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Loving the land Down Under

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Photo courtesy of Destination NSW
Photo courtesy of Destination NSW

Australia offers LGBTQ travelers a welcoming, diverse culture and wide range of experiences in a stunning setting

Having grown up in Kansas, in the middle of the United States, I've always longed to see more than the flat, flyover states that are the Midwest.

When I was a kid, my dad was a huge Olivia Newton-John fan. She was his Australian heartthrob. Many a schoolday, I would come home to her music blaring or one of her live concerts in the VCR. And as a young Gay boy, I was mesmerized by her as well. She was pretty, sang beautifully, and was from this great land far, far away.

I wondered how this pop chanteuse from Down Under got into my living room. And I always wondered what her homeland of Australia was like. Was it filled with dangerous animals as everyone suggested? Was there something at every turn that could kill me?

To me, it sounded exciting! I've always tried to live my life by a Helen Keller quote I heard while in high school: "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all." And it was with that mindset firmly in place that I packed my bags this past spring to visit that mystical place.

Photo courtesy of Destination NSW  

Queer friendly
Australia is one of the most LGBTQ-friendly countries in the world, with a progressive culture that embraces diversity and inclusivity. Australia decriminalized homosexuality in the 1970s and legally recognized same-sex marriage in 2017. The country has a very vibrant and dynamic Queer community, and it is a popular destination for LGBTQ+ travelers.

Sydney, the largest city in Australia, is often considered the Queer capital of the country. It hosts the famous Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, an annual festival and parade that attracts more than 300,000 visitors from around the world. The event, featuring colorful floats, music, and performances, has become a symbol of Australia's commitment to LGBTQ rights and is a must for anyone traveling to Australia at that time.

The parade, beginning with the roar of hundreds of "Dykes on Bikes," is truly a sight to behold. The whole country comes to slay! Everyone puts on their brightest colors and outfits for this over-the-top event. It was one of the best (and longest) Pride parades I've ever been to.

In 2023, Sydney hosted the 2023 WorldPride festival, and the city rolled out the rainbow carpet for the estimated one million-plus people, staging more than 400 events. And when I tell you that Sydney went above and beyond — well, that's a complete understatement. Everywhere I went, everything was covered in rainbows — from the sidewalks to the lighting on buildings, to the pins and buttons on every employee I saw in every shop. It was like Gay was the norm and straight was the minority — it was weirdly fabulous!

Australia has several LGBTQ-friendly beaches, including the popular Bondi Beach in Sydney, home to the Bondi Gay and Lesbian Beach Picnic, held on the first Sunday of every month. It's a great way to meet other LGBTQ travelers.

Melbourne is another great destination for LGBTQ travelers. Aside from being the current home of my favorite pop star, Troye Sivan, the city is known for its vibrant arts and culture scene and has a thriving LGBTQ community. The annual Midsumma Festival, a three-week celebration of Queer arts and culture, features a range of exhibitions, performances, parties, and other events.

If shopping is your thing, check out the 145-year-old, open-air Queen Victoria Market, which as more than 600 small businesses from which you can buy everything from Australian fruits and veggies to gourmet food, clothing, and souvenirs. There is literally something for everyone.

Photo courtesy of Heron Island  

Wild Australia
What initially drew me Down Under were the lush landscapes and wild animals I saw on TV growing up. The country is home to some of the world's most stunning natural wonders, including the Great Barrier Reef, the Outback, and the Blue Mountains. LGBTQ travelers can explore these through a range of activities, including hiking, snorkeling, and even zip lines and hot air balloon rides.

One favorite stop was the breathtaking Heron Island, a stunning coral cay located on the southern Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Queensland. Accessible only by catamaran or helicopter, it offers a secluded and pristine escape for travelers looking for a uniquely tranquil experience.

The island also boasts world-class snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities, giving visitors the chance to swim among vibrant coral reefs and an abundance of marine life, including sea turtles, manta rays, and reef sharks, while its sandy beaches provide a picturesque setting for sunbathing and leisurely walks. The island is also a breeding ground for several species of seabirds, including the endangered black noddy tern and the wedge-tailed shearwater, making it perfect for birding enthusiasts.

I spent three glorious days on this piece of paradise and have never felt so relaxed in my life. I got up close with nature — and every kind of wildlife you could imagine — in a way that I've never experienced before and will never forget.

Accommodation options on Heron Island range from eco-friendly tents to luxurious suites, with all rooms offering stunning views of the reef and the lush vegetation. Facilities include a restaurant and bar as well as guided nature walks and reef talks.

If you need a chance for some peaceful rest and rejuvenation, especially after all the excitement of Sydney and Melbourne, Heron Island is perfect. Its remote location and unparalleled natural beauty make it a must-visit destination.

Food and wine
Australia's food and wine culture is yet another draw for LGBTQ travelers, offering a range of culinary delights, from fresh seafood to world-class wines and unique indigenous cuisine. I know I came back to the states 10 pounds heavier! The cities of Melbourne and Sydney are particularly known for their food and wine scenes, with a variety of LGBTQ-friendly restaurants and bars.

Overall, I spent a little more than two weeks in the Land Down Under. I loved it so much that I've decided I will definitely be going back to vacation there again, and I might even move there some day! The welcome I felt from the people there is something I will never forget.

Aussies care about their country and the people in it. From the moment I touched down until the minute that I left, I never felt unwelcome anywhere I went.

The country's progressive culture, natural beauty, and diverse cities make it an ideal vacation spot for LGBTQ individuals and couples. Whether you're looking to attend a Pride parade, explore the great outdoors, or simply relax on a beautiful beach, Australia has something to offer everyone.

So, pack your bags and come and say, "G'day." You won't regret it!

For more information on traveling to Australia, visit https://www.australia.com

Courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association