When Kevin Mossier started his gay travel agency in 1985 he couldn't have known that just over 30 years later his legacy would be facilitating an entirely new travel agency for LGBT people, not in the United States this time, but in the Dominican Republic. And he wouldn't have dreamed that that travel agency would not only serve LGBT people by providing stress and stigma free vacation, but that it also was helping to train, employ, and improve the livelihood of LGBT in the developing world.
Proactividad, an LGBT non-profit in the Dominican Republic, is doing just that by funding and developing a new travel agency that will provide tours and services for LGBT groups and individuals who want to travel to the Dominican Republic. The agency employs all LGBT individuals, most of whom are Dominican youth. We spoke to one team leader, Lupita Raposo, a transgender woman activist who has worked both in the travel industry and with LGBT issues in the Dominican.
“This is our new baby,” Lupita said of the program. She explained the origins of the travel agency, how she personally got involved and brought the project to life: “I’m an activist first. A trans woman activist. I started about 10 years ago at an NGO in my hometown. One time, we were invited to a meeting about tourism with LGBT people. I decided to go because before I was an activist I worked on a cruise ship as a cook, and I said ‘Well, involving the LGBT community in LGBT tourism [could be] a good thing to pursue.”
“I got involved in that first meeting and I said ‘I’m here. Everything you need, I can help with that, because I have experience in tourism.’” From there, Lupita started recruiting LGBT youth to be volunteers for the travel agency. These youth are trained in service industry skills such as serving, hosting, cooking, and entertaining. They gain experience by working for Proactividad's agency, and can then use those skills to find employment elsewhere, something that's often not possible without Proactividad's help.
“Many places here don’t have open minds for the LGBT community...they can’t find any kind of job in hotels, restaurants, etc.” Lupita explains of the volunteers before they enter the agency’s program. They have no opportunity to gain practical skills, because no one will hire them in the first place.
“Many of these boys and girls don’t have the confidence and don’t get involved because they don’t have anybody to push them to do something. We got involved by noticing this need and trying to develop this new program that would address that need. We are creating this confidence in our young LGBT people. That way they can show the community that we can do things and we can be part of our society, and do something important. They are empowered, they learn the skills and [then] are able to work. They are able to make money.”
The tours Proactividad provides are a unique opportunity for travellers, especially those identifying as LGBT. “[This is] a different kind of tourism here,” Lupita explained. “Beach, mountains, and big city. That way customers get to have different kinds of tourism, different than just one cruise or one resort. Something more involved, specific.”
You can book tours as an individual, a family, or a group. And the agency organizes more than just vacation: “We can do weddings, meetings, conferences, catering, events, all these kinds of things,: Lupita says. “We prepare everything. You just need to come with your team, and we prepare everything for you.”
“We are going to rent places in different parts of the island. We prepared this special group service. This way, our customers are going to have a very different experience with the things they do on the trip.” Because the agency is owned and operated by LGBT individuals, LGBT travellers and their families can feel at ease in a part of the world where they might not otherwise feel comfortable travelling to, all while giving back to members of their own community.
The funds gained from the agency's fees go toward keeping this project alive and providing better opportunities for LGBT youth in the Dominican. “With us, it’s better, because you know you are buying a product that has regard for your own community. And you can get involved just by traveling.”
Booking a tour with Proactividad allows individuals to not only immerse themselves in the Dominican culture and the LGBT community, but also to give back to that very same culture and community. “All the young boys that were involved in the last program, their lives changed. They started to work in different places, they started to be more involved in the town. And they have a different trajectory in life right now.”
Proactividad’s travel agency, called A2Z, and is preparing to start booking and facilitating both group and individual tours in 2018, so start planning your Caribbean vacation now! Until then, you can donate to this project and others that help LGBT entrepreneurs across the globe on Mossier’s donation page.