Amidst the recent revelations coming from Russia about the new Anti-Gay laws, we were all reminded that some parts of the World lag in progress. The new Kremlin legislation is particularly important for tourists as it now contains a provision that allows the government to arrest and detain gay foreigners for up to 14 days. A little reminder for those planning to attend the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
In a perfect world this post would not be needed. Traveling the world would be safe for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Unfortunately, some of these tips might be useful and could even save someone from a lot of unpleasant or even dangerous situations. Here’s how to be safe on a trip if you’re transsexual or attracted to people of your own sex.
Let’s start with the less pleasant side of the topic. There are still many places in the world, where sexual minorities are, lets say “not welcome”… Actually, let’s not say that. This is too important, and the euphemisms simply won’t do. Now, there are some countries where homosexuality is illegal and transgenderism is considered an illness. It’s sad, but those are the facts.
An organization named ILGA (International lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersexual association) collects data on laws and the quality of life for sexual minorities in different countries. In a moment I am going to use some of their data, but for the full information (that is actually not 100% complete because of the delicacy of the analyzed issues) you can check out ILGA website.
And so, in some countries male to male relationships are forbidden by law. Gays get high fines for example in Africa (Mozambique and Angola). As a matter of fact, Africa in general seems to be less open to the LGBT rights than other continents. On the black continent gay men get imprisoned, just for being gay and acting on it. It’s actually easier to name the countries, where gay aren’t penalized. Safe are South Africa, Congo as well as Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea-Bissau. Apart from Africa, imprisonment is also the punishment for gay relationships in Guyana, Jamaica (you would think they are too laidback for having that kind of law!), Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Also Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. However, the most dangerous countries for gay men are Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somaila, Sudan, Nigeria and Mauritania, where the penalty for being yourself and maintaining a relationship can be death row. And as I said before, this information is not complete, so there can be more.
But apparently, the information about lesbian rights is even less accessible – ILGA only has information about some countries. Woman to woman relationships are forbidden in Morocco, Algeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where women go to prison for that and Iran, where lesbians are killed in the face of law.
In addition, transgenderism is considered an illness in some countries. According to ILGA, they include Algeria and Chile.
While planning a trip those countries definitely go to the “destinations to avoid” list. However, the signs of homophobia and close-minded attitude can be observed in other parts of the world as well, so LGBT have to be careful and responsible.
This means, that if you are unsure about the circumstances, try acting reasonably modest and avoid potentially risky situations. Consider restraining from displays of affection in public places like restaurants, means of transport, streets and shops – especially in more conservative countries or regions (intolerance can exist anywhere). If you feel that you might be bullied or assaulted, a wise thing to do is to remain patient and humble. I would advise you – if it’s possible – to simply walk away.
Luckily, there are plenty of destinations, where LGBT do not have to get back in the closet. If you are LGBT it means you are welcome to North America as well as most countries of South America. Always a good choice is the oldest of continents: Europe. There might be regions, where it is possible to come across some displays of intolerance (especially in countries that are considered more conservative), but the good news is: everywhere in Europe the law protects you – not punishes. Australia is also a perfect destination for LGBT as well as Asia (the safest bet are the big cities of progressive countries – Hongkong, Tokio etc.). And if you want to go to the Middle East really badly, the best destinations are Tel-Aviv and Istanbul.
If you don’t want to guess, Out Now Global (a LGBT marketing research company) revealed which countries are the most popular in gay tourism in 2013. Top ten countries are (in order from 1 to 10) France, UK, USA, Italy, Spain, Australia, Germany, Canada, Greece and Argentina (and the details are in the full report).
The most popular LGBT destinations offer gay friendly accommodation, restaurants and bars, clubs etc. A lot of the cities prepare a dedicated site for gay tourists, so that you’ll know where to go. Also, most of the regular guides have a special section with gay and gay friendly facilities. And if you’re having trouble finding anything, just ask the receptionist (who should help you and remain professional) or some locals.
When in travel, you should never forget taking all the necessary documents with you. That goes especially to transgender people and gay couples that are married or in a civil union. Having those documents, you will be able to prove your status and legal rights, for example if there is a need of medical assistance and hospital requires the documents.
You should also be careful about people you meet. I’m not telling you to be suspicious about everyone, but paying a little more attention never harmed anyone. Imposters and thieves often take advantage of careless, relaxed and trusting tourists.
Whew! The topic was serious, I admit. But I hope it was also pretty useful. If you need additional info or you want to share a story of your travel, don’t hesitate for a second! My email is: firstname.lastname@example.org. I also encourage you to comment below– I’m curious about your opinions.