In 2009, I began my first post-college career as a commodities trader in Hong Kong. At the time, Hong Kong society was tolerant but not particularly accepting towards LGBTQ people. So I hid my identity as a gay man. I had learned to do the same thing during my upbringing in Montreal and for the majority of my college experience: this was a role I was used to playing. While my parents and other family members had never openly disagreed with my decision to come out, they expressed significant fears about my identity, airing misgivings about executives and leaders not looking kindly upon my sexual orientation.

I took their opinion to heart and I learned to live in fear.

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This meant not only that I wasn’t able to be my authentic self, but that I never got the chance to connect with other LGBTQ people in my industry; to build a community of peers and role models and to discover a sense of belonging and shared experiences through common identity.

My work environment in Hong Kong was dominated by men and hyper-masculine stereotypes, with little room for those outside the norm. I knew very well that if I were to come out, there was a high probability that I’d lose respect from my peers and my career momentum would dissipate. As a young trader in his first career who had direct access to the chairman of our Hong Kong operations and our group CEO, I didn’t want to be brushed aside. I’d watched in that environment as LGBTQ people — and people who were believed to be LGBTQ — were disparaged and vilified. I didn’t want to suffer that same fate.
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Over ten years have passed since that first foray into metals trading, and five since the inception of Passion Passport. Now, as the CEO of Passion Passport, I get to write my own rules. This is the choice I made when I left that job and its circumstances: to create a career based on my interests and passions, and also have freedom of expression and the ability to show up in the workplace with more of myself than ever before. At Passion Passport, I work to create an environment of inclusion and openness for my team, all while living and celebrating my identity. And this can have a snowball effect: I also hope to empower my team and our community to create resources that in turn resonate and embolden LGBTQ travelers.

LGBTQ travelers and creatives need to know that they are not alone. Representation matters: without this, the travel industry (and all industries) are limited in perspective. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it: for LGBTQ and diverse creatives, seeing themselves in photographers, videographers, writers, and others we work with will further inspire them in their own efforts. It can provide them with a community, potential mentoring opportunities, and general inspiration to do their best work.   

lgbtq travel zach houghtonOne of the most unique things about this initiative is that LGBTQ people will have the opportunity to connect with other LGBTQ people in different countries and cultures. This is not to say there is a ‘universal’ LGBTQ community there are many forms. The hope for this initiative is that it will better allow LGBTQ people to find each other and share experiences across countries and cultures. This will help LGBTQ travelers connect to a common community and allow us to share our travels through the context of identity… something that many years ago, I wasn’t able to find in Hong Kong.

Changes like these won’t happen overnight: it will be a sustained effort for our team at Passion Passport to be better than we’ve been before by being transparent about who we are. We will provide specific resources that cater to LGBTQ communities: city and country guides, personal narratives and interviews, community and nonprofit highlights, and in-depth resources on what it’s like to be an LGBTQ traveler. We’ll look to leaders in the space to help us create those resources and individuals on the ground who understand and shape their communities. This is a unique opportunity for Passion Passport: not only to share stories about transformative travel, but to also share information on how to travel safely and how to tap into community as an LGBTQ traveler.  

Partner with us. Challenge us to be better. And encourage other businesses in our sphere — and outside of it — not to be afraid of adopting ongoing initiatives but to support this community, too. 

Pride is a feeling and a movement, a reminder to support and provide visibility for communities that need it, and to highlight activists, creatives, and business owners who are doing impactful work. For our team at Passion Passport, pride is a 365-day commitment to creating resources and materials for underserved communities on an ongoing basis, making sure that when these community members travel they feel safe, informed, and empowered.

Pride isn’t just a particular month — it’s every day of the year.

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Photo by Adrienne Pitts.

Header image by Zach Houghton.

Article images by Zach Houghton and Adrienne Pitts.

 

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Zach
Zach is the son of a travel-writing father and a wanderlust mother who met on a bus in Guatemala. He wants to inspire you to travel, too. Find him on Instagram or Twitter.