It’s not just saying hello or goodbye. In Hawaiian culture, “aloha” is an expression of respect and warmth with no expectation of reciprocation.
To live out the aloha spirit is to also be inclusive and compassionate to all types of people, which Hawaiians have been doing for many years.
In Hawaiian culture, there is kane (man) and wahine (woman), but there is also someone who has both feminine and masculine spirits – a fluid, nonbinary identity called mahu. These people were highly respected and possessed spiritual value and were often caretakers or healers in ancient times. To this day, Hawaii has one of the highest percentages of transgender people in the country.
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“I would have to say that Hawaii is very welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community,” said Jordan Lee, an LGBTQ business owner of Oahu pet supply store The Public Pet. “With deep cultural ties to our mahu community, supportive legislators/political officials, and a dense multi-ethnic population, Hawaii is an ideal spot for any LGBTQ+ traveler to feel accepted.”
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Hawaii was also ahead of its time when it came to legalizing same-sex marriage. In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court made history as the first court in the world to rule that marriage was a fundamental right to same-sex couples – years before the 2015 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
When visiting the islands, Lee urges travelers to support local businesses as much as possible.
“The cost of living is very high in Hawaii, so being mindful of where your dollar goes and how it is spent can make a dramatic difference,” he said. “When you shop from a local LGBTQ+ business, you can help them to strengthen their platform and our community’s existence.”
To help guide you in the right direction, we asked Lee and fellow LGBTQ business owner Keoki Tavares of Aloha Elixir, about their favorite locally owned, LGBTQ businesses in Hawaii.
Contemporary menswear brand Salvage Public is run by three Native Hawaian designers and surfers who capture authentic Hawaii living in their designs. Think minimalist sportswear with familiar Hawaiian iconography like Hawaiian quilt designs and the names of common Oahu surf breaks. They’re designed for locals by locals, but anyone will feel stylish wearing their clothes. Visit their store at South Shore Market in Ward Village or online.
For a quick pick-me-up, head over to The Curb in Kaimuki, a neighborhood staple, where people are always doing work and catching up with friends. The coffee shop started as a small truck by the University of Hawaii at Manoa and has moved around as it grew. The current location has become a community gathering place, hosting art shows and live music. During the day, The Curb serves up coffee and tea, plus light cafe fare inspired by local flavors. When the sun sets, the cafe turns into a natural wine bar.
Lee recommends stopping at Shop Toast for all your gift-shopping needs during your visit to Hawaii.
The boutique is online shopping in the U.S. or curbside pickup only right now, and a quick browse on its website shows adorable car and mini tabletop diffusers featuring sweet island scents like guava, hibiscus plum and local flowers.
Kaimuki Lei Stand
Lei has a significant place in Hawaiian culture, so check out the Kaimuki Lei Stand when in Honolulu.
After being laid off from jobs in the hospitality industry during COVID-19, husband duo Keoni and Makamae Williams followed their passion and opened up the lei shop to put locally grown flowers in the spotlight. Now they sell lei and host workshops where guests can learn how to string their own.
Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery
A Portuguese donut that’s crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, the malasada is considered a local delicacy. Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery in Honolulu takes locals back to their childhood by serving up award-winning malasadas in flavors like cinnamon and li hing, a sour plum powder. If you’re feeling extra indulgent, you can order one filled with ice cream and cleverly called “malamode.”
Hale Mana Aura
Life gets stressful, so take time to recenter yourself on your trip to Hawaii at Hale Mana Aura, a wellness center in Honolulu that seeks to introduce indigenous spiritual practices of self-care. Participate in sound healing, yoga, beauty treatments and guided meditations to help you feel more grounded.
Since 2012, Aloha Elixir has been Honolulu’s go-to apothecary for handmade candles, sprays and smudges to help people manifest their best life and usher in good vibes only.
Tavares is the owner and healer at Aloha Elixir who started the shop due to his love of natural botanicals, especially native Hawaiian plants, and seeks to source most of his ingredients from local vendors. Stop by on a Friday afternoon during the shop’s psychic happy hour to get your future read.
Situated on the edge of Waikiki overlooking the Honolulu Zoo with a peek of the ocean, Hula’s Bar & Lei Stand is Hawaii’s iconic gay bar, according to Tavares. The open-air restaurant has been around for almost 50 years, welcoming a diverse crowd with its drinks, food and live music.
“It has always been a place where I felt comfortable, with very welcoming energy,” Tavares said. No matter what time you pass by, you can always see people mingling, and there’s basically an event or special each day.
The Public Pet
For those with a fur baby at home, or if you have to get a gift for some pet parents, stop by Lee’s shop, The Public Pet in Honolulu. The small business sells a curated selection of pet accessories, treats and toys with a local flair, like local ahi jerky and shave ice squeaker toys for dogs.
“Charlie, my 4-pound poodle, loves sporting new collars and leashes in vibrant colors to make his coat pop,” Tavares said. “We can’t leave The Public Pet without his favorite locally made dog treats.”
Queen’s Surf Beach
Across the street from Hula’s is Queen’s Surf Beach, a popular spot for tourists and locals alike to frolic in the gentle Waikiki water. This beach was regarded as the most gay-popular beach on the island, a place where gay folks felt comfortable to enjoy the sun. It now attracts a more mixed (but still accepting) crowd.
Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Hawaii. You can reach her at [email protected]