This Pride month, we are celebrating travel’s capacity for discovery, renewal, and love through a lens of queerness—and its power to open up ourselves to seeing not just the world, but also who we are, in a new light.
“Are you sure about Montana?” asked a coworker when I told her about our family’s summer travel plans. Her concerned tone caught me off guard. Until that moment, I hadn’t really given the politics of the state a lot of thought, focusing instead on where we would stay and what hikes we would do while visiting Glacier National Park, a favorite haunt of mine.
This was to be our first trip as a family: myself; Lance, my partner (now husband); and my two sons (aged 6 and 12) from a previous marriage. As an interracial gay couple with young children, the four of us stood out from the crowd in multiple ways, and maybe we’d be an unwelcome sight in rural Montana, where gay marriage was still unlawful at the time in 2013. I started second guessing myself and our travel plans.
We had decided to spend most of our time in the park. However, it was significantly cheaper to fly into Helena, the state capitol, drive northwest toward the park, and then continue westward, returning back home from Spokane, Washington. This, I had thought, gave us a chance to see more of Montana, as well as a sliver of Idaho and easternmost Washington state.
Lance was cool as a breeze about the whole thing, but I began to worry after that conversation. Would we be safe? Would we encounter stares or rude behavior in places? And how would that affect the kids?
We’d planned a couple of days in Missoula after our park exploring, so I called the Destination Missoula office. I described our family and said we were looking to stay in the city that summer. Were there any hotels that might be better choices for us than others? The kind gentleman on the other end of the call must have heard the concern or shakiness in my voice—I’d only been an out gay man for a couple of years at that point—and he reassured me.
“Don’t lump us in with other areas you might see on the news,” he said. “I’m confident that your family will find Missoula to be a friendly and welcoming place, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with us and Montana in general.” He provided many suggestions for family-friendly activities around town, and even suggested hikes while we were in Glacier, as well as restaurants in that part of the state. His openness reassured me, and I shed the fears that had been piling up since my work conversation.
We arrived in Helena on a warm, sunshine filled day, and decided to see what the state capitol building looked like before heading to the national park areas. A security guard invited us to come inside and see the magnificent interior, no questions asked or sideways looks. In Glacier, our older son bonded with another boy at the nightly ranger bonfire talks, and they looked for each other every night. We smiled and exchanged nods with the parents each time the boys reconnected.