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The right to party: tourist destinations are now actively courting gay spring breakers. Is it equality or exploitation? Kevin Hauswirth looks past the beer bongs for an answer.

The biggest worries for college students on spring break should be avoiding alcohol poisoning, remembering the name of the person they woke up next to, and knowing where to get a dose of penicillin. It's not the most upstanding vacation, but there's something to be said for living stories you'll never tell your kids.

Gay thrill-seekers are generally denied this rite of passage. The Girls Gone Wild scene, if not outwardly hostile to LGBT partiers, certainly doesn't offer venues for queer students to let their hair down, or simply hook up--unless it's two girls mugging for Joe Francis's camera.

This year Florida's Key West offers somewhat of an alternative--an official Gay Spring Break the city's business leaders are selling as a queer equivalent to the hetero hedonism of the state's Daytona Beach and Panama City scenes.

The Key West Business Guild, official organizers of Gay Spring Break, saw an untapped market when they created the event. "Spring break can be an awkward time for gay students because events and destinations are not geared around them," says the guild's 27-year-old director of new events, Ian Whitney, understating the obvious.

Unlike other gay spring break packages that offer one-week trips to gay-friendly but expensive cities, Gay Spring Break spans six weeks in a sunny and affordable U.S. locale that already attracts around 500,000 LGBT tourists per year. The guild is planning 600 events, including men- and women-only parties, drag shows, and boat and snorkeling trips. Many local bars will not be charging covers, and on March 16 a section of Key West's Duval Street will be shut down for an enormous block party. Gay-friendly hotels and guesthouses are already filling up, with many offering generous discounts to gay spring breakers.

Whitney stressed that the city will enforce a zero-tolerance drug policy, work with police to prevent underage drinking, and distribute "safe-sex packs" at numerous venues. That said, event sponsors include the gay hookup site, and on one Key West bar advertises "sluts on tap."

Some have complained that Gay Spring Break is hypersexual, but if one is going to criticize raunchy spring break culture, randy gay kids shouldn't be singled out. All students looking for a week of casual sex under a tropical sun have an equal right to find it.

And what goes perfectly with the beach and beer? "Activities that allow for networking and leadership development," naturally. The guild is presenting such events along with the booze cruises, and while Whitney admits they will be secondary to the partying this year, the guild hopes to raise their profile in coming years.

I'm not sure how effectively students can talk business following hours spent pickling their livers. If you're looking for networking or activism, you should probably sign up for a leadership conference. Otherwise, call a spade a spade and enjoy Gay Spring Break for what it is.
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Author:Hauswirth, Kevin
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Mar 13, 2007
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