According to a 2018 Gallup estimate which surveyed US adults, the LGBTQ++ community makes up around 4.5 per cent of the population, while the LGBT charity Stonewall UK has suggested the proportion is between 5 and 7 per cent. And though no one can say what the true percentage is, one thing’s for sure – with millions of people supporting the Pride marches each year, it would be easy to assume that the world is becoming more tolerant and opening its doors to gay and trans travellers.
But experts say that when we are eventually free to travel again, once the coronavirus pandemic is under control, LGBTQ++ travellers will still need to be cautious, steer clear of assumptions and research their destination.
According to Jeremy Wilkes, an advisor for the UK-based beTravelwise, which provides travel safety and security awareness training for businesses, what looks like a fun-loving, friendly island, with laid-back beach resorts – Jamaica, for example – could have a far less casual attitude to same sex relationships. And forward-thinking, fast-moving cities – Dubai for one – can be deceptive.
For LGBTQ++ travellers, the consequences of just being themselves in certain countries make for chilling reading. Lucas Ramon Mendos, senior research officer at ILGA World – the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, points out that in at least six countries the death penalty is imposed for consensual same-sex sexual acts. In another six countries the death penalty is technically a possibility, although there is no record of it having been imposed.
At least 70 countries still criminalise consensual same-sex activity – some use corporal punishments such as caning in public ceremonies, while others impose prison sentences ranging from a few months to life.
“While a few countries are making legal progress and seeing an improvement in social attitudes at the same time, many other countries seem to be more resistant to change, both in terms of legal reform and in social attitudes,” says Mendos.
“In parallel to this, we see how many countries, especially those who criminalise consensual same-sex activity, are pushing for the enforcement of these provisions a lot more than in the past, so that makes the situation on the ground a lot more difficult for LGBT people.
“Last year, two men were sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in Zambia after they were caught having consensual sex in their bedroom by a hotel employee. LGBT travellers have been arrested and even deported from countries in the Middle East and in Asia.”
And even if LGBTQ++ travellers don’t flout their sexual orientation, there’s still the risk of entrapment – ILGA World, which is based in Geneva, Switzerland, has had reports of this happening in countries like Egypt, Russia and Turkmenistan.
Mendos warns: “In several countries it’s not completely safe to use online dating apps. Extreme right-wing or vigilante groups have used these apps to entrap people to ambush, humiliate, attack and even torture them sadistically. Attackers create fake profiles, engage in conversation, and then arrange to meet up to attack the victim.”
In late 2019, the LGBTQ Danger Index, compiled by American couple Asher and Lyric Fergusson, who blog about safe travel, ranked the 150 most visited countries. Sweden was named the most LGBT-friendly country in the world, with Canada second safest, followed by Norway, Portugal, Belgium and the UK. The US appeared – surprisingly – at number 24 because gay rights vary from state to state.
The couple pointed out that even if homosexuality isn’t illegal in some countries, LGBT travellers are treated so badly while they are there, they need to be careful or even avoid the country in question.
Jeremy Wilkes explains: “I tell LGBT people it’s not them, it’s the way the world is.
“We celebrate diversity and what they bring to the party, but world views are not something we can change. For LGBT people, the world is a different place, depending where you go. For example, the advice is often to avoid the whole of the Caribbean for the culture factor, although isolated high-end resorts might be okay if people travelling there are very discreet.
“In some countries, it’s to do with when something goes wrong and a complaint is made by a local person or someone who has taken offence. They report the incident to the police, and because of the law and religion, the person or couple end up getting arrested.”
Even within a country, attitudes can vary from state to state, and from town to countryside.
“In America, you might take a trip starting in New York and ending in California. You’ll be fine in New York and fine in California, but go to the middle of America and be yourself, and you could be in trouble,” says Wilkes.
But tolerance isn’t just down to the laws of any particular state or country. Even a change in leader can have a knock-on effect on how LGBTQ++ travellers are accepted. A report by ILGA World in December 2019 revealed the statements made by several conservative political leaders have led to the increase of homophobic and transphobic attacks.
Lucas Ramon Mendos continues: “Leaders are actually very important and their effects should not be underestimated. If high-ranking politicians are overtly hostile against sexual and gender minorities, it is very likely that this will legitimise hostile attitudes against LGBT people on the ground.”
So what can LBGTQ++ travellers do to protect themselves when travelling?
Do your research and make sure you’re prepared, advises Wilkes.
“Use multiple sources and seek advice and recommendations from friends and colleagues, especially those who are also part of the LGBT community,” he says.
“Try and understand the local culture. All travellers should keep a low profile so as not to draw attention to themselves. That might mean not holding hands in public, not wearing swimwear in public places or even walking round with a camera round their necks, looking like a tourist.
“If you don’t have experience of your destination, take extra precautions if travelling with your partner. For example, hotel staff may take offence and report you to the local authorities.
“Make your social media profiles private and consider hiding certain lifestyle or dating apps. Password-protect your devices and stop messages showing on a locked screen.
“If you’re transgender, make sure your legal identity and documentation match your gender.”
For more information, read this advice – LGBT Holidays Guide
NOTE FROM NOW:
Out of the Margins project shared their ground-breaking 2019 research on LBT+ exclusion across 21 countries based on the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals – focuses on five key issues (economic well-being, health, education, personal security and violence, and civic and political participation) and spans 21 countries in 3 world regions:
- Sub-Saharan Africa (Botswana, Burundi, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe)
- Latin America and the Caribbean (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Jamaica, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela)
- Eastern and Southeast Europe, and Central Asia (Chechnya/Russia, Kyrgyzstan, North Macedonia and Montenegro).
Read the full report HERE.