A monthly column about gay and lesbian travel

AIDS Rides and Autumn Escapes

by Sasha Alyson

The Tanqueray-sponsored AIDS Rides have become a popular fundraiser. Where is all the money going?

Above: The AIDS Rides have successfully raised money for some organizations -- but have returned dismal results in other cities.



The author: Sasha Alyson is the founder of Alyson Publications, the country's leading publisher of gay and lesbian books. He sold that company in 1995 to start Alyson Adventures, which specializes in active and adventure vacations for gay men and lesbians.



Also of interest:
Gay Biking


Table of Contents of Venturing Out columns

"Let an AIDS organization pay for your next vacation!"

It's not as catchy as "Legs of Iron, Heart of Gold", yet arguably it's a more honest slogan for the AIDS Rides that have become an annual fund-raising event around the nation. Organizers heavily hype the physical challenge riders face, as if this justifies the high support costs. Indeed, biking 70 to 100 miles a day is a challenge. But it's also a vacation. If organizers were truly asking participants to suffer, they'd offer a bedpan-changing marathon rather than a bike ride.

This criticism comes with great difficulty: I rode in the very first AIDS Ride, California 1994, and count it among the most exhilarating weeks of my life. Since then, I have often (once in this column) defended the Rides against accusations that too little of the revenue actually went to AIDS work. But even with all the expertise that Pallotta TeamWorks is supposedly selling, the financial returns aren't improving. It's time for another look.

Last year, the first Texas ride raised $2.8 million, yet only $400,000 - about 14% -- went to the sponsoring AIDS organizations. The rest? Salaries, advertising, food and support for the riders, and a hefty "Production Fee" paid to the for-profit company that oversees the rides, Pallotta TeamWorks, Inc. Wisconsin riders learned last autumn that only 6 cents of every dollar they raised went to AIDS organizations. Chicago, Boston, New York, and San Francisco have fared better, at 50 to 60%, but even this falls under the 70% goal set by many non-profits.

The honest solution is to require that riders personally pay the full cost of their ride: food, tent, trucks, paid staff, advertising, and overhead, totaling $150 to $200 per day.

But that, of course, would reduce participation. And we all know that where the money is flowing this freely, the people with their mouths under the spigot are not about to reach up and turn down the flow. So the ball is in your court. If participating in an AIDS Ride appeals to you, then by all means, schedule your next vacation time around it. But pay the costs of your ride yourself, so that when you ask a friend to sponsor you, their donation will be going primarily to AIDS organizations. And then, have yourself an exhilarating, guilt-free vacation.

* * *

Everyone knows that Pride takes place in June. But what goeth after Pride? The Fall, of course, or so the old saying predicts. Here are options for getting off the beaten path, this September through December:

September 1-6: Southern Decadence, New Orleans, LA
It's not the saints who come marching in for this playfully subversive circus. But happy sinners arrive in droves. Since 1972, Southern Decadence has inspired tens of thousands of revelers to march through The Big Easy in celebration of cross-dressing and just plain crossing the line. No attitude allowed. Call David's Trips and Tours (888-723-0699) about their upcoming excursion

September 26, The Folsom Street Fair, San Francisco, CA
Check out the mother of all leather events, with proceeds donated to local human service organizations. (415-861-FAIR; www.folsomstreetfair.com).

October 7-11, Cancun International Gay Pride Festival, Cancun, Mexico
This relaxed coastal paradise sees increasing numbers of gay travelers. Visit Mayan temple ruins, stroll along the crystal white shores, or head for the gay Beach Barbeque. Contact Arco Iris Services (800-795-5549) or the gay, all-inclusive Rainbow Resorts (404-289-9700).

October 8-10, In the Company of WOMEN Mountain Tour, Catskill Mountains
The Catskills in October offer unrivaled fall foliage, splashing brooks, primitive wilderness, and rushing waterfalls. This weekend trip for lesbians combines horseback riding and hiking with the luxury of Jacuzzis, fine dining, and indoor swimming pool. (407-331-3466).

November 5-7, Single Gay Men's Weekend, Provincetown, MA
Up to a thousand men will fill Provincetown for this annual weekend of seminars, parties, and small workshops about topics ranging from body-building to gardening. It's a great way to meet mature men without the competitive tension of the bar scene (888-887-8696).

November 17-25, Tropical Daze Rio, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
A tribute to youth, beauty and the terminal tan, Above & Beyond Tours (804 541-8776) offers an A-list, roller-coaster ride through the Rio's passionate gay nightlife, cultural and historical icons, and lush tropical splendor.

December 31, The Millenium, Everywhere
Still making plans? The richly detailed website of Rancho Mirage Travel (800 369 1073) maintains a comprehensive page about millennium vacations.

* * *

Next Month: Eco-tourism.