Though the rainbow flag has long flown along the banks of the Russian River, increasing numbers of Sonoma County businesses are rolling out the pink carpet for gay tourists.
Named one of the country’s top 20 tourist destinations for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, Sonoma’s appeal is broadening beyond weekend retreats in Guerneville to wine- and food-tasting adventures throughout the county. Headlining the trend: The second annual Gay Wine Weekend, June 15-17 in Sonoma Valley.
Expected to attract nearly 500 attendees, the weekend features upscale wine dinners, tastings, parties, an auction and gay-friendly activities throughout the valley. The event follows the Sonoma County Pride festival in Guerneville on June 3 and precedes San Francisco’s massive Pride Celebration on June 23-24.
“We want Wine Country to be a destination for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) crowd,” said Gary Saperstein, co-director of Out in the Vineyard, a gay-focused tour company based in Sonoma hosting the event. He and business partner Mark Vogler found more than a dozen local wineries, restaurants and hotels eager to participate in the weekend-long celebration. Among them are the El Dorado Hotel, The Girl and the Fig Restaurant, Sebastiani Vineyards, which will host a cabaret night, and wineries Deerfield Ranch, B Wise, Loxton, Benziger and St. Francis.
“Ever since the economy went south, people all of a sudden had to look at niche marketing, and one of those markets is the LGBT market,” said Saperstein. “And the wine industry is really waking up to this target audience. We’ve found that everyone is really receptive and supportive to what we’re doing. We haven’t found a winery yet that doesn’t want us there.”
Saperstein’s company also organized this spring’s sell-out “Big Gay Wine Train,” on the Napa Valley Wine Train and creates three- and six-day personalized itineraries for visitors wanting to patronize LGBT-friendly wineries, hotels, restaurants and businesses.
“It’s all about hospitality,” said Saperstein. “When we go to a winery, we want to be recognized.”
Gay travel to Wine Country has a long tradition.
“Sonoma and Napa have a strong following locally and nationally,” said David Paisley, Senior Research Director for Community Marketing Inc., a San Francisco-based travel research company that ranks the popularity of LGBT destinations.
“It’s a situation that’s unique,” said Paisley, given the region’s coast, wineries and what he calls the “LGBT infrastructure” of bars, guesthouses, restaurants, hotels and nighttime activities that cater to gay visitors.
“It’s very attractive,” he added. “People largely underestimate the power of the LGBT community in this area.”
The county’s hospitality industry has targeted LGBT travelers for years.
“Sonoma County has been a destination for gay travelers for a long time,” said Tim Zahner, Director of Public Relations and Marketing for the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau. Spending an estimated $65 billion on travel each year, according to Community Marketing Inc., and with a higher disposable income than the general population, it’s an attractive demographic.
“Competition for the gay/lesbian travel dollar is fierce,” said Zahner, who has seen gay travel migrate from its West County epicenter to areas like Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys, Sonoma Valley, the Coast and other parts of West County. The bureau has actively encouraged area hotels, including Santa Rosa’s Flamingo Resort, Fountaingrove Inn and Hyatt Vineyard Creek to become “TAG-approved,” a rating based on the hotel’s non-discriminatory practices toward customers and employees.
But organized events are only a small portion of Wine Country’s gay tourism industry. Zahner estimates that between 5 and 10 percent of visitors to Sonoma County are gay or lesbian. But when you start asking around, it quickly becomes apparent that LGBT tourism is, well, pretty much like any other kind of tourism.
“There is so much more blending,” said Crista Luedtke, owner of Guerneville’s Boon Hotel + Spa, Boon Eat + Drink and the recently-opened Big Bottom Market. “It’s not just straight or gay. It’s about if you enjoy food and wine, just come on up,” she said. “It’s a lot about more openness all around.”
Beau Wine Tours’ Craig Haskell agrees.
“Most wineries are very friendly. You have people making good incomes looking to go out and spend their money,” he said.
In order to help visitors and locals identify gay-friendly businesses, he is working to create the Northern California Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Though still in development, Haskell rattles off wineries and restaurants — El Coqui in Santa Rosa, DeLoach Winery, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Locals Tasting Room in Geyserville — that have gained favor by word of mouth in the gay community.
“It’s a network,” Haskell said.
Ultimately, Saperstein and others hope to program more gay-friendly events and encourage more Wine Country businesses to embrace LGBT travelers.
“We have the ambiance, food, wine and lifestyle here. We want to share it,” Saperstein said.
from The Press Democrat
Archive for June 12th, 2012
Though the rainbow flag has long flown along the banks of the Russian River, increasing numbers of Sonoma County businesses are rolling out the pink carpet for gay tourists.
CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA – An Upshur County teen who earned Internet infamy last week for making anti-gay comments has vowed to stand his ground.
Caiden Cowger, 14, a self-proclaimed “conservative Internet radio talk show host,” bashed gays in a recent video, labeling the practice “perverted” and “disgusting.”
“It’s getting worse where I’m at,” Cowger said in the video, which was reposted by TMZ.com after he claims his YouTube account was hacked and deleted Wednesday. “I see younger people that is turning out to be homosexuals … all of them are starting to turn to homosexuals. … And it is sickening. It sickens me.”
Cowger argued that homosexuality is a belief, not a decision, and that gay people are “not born that way, no matter what Lady GaGa says.”
Cowger attacked President Barack Obama, alleging he is encouraging homosexuality.
“(Obama) is saying ‘Homosexuals, you can get married, and it’s all right, it’s all right to be gay, we’ll make it better for you,’” Cowger said in his video.
“I’m going to tell you this, guys. President Obama, Vice President Biden, is making kids gay!” he shouted. “They are encouraging kids to think, ‘You know what, they’re talking about being a homosexual, and they’re saying that there’s nothing wrong with being gay, so you know what? I think I might try that out for a little bit.’”
Cowger’s previous shows, which were hosted on audio hosting website spreaker.com, were removed from the site Friday due to “offensive contents.”
“While we not only support free speech, we help it find its way to more people faster and easier with our service that is the audio equivalent of YouTube, but like them, we cannot and will not condone hate speech,” said Spreaker CEO Francesco Baschieri in a statement released Saturday.
“Consequently, we have pulled down audio content from Caiden Cowgar (sic), whose recent gay-bashing clearly crosses the line from free — to hate — speech.”
Cowger created a new YouTube account shortly after his previous account was deleted. In a video uploaded to his new account on Thursday, he defended his prior statements and vowed to stay on the air, citing his First Amendment rights.
“I have every right to voice my opinion. I have every right to express my views. And who are you to try to stop me? You’re trying to shut me down because of what I have to say,” Cowger said. “You’re not going to silence me. I have every right to voice my opinion and I plan on doing this for a long time. So good luck, you’re going to have to put up with me.”
In his May 30 show, Cowger specifically called out Fairness West Virginia, a civil rights advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. He said because of the organization, which he called “stupid,” a young boy in his church felt bullied when a girl told him she prayed for him.
Dr. Coy Flowers, M.D., president of the board of directors of Fairness West Virginia, said it is unfortunate that government policies allow hate speech to flourish.
“The environment needs to change,” Flowers said, saying that Cowger is a product of his environment. “We need to change governmental policies to send a message to everybody that everybody is equal under the law.”
Flowers added he doesn’t want national or in-state media to believe behavior like Cowger’s is the norm among West Virginia’s youth.
“He’s 14. I don’t think anyone should be incredibly hard on him personally,” Flowers said. “This is an isolated 14-year-old who is unwise in the things he chose to say. I hope the media chooses to focus on the vast majority of West Virginians who have respect and dignity for their peers.”
On Wednesday, Cowger’s controversial clip landed on the homepages of popular news sites such as Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and TMZ. The postings provoked a flood of mostly negative comments toward Cowger.
On his website, he says that June is no longer one of his favorite months because Obama named it Gay Pride Month.
Cowger, a Pentecostal Christian who has interviewed former West Virginia Senate candidate John Raese and former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain on his show, started “The Caiden Cowger Program” on Dec. 5, 2010. On the show’s Facebook page, he lists Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck as his “personal interests,” and writes that the 2004 presidential election spurred his interest in politics when he was 8 years old.
Cowger could not be reached for comment Thursday or Sunday. An email and multiple Facebook messages to Cowger went unanswered.
from The Charleston Daily Mail
Five years after being treated for breast cancer, “Good Morning America” co-host Robin Roberts has a new health fight on her hands.
Roberts said Monday she is beginning chemotherapy treatment for myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, a blood and bone marrow disease once known as preleukemia. She is expected to get a bone marrow transplant sometime this fall.
Her older sister, Sally Ann Roberts, an anchor for WWL-TV in New Orleans, is considered a perfect match to donate marrow and said she will do so.
“My doctors tell me I’m going to beat this, and I know it’s true,” Roberts, 51, said on the show Monday.
Sally Ann Roberts said she’s thankful she has marrow her sister can use and that she can assist in her treatment.
“I’m just so very grateful that I did match her because there are many, many people right now who are dying for a match and have no one in their family who are eligible,” Sally Ann Roberts said.
She said her family is now encouraging everyone to sign up to be donors.
“The wonderful thing about being a donor is that it takes so very little,” Sally Ann Roberts said. “I will go through a physical and when … the doctors deem it’s time, I will be prepared with some injections to separate the marrow from the blood, then simply go through something like dialysis. I may miss a week of work, if that much.”
Robin Roberts also hopes that attention paid to her diagnosis will encourage people to donate bone marrow that might help someone else with the disease.
She developed MDS as a result of her breast cancer treatment – a manner of transmission so unusual it affects only a few hundred people per year, said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC’s medical correspondent.
The prognosis for many MDS patients is dire, but that’s largely due to the disease primarily affecting people over age 60, Besser said. Between Roberts being young and healthy, and having already located a good donor in her sister, Besser said things look promising for her.
Roberts has contributed to “Good Morning America” since 1995, and was named co-anchor in 2005. The former Southeastern Louisiana basketball star worked at ESPN for 15 years.
She had blood tests that disclosed the MDS after feeling fatigued, or more fatigued than even someone who had to get up for a 7 a.m. show every weekday might expect, Besser said.
She learned of her diagnosis on the same day that “Good Morning America” beat “Today” for a week in the ratings for the first time in more than 16 years, Roberts said. On a day some of her bone marrow was extracted for testing, Roberts learned she had landed an interview with President Barack Obama where the president revealed his support for gay marriage.
“The combination of landing the biggest interview of my career and having a drill in my back reminds me that God only gives us what we can handle and that it helps to have a good sense of humor when we run smack into the adversity of life,” she said.
First lady Michelle Obama, via Twitter, told Roberts that “Barack and I have you in our prayers. We believe in you and thank you for bringing awareness and hope to others.”
Roberts will take some occasional days off from “Good Morning America” depending on her reaction to treatment. She will probably need to take a couple of months away from the show immediately after the bone marrow transplants. Her current team of colleagues George Stephanopoulos, Josh Elliott, Lara Spencer and Sam Champion will pick up the slack for her, with occasional co-hosts like Elizabeth Vargas joining.
“GMA” has been on a ratings surge in recent months, more competitive with the “Today” show than it has been in years.
from The Associated Press
Obama’s Family Influenced His Gay Marriage Shift
Country music superstar Carrie Underwood has come out in support of gay marriage — and at least one conservative political group is saying, “Good for her.”
Underwood, who’s set to play London’s Royal Albert Hall this month, expressed her opinion to the Independent. The British paper, in turn, promptly wondered whether the country-crossover darling risked the “wrath” of her genre’s traditionally conservative fan base.
“As a married person myself, I don’t know what it’s like to be told I can’t marry somebody I love and want to marry,” Underwood told the Independent. “I can’t imagine how that must feel. I definitely think we should all have the right to love, and love publicly, the people that we want to love.”
Raised a Baptist and known for hits including “Jesus Take the Wheel,” the singer told the paper she and husband Mike Fisher, who plays for the NHL’s Nashville Predators, now attend a nondenominational, “gay-friendly” Christian church. Underwood’s outlook is similar to that of singer and Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth, another devout heterosexual Christian from the South who is sympathetic to gay issues.
“Good for her,” said Jimmy LaSalvia, co-founder and executive director of GOProud, an organization that bills itself as “the voice of gay conservatives and their straight allies.”
“You know, Carrie Underwood isn’t any different from anyone else in America,” LaSalvia said Monday in an e-mail to The Times. “The more Americans think about how issues affect their gay friends and family the more they come to realize that supporting same-sex civil marriage is the right thing to do. More and more people are coming to that conclusion — and that includes conservative Christians.
Fellow “American Idol” alum Clay Aikens, who in May finished second to Arsenio Hall on “Celebrity Apprentice” and came out as a gay man in September 2008, was supportive as well.
“Way to go @carrieunderwood!! Speak out bravely and honestly,” Aiken said Sunday in a tweet that linked to the Independent interview. “Your words are gonna change minds!”
Not all minds, however. As noted by the Washington Post, some commenters were less than supportive of Underwood in a heated discussion on the Taste of Country website, citing the Bible and saying they’d lost respect for the singer.
from The Los Angeles Times
If you support the gay community, please shop J.C. Penney.
Ron Johnson, the department-store chain’s new chief executive, is portraying alternative lifestyles as a wholesome part of American consumer culture. He has hired Ellen DeGeneres as a spokeswoman and printed catalogs with smiling gay parents and their adorable children.
Diversity, inclusion, acceptance for all—these are laudable values. The problem is, well, I have never actually met an openly gay person who openly shops at J.C. Penney.
Nevertheless, Mr. Johnson is inspiring boycotts from some of the straight people who are more likely to shop in his stores.
One Million Moms, an offshoot of the conservative American Family Association, is particularly upset about a Father’s Day promotion featuring two gay dads. The ad read: “First Pals: What makes Dad so cool? He’s the swim coach, tent maker, best friend, bike fixer and hug giver—all rolled into one. Or two.”
Seems like lame ad copy to me. Yet this is the kind of material One Million Moms routinely denounces as “trash in the media!”
It’s fair to say One Million Moms hardly represents a million moms, and if it did, many of their children would be gay, according to the law of large numbers. But it’s also fair to say this organization, though often branded as antigay, is expressing a sentiment common among the middlebrow demographic that J.C. Penney serves.
Mr. Johnson is alienating Penney’s traditional customers in a bid to attract new customers from higher socio-economic segments that now shop Macy’s, Nordstrom and Target.
Marketing to gays is but one example of the many ways Mr. Johnson is doing this. Earlier this year, he started putting an end to coupons and the word “sale” in a bid to change Penney’s pricing structure.
The result? Larger-than-expected losses, plunging revenues, dwindling customer traffic and a plunging stock price.
It’s more proof that the more you pay a CEO, the more overconfident he becomes. Mr. Johnson, a lauded former Apple executive, didn’t begin as Penney’s so-called turnaround artist until November. That didn’t stop the company from paying him $52.6 million for 2011, most of it in stock awards. Compare that to America’s median household income of less than $53,000 a year. Any wonder he doesn’t see the need for coupons or sales?
This is starting to look like the turnaround at Sears-Kmart, and it could end up looking like the turnaround at Montgomery Ward. In a webcast conference last week, Mr. Johnson conceded he did a poor job communicating his pricing strategy. He even started to resurrect the term he’d tried to banish, “sale.” But he can’t change course.
See, before Mr. Johnson came along, Penney’s was in a race to the bottom. Nobody would buy anything unless it was 60% off. And now Penney’s faces a stalling economic recovery that threatens to crush even more of its middle-class consumers.
Mr. Johnson promises a “year of transformation,” after which we’ll compare Penney’s to Apple, Starbucks, Whole Foods and other companies where value isn’t determined by price but by perceived coolness. This is a tall order. J.C. Penney, incorporated in 1913, occupies a class of stodgy retailers that tend to run themselves out of business every hundred years or so.
Mr. Johnson pleaded for patience: “We believe there will be one year of sales going down that sets the stage for a year of takeoff.”
So welcome to Penney’s “one year of sales going down.” Please go shop there before there’s two.
from The Wall Street Journal
Ellen’s JCPenney Commercials To Air During The Oscars
Ellen Breaks Silence On Furor Over J.C. Penney Gig
‘One Million Moms’ Wants JC Penney To Fire Elen DeGeneres