Annually, on the cusp of fall, when leaves start to turn red and yellow in colder parts of the world, one small island in the Caribbean bursts with every color of the rainbow. For Theo Meijer– preferred photographer for weddings and the only local photographer specialized in LGBTQ+ ceremonies- the seven-day fiesta that is called Curaçao Pride is one of the highlights of the year. Although he is straight, Meijer supports the LGBTQ+ movement and makes it a point to capture this special occasion where locals and visitors alike unite to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. Meijer is not an exception. Curaçao’s sunny disposition towards the LGBTQ+ community is almost unexpected as the Caribbean is notorious for its socially conservative attitude. Despite the fact that the law does not grant its LGBTQ+ minority the same rights as its other citizens, the island’s ‘biba i laga biba’ (live and let live) mentality makes it one of the top rated gay-welcoming destinations in the entire Caribbean!
Popular same-sex wedding destination
Curaçao is not only a top rated gay-welcoming destination, it is also a popular gay wedding destination. Places where advances are made in marriage equality and civil unions often see a surge of gay weddings, however that doesn’t mean that LGBTQ+ couples don’t get married elsewhere. Curaçao is a shining example of that, as it is a popular wedding destination for LGBTQ+ couples, even though same-sex marriage is not yet legal. In addition to the gay-welcoming attitude, the island’s many open-minded wedding vendors make Curaçao an attractive wedding destination for same-sex couples.
“Most people know that planning even the most basic wedding in their hometown can result in an emotional rollercoaster. There are so many arrangements to be made and details to take into account. Imagine how much more difficult it is to throw a wedding when vendors refuse to work with you or the photographer has no clue as to what your needs are,” says wedding planner Marilse Statie-Teixeira Brazao. Through her company Celebrations! she has planned and executed several same-sex wedding ceremonies and celebrations. “Among other things, I offer my clients the peace of mind that every detail has been thought through and will be taken care of by the vendor that best suits their needs. That makes organizing a destination wedding so much easier. For example, LGBTQ+ clients can benefit from my contacts seeing that there is no need for them to make those awkward phone calls enquiring whether the vendor is open to all sexual orientations,” says Statie-Teixeira Brazao.
But avoiding awkward social situations isn’t the only upside to working with Celebrations! When planning a LGBTQ+ wedding, she works with vendors that are specialized in LGBTQ+ wedding celebrations and not just those all-welcoming vendors. “It saves me time, because I don’t have to explain to the vendor what the LGBTQ+ couples’ needs are. They already know, so we dive right into the planning stage.”
One of those vendors is market leader photographer Theo Meijer. He is known to push a few boundaries here and there, so he is no novice when it comes to daring photography in a supposedly socially conservative community. “I’m not a cookie cutter photographer. My clients love the fact that I can turn any regular fashion, wedding or maternity photoshoot into a big adventure,” says Meijer. His boudoir photography has raised a few eyebrows and there are probably some people out there that don’t approve of him openly supporting the LGBTQ+ community. “But so be it,” Meijer says.
He has photographed his fair share of same-sex weddings and knows what works and what doesn’t. “Every couple is different and I always have to find a way to put the pair at ease, however LGBTQ+ couples often have added anxiety that you need to deal with,” says Meijer. And that anxiety gets exacerbated if the couple is confronted with a photographer who believes that every wedding photoshoot follows the same rules. “That’s a myth, of course. That’s why I try to get to know the couple, whether they be straight or gay, before the wedding. I also make it a point to use inclusive language with all my clients when directing them and I never assume that the stereotypical gender roles are natural to a couple. That attitude works for LGBTQ+ couples as well as straight couples,” says Meijer.
Beyond gay friendly
The island’s all-welcoming attitude goes beyond the wedding industry. Curaçao boasts an impressive amount of gay-welcoming venues; so many in fact that the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) awarded the island’s tourist board the prestigious Destination Pioneer Award just last year. Curaçao is actively promoted by its tourist board as a gay-welcoming destination, but it isn’t just a government marketing ploy. “Although the local LGBTQ+ community does favor certain venues, there are not any neighborhoods, bars, nightclubs and hotels exclusively for gays, like in other major cities. It’s such a small island that no place can focus solely on the gay scene, but more than that, being gay is not that big of a deal,” says Jurandy Regina, sales and marketing manager at Floris Suite Hotel, Spa & Beach; the island’s leader in the LGBTQ+ hospitality market.
Although supposedly socially conservative with deeply religious roots, Curaçao has no history of violence against the LGBTQ+ community. “Of course, people get discriminated against occasionally, but that’s not specifically based on sexual orientation. It’s usually personal opinions that are being shared online by closed-minded people. I welcome those personal opinions, because I would want to feel free as well to express my personal opinion,” Regina says. That laissez-fair attitude is typical for the average local. Most venues on the island have followed in trailblazer Floris Suite Hotel’s footsteps and openly supported the LGBTQ+ community.
Regina, a gay native of the island, remembers a time when the gay scene on Curaçao was something for the weekends and preferably after midnight. “Floris Suite Hotel has played a significant role in breaking those patterns. Our happy hours, parties and events are all-welcoming, meaning that people from the LGBTQ+ community can come here after work for a low-key evening during the week as well as for the stereotypical showy, extravagant nights on weekends. Guests can enjoy our facilities, our restaurant and nightclub without having to think about whether their lifestyle is being scrutinized or not. They can come with other people from the community, but also with their straight friends,” says Regina. Floris Suite Hotel has inspired many other venues to be openly gay welcoming, however none of them can match the hotel’s popularity among the LGBTQ+ community. Yet, the hotel does not market itself as a “gay” hotel. “Each hotel has its own target market. We cater to adults. Period. Our ambassadors don’t mind if the guest is single, part of a couple, straight or gay as long as he or she is 18 years or older. Couples can lounge together around the pool without the guests or staff batting an eye,” says Marlous Molendijk, a hotel ambassador for Floris Suite and editor in chief of The Pride Villager- an annually published magazine celebrating the LGBTQ+ community. “We use the term ambassador, because not everyone here at the hotel is gay, but everyone is all-welcoming. And that goes beyond being gay friendly,” explains Regina.
In addition to hosting the Curaçao Pride, the hotel also publishes The Pride Villager. This year’s edition of The Pride Villager was recently launched in a typical fashion where gay, straight and everything in between mingled in an atmosphere not often found in the socially conservative Caribbean. “The fact that we are not a gay hotel is probably what makes us so special to the local LGBTQ+ community. Because, you know what? Gays don’t want to go to gay places. They want to dine out, have a drink and party with friends and some of them happen to be people outside the community as well. And the mix of LGBTQ+ and straight guests is what makes our venue popular, because nobody wants to focus on their sexual orientation everywhere they go,” says Regina.
Regina, Statie-Teixeira Brazao and Meijer believe that soon enough legislation will catch up with the general attitude of the local people on Curaçao. “It’s what’s happening worldwide and it fits with our hotel’s mission. We want to expand the Floris Suite Hotel family, but keep the balanced mix of LGBTQ+ and straight,” says Regina. Meijer: “I would love to meet more LGBTQ+ couples and capture their love on film, just to show the world that love is beautiful, no matter its shape or form.”
Thinking about celebrating your union on Curaçao? Floris Suite Hotel, Spa & Beach, Celebrations! and Theo Meijer Photography have teamed up to offer all couples a complete wedding package. All the bells and whistles for a fantastic price. Email [email protected] for more information.
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