This LGBT History Month, European Gay Ski Week – the world’s only roaming LGBT winter sports festival – calls for greater awareness of the homophobia faced by LGBT travellers, and the importance of queer-specific holidays.
Kevin Millins, former director of world-famous London Gay nightclub Heaven and head of Pure Organisation, which operates European Gay Ski Week, says: “With the LGBT protections and rights that have developed over the past 13 years that we have been running this event, it has prompted many people to question the need for LGBT-specific leisure spaces, be that gay-only bars and clubs or LGBT-specific tourism.
“But for LGBT holiday-makers, knowing the laws of the land can be critical to actual or perceived safety, making holidays another source of worry rather than a relaxing, rejuvenating leisure experience.”
Some surveys report one-third of LGBT holiday-makers feel they are treated differently (negatively) due to their sexuality when on vacation, 45% of transgender travellers have reported fearing physical or verbal abuse/harassment while travelling, and 99% of lesbians state LGBTQ discrimination as their greatest concern when travelling overseas.
Mr Millins continues: “For many, skiing and snowboarding epitomises feelings of freedom and self-expression. For the LGBT community, these are sentiments not taken for granted and there is a huge demand for spaces that are guaranteed to be welcoming, inclusive and where LGBT people can relax, be themselves and just have fun.
“European Gay Ski Week welcomes more than 1,000 LGBT people each year, from 49 different countries, providing the rare opportunity to not only enjoy queer-specific spaces from our on-mountain gay ski guiding groups to the après parties and nightclubs, but offering an LGBT-inclusive way to get outdoors, be active and enjoy winter sports in beautiful mountain settings.”
Action and winter sports have not been so dissimilar from ‘traditional’ sports in coming under fire for not more quickly or effectively stamping out homophobia in its ranks.
While prominent out gay winter sports athletes like America’s freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy and figure skater Adam Rippon, and Australian Olympic snowboarder Belle Brockhoff may give the impression of a more open sports community, homophobic slurs in action sports culture are still commonplace.
Snowboarders have long been referred to as ‘gays on trays’, while world-class snowboarder Terje Hakkonsen caused outrage on Twitter by quipping “Isn’t [sic] all skiers gay?” in response to Gus Kenworthy’s coming out announcement in 2015, and ‘jokingly’ naming a heterosexual snowboarder as the first to have come out as gay.
Following last week’s news of England Cricket captain Joe Root retorting to a gay slur mid-match “Don’t use it as an insult; there’s nothing wrong with being gay”, there is evidence of changing attitudes in sport. However, the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee in a damning report in 2017 called for a “zero-tolerance approach at all levels” of sport.
Mr Millins says that European Gay Ski Week offers an unrivalled travel experience, as it is the only LGBT winter sports festival to be hosted in a different mountain location each year.
From 23-30 March 2019 European Gay Ski Week will be hosted at Les Arcs, France; part of the snow-sure Paradiski area, boasting 425km of exciting pistes within a boundary of 14,390 hectares for every level of skier.