential angst of trying to figure out why someone would spend $93 million to build a bridge over a drainage ditch.

1. Harvey Milk lived there once, for like six whole months.

(got a reason to visit Dallas over Houston? Leave it in the comments.)

—  admin

Master of HIS domain

Ben Starr, the recently out Dallas cheftestant on Fox’s ‘MasterChef,’ camps it up on Gordon Ramsay’s cooking competition series

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

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MASTERCHEF
Airs Tuesdays on Fox (Ch. 4) at 8 p.m.

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When Lewisville-based travel writer Ben Starr auditioned for Fox’s MasterChef, he doubted they’d be interested in his style of home cooking. But not only did he make the cut, he’s been one of the more memorable cheftestants — just this week, he had the judge’s favorite dish.

The series is only halfway through, but for Starr, it’s already made a huge difference in his life: It forced him to come out to his parents just last month. We talked to him about the experience and his favorite meals.

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You’ve been struggling since you wowed the judges at your audition. The audition kinda set me up to expect that I would do well in the competition, but we spun pretty quickly into an emphasis on gourmet cuisine, which is not my thing at all. My street tacos were a little bit spiffy, and I am extremely well traveled, but I tend to eat peasant food even when I travel. I was seeing all these people around me making restaurant quality cuisine and trying to compete on their level. Nice to make a good ol’ catfish in a skillet.

What was the hardest challenge for you? The biggest challenge has definitely been psychological. I’m competitive by nature and I want to feel like I’m competition, but I was surrounded by chefs that were a little more connected to the Food Network that I am. They’d use words like umami [a Japanese word for a savory flavor] and I had to go look it up. There was a common lexicon among the contestants about what these famous chefs I’ve never heard of are doing in their restaurants. I felt like an idiot stumbling around in the dark. That started to leak into my cooking and I began to question, “Is this sophisticated enough? Is this even sophisticated?” The episode this week was a turning point. I felt like for the first time I’m back in my own element.

You certainly have made an impression with your outfits. I don’t wear those hats at home, though I do wear an apron, just for practicality. But [the show] has started this storytelling legacy — people expect me to wear them when they come over. My mom made me the pumpkin hat and apron. Actually, she made me five or six pairs to wear. That’s why you always see a different one on me each episode. I was going through them.

Was wearing them part of a conscious effort to stand during the auditions? I am fairly myself, though I had to set myself apart that wasn’t just about food. I needed to be someone [the judges] remember when they go home at night. That’s why I talked about my rural upbringing, because I thought it would generate a memory.

Had you watched the show before? Did you know what to expect? I don’t watch much TV, but this is not my first time being on TV, which is ironic because I abhor reality television —it brings out the worst in our culture. But I did Rachael Ray’s So You Think You Can Cook in 2007. The audience there was much more caring and nurturing than the machine on MasterChef, but I was a little bit prepared for the frank judgment.

I did not watch the first season of MasterChef, but my friend Karen Rutherford said, “I’ll never speak to you again if you don’t audition [for season 2].” So I watched them all on Hulu. I just sweated my way through them. I knew how intense and stressful it is to cook on TV, and saw how brutal Joe Bastianich and Gordon Ramsay were with the contestants. I thought: Screw this. Then a few weeks passed and the terror faded [and I went through the lengthy audition process]. It was a lot of work — the most difficult full-time job I’ve ever had that doesn’t pay.

What’s your favorite kind of cuisine? While my DNA wants to say Mexican food — I had it in the womb six times a week — I am most intrigued by Thai food. It is so complex, yet so much of it is cooked on the street in a tiny little cart. From the richest to the poorest, everybody eats on the street.

How about a favorite meal? One of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had was in Egypt on New Year’s Eve in 2001. I spent it on Mount Sinai and hiked eight miles back down to the car for the drive back to our resort. [The driver] fell asleep at the wheel and we plummeted into a canyon. Eventually a camel train of Bedouins came by the bottom of this canyon. They took us onto the camels and rode four or five miles to their camp. All the women came out, killed a goat and started cooking while the men tried to pull our car out of the canyon.

It was a humble meal — just a goat stew and some flat bread — but the flavors were really intense and felt they came right out of the desert. I could not even communicate with these people who live in abject poverty, but still they were willing to kill one of their last goats and throw a big feast for us because it’s in their nature to be hospitable. I realized it was important to me to use food to nurture people in my life — I could never be a chef and be in the back. I need to be with the people. My partner is one of the main reasons I cook — we’ve been together eight years and I want to marry him one day.

Did you plan to be “the gay guy” on the show? When I was on [Rachael Ray] it was not addressed and I didn’t talk about it openly. At that point my family didn’t know I was gay — in fact, I didn’t come out to my parents until about five weeks ago. They were totally shell-shocked — they didn’t have a clue.

Maybe mom should have guessed since she made you all those hats. Ha! Maybe.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 8, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Check out this butt sex travel reference guide

Following up on the magazine’s insightful story about efforts to remove Texas’ “homosexual conduct” law from the books, Mother Jones put together this handy-dandy map that can easily be printed out and used as a reference source as you travel around the country.

It turns out that a total of 14 states still have sodomy statutes on the books, despite the fact that these laws can’t be enforced because they were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas:

Since Lawrence, efforts to formally repeal laws in Montana, Kansas, Utah, Louisiana, North Carolina, and, most notably, Texas have all faced resistance before fizzling out in their respective state legislatures. Conservatives in those states know they can’t enforce the laws, but by keeping them in the code, they can send a message that homosexuality is officially condemned by the government.

As you can see, most of the 14 states with statutes still on the books — 10 to be exact — ban sodomy regardless of whether it’s homosexual or heterosexual. In other words, before Lawrence, butt sex was illegal in these states for mom and dad, too!

Texas, meanwhile, is one of only four states where sodomy is illegal — or was illegal — only for gay people. The others are Oklahoma, Kansas and Montana. Which is strange because if there’s any place where cornholeing should be legal, if not encouraged, it’s Kansas.

—  John Wright

At Winspear, Dallas CVB reaches out to gay leaders

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Phillip Jones speaks to leaders of the gay community at the Winspear this morning (photo by Armando Gonzales)

Journos don’t like to get up early, but this morning I slapped on a tie and trekked over to the Winspear Opera House for an 8 a.m. “LGBT Leadership Breakfast” with about 40 others from the community. The event, hosted by Dallas’ Conventions and Visitors Bureau, sought to reach out and enlist the local gay community in pressing for more business in Big D.

Ever since the opening the new Arts District,  Dallas as a city has been big on promoting itself as a world-class destination, but apparently that’s harder than we thought — especially in light of something that happened in another city.

“There are still challenges — the Rainbow Lounge incident did not help us, it hurt us a lot,” said Chris Heinbaugh, the gay chief of staff for Mayor Tom Leppert, noting that several conventions that had been booked canceled as a result of the raid and its aftermath.

CVB chief Phillip Jones echoed that observation (often, he said, people from out of town assume Dallas-Fort Worth is one big city), but also touted the 32 LGBT conventions that had been here in the past few years, generating $37 million in economic impact. CeCe Cox, one of the attendees, also brought up the Creating Change conference that starts next week, and is the largest of its kind yet.

Other factors are harder to control than the response to the Rainbow Lounge, such as the GALA Choruses using the excuse “Dallas is too hot in the summer” for not bringing their event here, and going instead to Denver. And Heinbaugh probably got the best line of the morning when he mentioned that The Advocate had recently listed the top 20 gay cities, and Dallas wasn’t on the list… but Austin was.

“Austin? Really?! It’s a great city,” he said, “but we’re WAY gayer than them.”

Gayer indeed.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas moves up in gay tourism rankings

Dallas has moved up two spots in the rankings and is now in a three-way tie as the 16th-most popular destination for LGBT travelers, according to the newly released 14th annual Gay & Lesbian Tourism Study by Community Marketing Inc. Dallas was alone at No. 18 last year. This year’s rankings show that 11 percent of the 4,726 LGBT people surveyed in the U.S. had traveled to Dallas in the last year and spent at least one night in a hotel. This tied Dallas with Denver and Phoenix at No. 16, and put us immediately behind Miami and Atlanta and immediately ahead of New Orleans. New York took the No. 1 spot at 32 percent, followed by San Francisco at 27 percent, Las Vegas at 26 percent, Chicago at 25 percent and Los Angeles/West Hollywood at 24 percent. Here are a few other trends from this year’s report:

1) Due to the deep recession, almost all destinations experienced a decrease in LGBT travel, except Washington D.C., which garnered higher numbers.
2) The rankings remain remarkably consistent from past years. A few destinations such as Seattle, however, did jump up in rankings.
3) The top seven LGBT destinations experienced the least decline in LGBT visitors, while other destinations experienced larger declines.
4) Overall, leisure travel declined slightly among LGBT travelers, but business travel and cruise travel saw steeper drop-offs.

—  John Wright

How I remember Galveston

I traveled to Galveston for the first time earlier this year for Mardi Gras and published a story about it in March. The trip was a blast, despite lingering back problems as a result of my riding for hours on a gigantic moving float, tossing beads to the masses. You can read about that trip — including the just re-opened Robert Lafitte’s — here.  It’s how I hope to remember the city despite the pounding delivered by Ike.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Another reason we're glad 'Sordid Lives' is doing well

I got an e-mail this morning from our good friend, Texas native and Baylor alum Del Shores, who told me that the ratings so far for his “Sordid Lives” TV series are by far the best ever for a Logo series. Fingers crossed, that means a second season pick-up is in the offing. 

We certainly hope so — especially when Shores’ partner (and co-star on the series) Jason Dottley posts such nice stories. The Mississippi wrote a “top 10 list” for Logo online, naming the best gay places in the South to visit. Dallas … well, read it for yourself here. 

The next episode of “Sordid Lives” airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Logo. 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

A fair fare

In light of the news that American Airlines will now be charging a minimum of $15 per checked bag on all flights, I was intrigued by a press release from Spirit Airlines. They are inaugurating service between Fort Lauderdale and Columbia, S.C. — and since everyone in my family but me lives in South Carolina, it caused me to notice. The introductory fare for these trips? Nine bucks. That’s 90 dimes; 36 quarters. That’s it.

So I wonder: When I visit my parents, if I come from South Florida, can I fly myself on American and have Spirit take my bags so I can save money?

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

The trip of a lifetime!!!

As a working travel journalist, I often get invited by cities, CVBs, regions and companies to tour their areas so that I might write travel stories that would be of interest to my readers. Some sound fun but impractical; some sound practical but fun-free.

And then there’s the one I just got, from the Branson, Mo., convention bureau.

I have been invited to enjoy a “family” vacation in the Ozarks. But I think my interpretation of the work “family” is different than theirs. Among the activities I can choose from: Showboat Branson Belle; Yakov Smirnoff in Concert; Hamner Barber Variety Show; Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede; and a stage production called “Noah: The Musical.”

Now, I appreciate the invitation. And Dolly is a bit of gay goddess in a blonde wig. But I think the Branson press office might have wanted to tailor the offerings more for a GLBT audience. Although I was intrigued by one option: “Baldknobbers Jamboree Show.” Sounds gayer than anything that’s ever happened in the Castro — and without the irony. But I think I’ll pass on this one.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

There is Pride — Vegas diary

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If I ever had any doubts about whether Las Vegans would turn out for gay Pride, they were allayed on Saturday at Pride Festival, which fell the day after their nighttime Pride Parade (sound familiar, Houston?). Dozens of booths, several live concerts and hundreds, even thousands of visitors — all very graciously and sincerely wish you “Happy Pride.” And perhaps the oddest aspect of it? This pay-to-attend event seemed to be peopled by a fair number of straights who just came out for the food, drink, music and fun. And it’s so far away from the Strip, you wouldn’t even know you were in Nevada.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones