A Girl for Every Port: GirlPorts.com

Mar 27, 2012 by

A Girl for Every Port: GirlPorts.com

by Heather Cassell

An avid worldwide traveler, Canadian Tanya Churchmuch wanted more from lesbian travel guides, but couldn’t find what she wanted.

“I was somebody who always traveled a lot and always became frustrated by the lack of useful information for lesbian travelers that was available,” says Tanya, a former broadcast anchor and international journalist.

“It’s important to understand the culture that you are traveling in,” continues Tanya, who has backpacked through Morocco for six months, and whose travels have taken her to Europe, Asia, North Africa, throughout most of North America, and most recently South America.

The lack of information about queer women in other countries didn’t stop her from going anywhere she wanted to go – nothing did really.

“Everything I wanted to do in travel I’ve always tried to do it,” says Tanya, but she remained frustrated by the lack of useful information for lesbian travelers available on the market.

“There are so many amazing things to see and do and see around the world and so many fantastic people that we can meet and that we can learn from,” Tanya continues, “I just absolutely love the experience of finding myself in a destination where I don’t speak the language where I don’t know anything I can’t even order a meal and rising to the challenge of having a great time and living an exceptional opportunity.”

Guiding light

She wanted more than general listings: where to stay, eat, party. She desired for the guides to provide a sense of place and the people who reside in the cities and towns to round out the listings of lodging, restaurants, bars, festivals that filled the pages of many guides.

In 2007, she launched Girlports.com, an online lesbian travel guide.

The idea was born out of the Outgames 2006. The international lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender sportsmanship event was hosted in Tanya’s hometown Montreal, Canada. She casually began surveying lesbian and bisexual women from around the world who came to the event and learned that they too desired to find out more information about women like themselves in other cities, she says.

Tanya points out that there are many great local guides and information available online about different cities and communities, but often the information is very “localized” and individuals gather and maintain the information for the blog or site. Eventually, what often happens, is those sites die after the individual either looses interest or pass away, she says.

“I just said to myself, ‘Okay, I’ve got to do it now and that’s when the idea came to me,’” says Tanya.

“I just look at it as a way to give back to the community, because it’s something that I love doing anyways,” says Tanya. “I’ve always made an effort to always find out where my community is and see how other LGBT folks are living their lives around the world.”

A year later Girlports.com, an online guide with personal travel insight for queer women, came to life. She followed up the launch of the website by adding, assistant director and media relations manager for the LGBT market for of Tourisme Montréal, to her name.

Dyke power

Four years later, Tanya speaks regularly at travel conferences about LGBT travel – especially queer women’s travel – and she is one of only three women out of eight that sits on the International Lesbian and Gay Travel Associations board of directors.

Tanya, 43, hopes more queer women take more leadership roles in the travel industry, especially those who focus on queer women’s travel.

“Lesbians need to be more present in organizations,” says Tanya. “It’s important to continue standing up to take our place … women have money [and] women travel.”

Fascinated by other cultures, Tanya is particularly aware of how unique her experience. She is a woman whose has traversed the world telling stories about other people’s lives, but more so, she’s a North American woman who loves other women openly and who has been able to more than thrive in her career, but make a career in her community. She’s able to go out with friends to places known to be owned or operated by or popular with other queer women, basically she’s able to live a life being who she is with few concerns about her personal safety or that of her family and friends.

“I was in Buenos Aries for a wedding in November [2009],” speaking excitedly about her discoveries of the queer community in Argentina’s capital. Vibrantly youthfully cool, she was in the city during Pride surrounded by 20-something LGBT and straight ally Argentinean’s dancing and marching in the streets celebrating, but also fighting for their rights.

“It was very interesting to see how basically it is a completely political event,” says Tanya, about the uncommercialized event. “There is no Coca Cola float in their parade. They are fighting for their rights. It’s a whole different prerogative and perspective.”

She’s constantly inspired and thrilled watching other nations’ progress towards equality for LGBT individuals speaking excitedly about developments in China, Nepal, and other nations.

Girlports.com is growing, but only at the pace that Tanya is able to keep up as she juggles her responsibilities with Montreal’s tourism bureau and board position at the ILGTA. She’s able to travel as a part of her position as well as her annual vacation time, which helps her continue to build the site.

One of the unique qualities about Girlports.com is that she personally visits every city written about on the site.

“I don’t just do online research, I go I look at these places. I see them. I meet up with community leaders. I make a real effort,” says Tanya, who was planning on heading of to Brussels, Belgium.

Girl smarts

Prior to taking flight to any destination, Tanya, who is fluent in English and French and speaks some Spanish, does an extraordinary amount of outreach and research. Gay men have hooked her up with local lesbians in various cities around the world and she’s also networked through some lesbian dating and community sites.

All of the “legwork” pays off, by the time Tanya lands. She already has a whole group of new friends and a community welcoming her and ready to show her around, she says. Once she returns home, she maintains the relationships she develops to keep her site fresh.

“There are so many really good lesbian scenes out there,” says Tanya describing cities that aren’t on many Western lesbians’ radar, such as Barcelona, Spain; Seoul, South Korea; Buenos Aires, Argentina, and more. “As North American’s we don’t know about and unfortunately, we aren’t able to find out about them,” because it’s sometimes more difficult to queer women than it is to find gay men in other countries.

“Barcelona is an amazing city for the lesbian scene … if we had that club in Montreal I probably would have been going to five times a week,” Tanya says.

She hopes to change that with Girlports.com. The site opens with a passport to the world with a map that opens up to information with descriptions and locations of where lesbians and bisexual women can find other queer women in a variety of cities.

“That’s why I hope that Girlports.com offers people assistance,” with finding the queer girls and the scene in each country, one city at a time, she says. She attempts to maintain an objective balance with her expert opinions about locations and places, because she knows that a place that she might find interesting might not be as interesting to the next lesbian.

All this traversing around the world, Tanya hasn’t run into very many problems being a woman journeying alone or a woman traveling with another woman on the adventures her former girlfriends have accompanied her, she says.

Describing herself as a “smart traveler” she recognizes that there are many countries where she is free to be who she is publicly and other countries where she knows she needs to “to respect the environment that I’m in. I’m not going to be there to prove a point necessarily,” she says launching into a brief story about traveling with a former girlfriend in Turkey.

“I was traveling through Turkey with a former girlfriend, we didn’t say we were lesbians,” she says, chuckling a bit. “You know it was kind of funny, when you are two Western women traveling by backpack for a month you will see all of the other Western lesbians and you know exactly who one another is.”

The bottom line for any woman traveling solo or in a group, according to Tanya, is that women need to be “aware of the culture and customs she’s visiting and environment she’s in, much like if she’s at home … You have to be safe and you have to be smart.”

The reward is that she’s been able to experience how many cities and gay and lesbian communities live and celebrate Pride.

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