In gay-friendly Vallarta, where are the women?!

Shortly after Caryl Dolinko landed in town last year she came upon a stark realization about this community.

“I wanted to see what was happening here with Pride” she told me over coffee at Dee’s mid-morning, one sunny day a couple weeks ago, “and when I showed up to my first meeting I quickly realized that Pride here was for gay men and nobody else was actually being considered.”

Puerto Vallarta Pride has exploded in popularity over the past few years, and its international reputation has grown, thanks in part to the lobbying efforts of the Asociación de Comercio y Turismo LGBT (known also as A.C.T.). And while there have been whispers that it has in many ways come to resemble “Mantamar Pride,” due to the increasing number of Pride-sanctioned events that take place there, overall the week of festivities — which celebrates its sixth incarnation later this May — has mostly been deemed a resounding success.

But as far as women-focused events go, Caryl found the weeklong festival severely lacking. So just in time for Vallarta Pride 2017 she managed to pull together a number of events exclusively for women.

“I organized three events for women last year,” she said. “A rooftop party right after the Pride parade, which was fabulous. A movie night for lesbians, which we had maybe 25 people show up. Great. It’s a first! And then a big party at Mantamar for women, the final day, and it was a huge success. It was women walking in and going oh my GOD! This is what this city needs!

The Vancouver native brings to Vallarta the pedigree of someone who’d know how to systematically enhance increasingly larger scale events. Caryl’s career in public relations and event management dates back some twenty years. It’s a lengthy story, so settle in…

“My dad was diagnosed with AIDS,” she said. “He’d been living with AIDS for twelve years. A straight man, he’d been given a blood transfusion in San Diego four months before it became mandatory to test for HIV. He was infected and lived with it for 12 years undiagnosed, undetected. So I moved to be with him in Edmonton.”

“Unfortunately, my brother and my first cousin were also HIV+ so I was quite aware of HIV and AIDS and what you needed to do, how to treat and this was 20 years ago now. So when I was in Edmonton I reconnected with an old friend of mine and he said I’ve got an idea for a book about all the scams, cons and rip-offs for travelers.” After an eight-year term traveling to nearly fifty countries upon high school graduation, Caryl found herself teaching on the exact same topic in Vancouver and suggested they work together. The result, The Globetrotters Guide: Essential Skills for Budget Travel became a best-seller in the United States and Canada, and included a tour for the author across Canada as well as up and down the east and west coasts of the U.S.

Upon her return home, she joined a softball league. It was an effort to meet women, she admits, to be more social, but a discovery there left her wanting for more.

“At that time there were only five teams,” she said. “It was before Ellen [DeGeneres] came out. Let me put it this way. There was bull dykes and there was femmes. That’s it. And the league was pretty much all bull dykes and I went these are not my people.”

“The only way to make change is to be the change,” she added, “so I joined the board and helped grow the league to 20 teams of beautiful women, because this is the 90s and now we can come out, so the league grew and after eight years one of my friends said, ‘You know, the Pride organization could use your help.’”

“I didn’t know the history of Pride in Vancouver,” she said. “It had a terrible history where the city wasn’t sponsoring, nobody would touch it. There was a huge debt that we had just come out of. None of the community was supportive of it. And in order to do what they wanted me to do, I said, you know, this isn’t a six month thing. This requires a three to five year plan. And they approved it. So I stayed with Pride for eight years and grew it from 100,000 people to three quarters of a million. Grew the sponsorship from zero dollars to close to a million dollars every year.”

Her Pride journey included stops around the world as co-president of the InterPride organization, which represents all the Prides worldwide. Then the fall of a deeply passionate romance with a woman in Madrid, and work on a master’s degree in intercultural communication and global leadership, all circuitously led her here to Vallarta.

“I had one course left and it was last August, last summer [2016] and all my clients were saying contact me in January,” she said. “Nothing was working. All the doors seemed to be locked for everything I was doing. I went to Pride in Vancouver and I found myself in my backyard alone at 7pm and I thought, you know what? Something is wrong. Something isn’t working for me here. I talked to a friend of mine who said, ‘I have a place in Puerto Vallarta. If you want to take a few weeks and just relax and kinda reconfigure what you’re doing.’”

Then almost immediately she found a cheap flight, a friend to rent her house, a local Spanish language course, and she was on her way.

Which brings us back to Vallata Pride 2017.

“There were some Mexican women who had thrown events before,” she said. “They’d thrown Pride events and the last one was at somebody’s house, in their backyard and they decorated it beautifully, I’m sure, but you know… it’s a house party and I thought women actually deserve a little bit more than this. We do want some nice parties.”

The success of the women’s parties last year—the rooftop party, the movie night, the closing night party—led some in the community to dream big. According to Caryl, the dreams were a little too big. For now, anyway.

“I had people come up to me and say, ‘we’d like to have the Dinah in Vallarta’ and I said, ‘well you can’t. Not yet. You don’t even have a sure community here. We don’t even know how big the community is, so to start doing a Dinah sort of event here, and asking international women to fly to a city that doesn’t acknowledge or even embrace the lesbian community? You can’t do that.’”

But there is certainly room for growth.

“Everything I’ve done, I’ve collaborated and asked for help from the Mexican women who were throwing parties before,” she said. “Really find out what women want, what they expect, how things are done, and all that sort of thing and so I kind of got the blessing from the Mexican womens’ community to go ahead and do this.”

This was a posada for women. Not exclusively for lesbians, the event was held at Devil’s Bar & Grill, just over the bridge in El Centro. According to Caryl, “about” 43 women showed up, “not a huge amount but enough that it was a really fun party. And the women that showed up had a blast!”

There are tentative plans for women during Pride Week this year. As she’s learned from years coordinating Pride events around the world, and locally as she ingratiates herself into the womens’ community here in town, identifying events for lesbians may not be as easy a task as one might think.

“With women,” she said, “I think it’s more a connection that women are craving, so it’s not necessarily always gonna be just drinking and dancing. It’s, you know, I want to throw a pool party, a pool tournament. Things like that where there’s a workshop on something, or a craft or a speaker. I’m just trying to discover what the women’s market is here, because Puerto Vallarta is a very gay-friendly city but it’s not very lesbian-friendly.”

But given some time, a couple more years perhaps, we’ll get there.

The good news is: people are working on it.