Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Buenos Aires booms as gay tourist destination

Argentina's buzzing Buenos Aires has turned into a top Latin American destination for homosexual tourists, as the capital gets its gay-friendly message out to lure fresh revenue. The recent designation of the city as Latin America's first host of a homosexual football World Cup and an opening of a wine bar catering to gays are some of the latest effects of Buenos Aires's rising star.

The International Gay and Lesbian Football Association (IGLFA) announced earlier this month that it had picked Buenos Aires to host the fourth annual IGLFA World Championship. Buenos Aires was chosen over other South American contenders, such as Rio de Janeiro or Lima, mainly because of its tolerance of homosexuality, IGLFA organisers said. The championship tournament, to be held from September 23 to 29 2007 and expected to draw about 500 athletes, will be a first in Latin America. Previous IGLFA tournaments were held in Sydney, London and Boston, in the United States state of Massachusetts. News of the city's selection thrilled the Buenos Aires homosexual community, which wants to use the event to raise public awareness about the discrimination they still face.

Buenos Aires is booming for gays and lesbians, a demographic market that tends to have more disposable income than the average tourist and a stronger inclination to spend it. The capital, known for its relatively low prices and energetic nightlife, officially promotes itself as a homosexual destination. The tourism office lists "gay" addresses and themed circuits around the city, particularly in San Telmo, the historic tango neighbourhood. About 20 businesses in the quarter, including the new wine bar, are part of the initiative.

Although the city of Buenos Aires authorised same-sex civil unions in 2002, authorities reported more than 1 200 crimes against homosexuals in 2004 alone. "Discrimination is still far from disappearing, and one needs to be tougher in the fight against homophobia," an official of the Argentine Homosexual Community told Agence France-Presse. That does not seem to be dampening gay tourism in the capital. A Spanish group is planning to open a five-star hotel soon catering to homosexuals, and a "gay" cruise ship for the first time made a port call in February.

Argentine homosexuals have not always enjoyed this kind of lavish welcome. In 1995, a group of them, some poverty stricken, took refuge in land not far from the University of Buenos Aires, where they built a shantytown dubbed "Villa Gay". The authorities kicked them out the next year, but a few of them have trickled back. -- AFP

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