San Juan, Puerto Rico – Gayfriendly or Not?

Issue12_16I spent 5 days in the capital city of an island boasting clean sandy beaches, warm Caribbean breezes, and picturesque palm trees — the perfect setting for vacationers.  Aside from my leisure time thoroughly enjoying the sun and historic sites of Old San Juan, what I learned about LGBT residents and business owners in Puerto Rico was disheartening.

Puerto Rico has always been a gay vacation destination of choice for east coast American’s, mainly due to the fact that you can get your Caribbean fix without a passport, and airline tickets are typically much less expensive than traveling to one of the US Virgin Islands. However, I was recently invited on a press trip to cover the Mr Gay World Puerto Rico competition, and my experience as a first-time visitor to the island was not at all what I had expected, based on articles I had read in several media outlets about this gay friendly island.

In October 2012, the Huffington Post released an article by Mark Chestnut, who described San Juan, Puerto Rico as “a vacation destination with the best infrastructure and the widest variety of activities available for gay and lesbian travelers.” While I agree that San Juan is a gay-friendly destination for travelers and there is quite an array of activities for fun and adventure while visiting, my expectations were apparently set too high as I envisioned an atmosphere similar to Key West or Provincetown, where rainbow flags fly from every storefront and drag queens parade the streets at night.

There are plenty of gays walking the streets, although not in drag, but rainbow flags and window stickers are hard to come by, even in the Condado area – which is the commonplace for LGBT travelers.  If your purpose to San Juan is solely for vacation, you may never notice some of the disheartening things I learned.

Although I never experienced it for myself, I understand that in the 80’s and 90’s, the Condado area was known as Puerto Rico’s gay mecca, and a great place for singles to mingle.  Today, there is certainly no shortage of gays wandering the downtown area, but the shoreline has become a family-friendly tourist hotspot.  The beach does include a small section in front of the Oceano Restaurant, which is known as the ‘gay beach.’  (Just look for the rainbow umbrellas.)

For the past 3 years, Jarl Haugedal & Michael Billy –co-owners of Humanity Pride Productions, have held an annual Mr Gay World USA competition, and this year will mark an ‘historic first’ for the island of Puerto Rico, as the company took on – what has now been experienced as a difficult challenge – the task of finding a Puerto Rican representative to join the crowned USA delegate, in the worldwide Mr. Gay World competition that takes place this August in Belgium.

After two trips to the island, and expenses ranging well over $4,000.00, the Humanity Pride organization produced no formal event and no island resident was named Mr. Gay World Puerto Rico.

Read the rest of this article here –> http://issuu.com/connextionsmag/docs/issue_12_issuu/28

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