When a gay travel story becomes breaking news

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Mobile and beyond: Surprising Alabama

http://www.ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=4070

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In the Bay Area Reporter‘s July 16 edition ran a travel story about Mobile, Alabama, its gay scene and its friendly surrounding towns by Ed Walsh.

Mobile: New Orleans light, in a good way

Many of the more than 30,000 tourists who trek up to Monroeville each year start out in Mobile. The city has a population of 200,000, or double that if you include the suburbs. That is more than enough to support a lively gay scene. New Orleans is a little more than a two-hour drive away. After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, thousands of evacuees permanently relocated in Mobile.

Seated on Mobile Bay, which opens onto the Gulf of Mexico, Mobile very much resembles New Orleans. In fact, Mobile is the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the United States, not New Orleans. It began there in 1703, 15 years before New Orleans was founded. The city celebrates Mardi Gras with a series of celebrations, including 34 Mardi Gras parades in the two-and-a-half weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. The most sought-after of all the Mardi Gras balls is the one put on by a gay organization, the Order of Osiris (http://www.orderofosiris.com). The event has been growing in popularity since it began in 1980. It is usually held around the beginning of the city’s Mardi Gras celebrations. The city’s gay pride celebration is in April and it is marked by a series of activities and events spread out for three days and highlighted by a parade. This year, it featured a concert by Jennifer Holliday.

The day the story ran it was picked up as “Breaking News” on the Web sites of the local newspapers: Mobile’s  The Press-Register and The Birmingham News.

The Birmingham paper wrote: “Mobile and south Alabama communities such as Fairhope and Monroeville earn a thumbs up travel review from San Francisco’s Bay Area Reporter, Mobile’s Press-Register reports.”

While The Press-Register noted that Walsh “touts Mobile’s great restaurants and reports that tourism has remained strong despite the recession. He refers to the Battle House Hotel as the “gay-friendly” crown jewel of a downtown renaissance. A fan of the Battle House spa, he writes that it “is just what every gay man or woman needs.”

The linking to the travel story caused a flurry of comments on the Birmingham paper’s Web site. The count was up to 80 as of this week, with readers pretty split on whether their area being touted as a safe destination for LGBT travelers was good or bad.

One person simply wrote: “Instead of the bay city, it will soon be the GAY city!! LOL” while others extolled the fiscal boom such marketing could bring to town: “Oh, those gays really have it going on.If only we could tap into their pockets, we could pull-out of this deficit.”

Those in the negative camp interjected with fairly typical homophobic reactions: “Let the 98% of the population know where they will be so we can not be there. Gays are a sad group of people missing out on life as it was meant to be.”

Other readers questioned why the papers had labeled the posts breaking news or questioned if it was “newsworthy” at all.

I say kudos for the Alabama mainstream papers for linking to a gay paper’s coverage of their hometowns. It is no different than when the San Francisco Chronicle touts my home city’s #1 placement on some travel guide’s list or magazine’s survey.

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