Kate Simon: We shouldn't have to put up with bed, breakfast, and bigotry
Sunday 28 March 2010
Prejudice never takes a holiday, it seems. For it raised its ugly head again last week when a gay couple were turned away from a guesthouse in Berkshire.
The couple, Michael Black and John Morgan, from Cambridgeshire, say they were prevented from taking up their booking at The Swiss B&B in Cookham by owner Susanne Wilkinson, who would not allow them to share a double room. She complained to reporters that she didn't see why she should go against her convictions, especially as her establishment is a private house and not a hotel.
A law change three years ago was meant to ensure that lesbian and gay couples could not be treated in this way, making it illegal for businesses to turn away gay customers or discriminate against them when providing goods or services. Private house or not, Ms Wilkinson and her husband charge guests to stay in their home and are therefore subject to this law.
The gay equality charity Stonewall worked closely with travel bodies such as Visit Britain at the time of the law change to get the message out to the tourist industry about the new rules. A spokesperson for the charity said that while homophobic incidents of this kind make the headlines, they don't happen that often.
That's good news, though Ms Wilkinson doesn't seem to be alone in her attitude. Bed and Breakfast Owner (bandbowner.com), an online service for small accommodation providers, surveyed its members on the question of whether they thought that it was acceptable for same-sex couples to share a double-bedded room. It found that 13 per cent of them considered it unacceptable.
So how can gay and lesbian couples be sure they're not going to meet with a frosty welcome when they turn up for a traditional break at a British B&B? Simon Forrester, of Further Afield, believes he offers one solution. He's launched a new website featuring gay-friendly accommodation in response to concerns expressed by gay travellers keen to take a short break in the UK.
"My partner and I have our own self-catering cottage next to our house in Hay-on-Wye. We wanted to promote it to a gay audience as well as mainstream tourists," says Simon, "but we couldn't really find a website we wanted to be on. So we decided to set up furtherafield.com."
Simon has 30 stylish boltholes that welcome gay guests on his books so far, and he hopes to expand the collection, which ranges from B&Bs to small hotels, into Europe this year.
Meanwhile, a gay-friendly welcome awaits across the pond in New York, where plans are in progress for the city's first gay boutique hotel, Out NYC.
Gay news service pinknews.co.uk reports that the $20m (£13.3m) project "will see an existing building in Hell's Kitchen being redeveloped to make a property with 123 guest rooms, a gym, spa, restaurant and cafe".
Even Ms Wilkinson would be welcome here – should she be persuaded to visit – for the hotel is billing itself as "hetero-friendly".
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