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I Was Discriminated Against As a Gay Traveler — Now I’m Connecting the LGBTQ Community With My Own Company

For Travel + Leisure’s column Traveling As, we’re talking to travelers about what it’s like to explore the world through their unique perspectives. We chatted with Paris-based entrepreneur Matthieu Jost. When he started traveling the world as a young gay man, he realized the inherent discrimination the LGBTQ community faces. So, he launched his first gay-friendly travel company as a teen, and then launched Misterb&b in 2014, which has grown into the world’s largest LGBTQ travel community. Here’s his story…

I grew up in a small city in the French countryside, near the German border outside Strasbourg. My first big travel experience was when I was about 14. I was lucky to be able to travel to the U.S. with my school. We went to Massachusetts and New York. I was shocked, especially in New York City. I remember being on the bus, looking out the window, and we couldn’t even see the tops of the skyscrapers.

I also had the opportunity to travel with my parents. They were both teachers and wanted to show us the world. We took some big trips, including Kenya before I was 18. I came out at 16 and it wasn’t easy for me. But when we were in Kenya, I started to discover how challenging it would be for me and my community to travel. 

Being in the countryside, sometimes I’d get a bit bored, so I spent my time on the internet and ended up starting my first company at 16. I always had in the back of my head that I wanted to help the [LGBTQ] community travel safely across the world. When I was 18, I founded a company called MyGayTrip. The idea was to list all the gay-friendly places across the world.

Later, I had a bad experience when I was with a former boyfriend. We got to a hotel in western France, and in the lobby, they insisted we have separate beds. This was the first time in my life I was so uncomfortable, and this encounter told me I had to do something. It led me to start Misterb&b to connect hosts and guests so there are gay-friendly accommodations around the world. 

When I’m traveling with my partner, we’re always discrete and try to be safe, not demonstrative. Maybe we grew up in a time when it was more challenging. The younger generation is more open and less willing to hide. But for me, seeing gay or lesbian couples holding hands in the streets is really something new because I wasn’t able to do it when I was younger. It’s still something I’m scared to do today, even at home in Paris.

Related: I Just Got Back From This Famous Island Nation That’s Suddenly the Hottest LGBTQ Destination in the Caribbean

Courtesy of misterb&b

There are places I wouldn’t go at all, like the countries where the death penalty is applied. It’s too dangerous. I’m sure they are beautiful places to visit, but if the country is not welcoming to the LGBTQ population, what’s the point in going there? 

Last year, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced. It means there’s more need for a platform like Misterb&b. So, this is how we’re trying to make the world safer for the community. I read our reviews on a daily basis and there are two things that stand out. The first one is safety, being able to be yourself and not hide anything when traveling. If you travel with your boyfriend in a private room, you don’t need to disclose you’re with your boyfriend. The other is connecting with the local LGBTQ community. For us, it’s even harder to connect than the straight population because there are less places to do so. Using the platform, I recently met with two guys in their 60s who were traveling a lot for work and we talked about our lives. It’s really about meeting people you would never expect to meet with — this is what people love. Loneliness is something that’s dominant within the LGBTQ community, so we’re helping them connect with Misterb&b.

Related: 12 Up-and-coming Destinations Around the World for LGBTQ+ Travelers

Courtesy of misterb&b

My overall vision is helping people connect in real life. We recently launched Weere, an app that allows users to source tips from the local community, from where to see a drag queen show to finding the best exhibit. It’s really the local community helping the travel community.

You can even find social experiences in your own city, like visiting a museum with someone. There are only dating apps connecting the LGBTQ community, but no social apps, so this is our aim with Weere.

The last trip I did was a staycation in Paris. Sometimes, I travel in my own city to experience and meet with our community of hosts. I stayed with Stefan, and he and his partner opened their house to me. I felt like I was a friend who had known them for 20 years.

It’s weird because a few years ago, we were seeing so much visibility for our community. Even on Netflix shows, we were seeing inclusion and diversity for the community, which was positive. But the last five years have not been positive for the community, even in the U.S.

The world is becoming a bit scary right now. Hopefully this will change. We need more initiatives and to find ways to travel safely. The fight is still there. 

Travel is so important for connecting with local communities and culture — it really helps you grow much faster. It can be challenging to find others in the LGBTQ community, but events like Pride month are [great opportunities] to meet, celebrate, and demonstrate that we exist. It’s joining forces to start our own force, and demonstrate we’re here and we need equality. 

Related: These Travel Companies Are Making Big Moves to Help LGBTQ Travelers

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