The 17th of May is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Let’s take a moment to talk about being lesbian, gay, bi, trans*, queer, … when travelling.
In a Western country as Belgium there are few restrictions for LGBTQ+ people. Surely, there’s room for improvement in terms of legislation and acceptance. But at least, LGBTQ topics are not taboo in Belgium. Politicians, the civil society and yes, even the general public is open to conversations about equal rights and opportunities.
In a way that’s a privilege. But Belgians have a big issue with the concept of “no, you can’t”. We don’t like to be told what (not) to do and we expect authorities to acknowledge this. Not listening to instructions, not queuing, jaywalking and ‘anarchism out of laziness’ in common culture.
The problem with this mentality, is that we tend to forget it can be much different abroad. For example, more than 70 countries punish people for having sex with someone of the same gender. Other countries prosecute people for talking about LGBTQ+ issues (‘gay propaganda’). Sometimes the law is okay with people being gay, but the general public isn’t.
Rémy Bonny, a student in political sciences who specialises in LGBTQ+ issues in post-communist countries, believes in visibility. “Don’t be afraid to be who you are talk to people. Show you exist.”
In cities as Budapest in Hungary or Warsaw in Poland, you should hold hands as a gay couple.
As this is travel blog, we asked a few LGBTQ+ travellers and bloggers for their point of view.
Travels of Adam
Adam Groffman of Travels of Adam and the Facebook group ‘LGBTQ Travelers‘ is not everywhere as out as he is at home, which is currently New York. “It really depends on the destination – places where I feel it is safe and that I feel comfortable to do so, I’m definitely out. I also try to be aware of the local laws or customs just to be on the safe side.”
Adam doesn’t immediately make a point of people knowing he’s gay. “If I’m in a taxi in a country where homosexuality is illegal, I’m not going to be very out unless I feel safe and comfortable with the driver. It’s really a decision I make based on my most immediate circumstances, my comfort level for safety, and what’s happening around me.”
His travels aren’t always necessarily gay themed. “When I was in a relationship, it wasn’t an explicit purpose of the trip, but a couple traveling together sometimes can stand out. In some places I definitely do seek out explicitly gay things to see and do, but it really just depends on the destination; how visible the scene is, how approachable it is for visitors/tourists, etc.”
Any LGBTQ travel tips? “Travel is an inherently personal decision: everyone chooses to travel their own way to the places that they most desire or feel comfortable in. I wouldn’t judge a gay person for traveling to an anti-gay destination because ultimately it’s their decision, and personally for me, the issue is also quite complicated. Some anti-gay destinations I would travel to, others I wouldn’t.”
“I think it’s important for LGBTQ travelers, and honestly: all travelers, to be aware of the local issues on the ground from LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, social issues, etc. Of course it’s impossible to know anything, but simply by reading the news and making yourself available to be aware, you can learn a lot. I wouldn’t show up in a country without knowing at least a little bit about the political situation.”
California resident Timothy Corbett loves trains and travels.
How out gay is he? “I make no efforts to hide it. My travel is split between solo travel or going with my boyfriend, and if I am with my boyfriend it is obvious we are a couple. We share a bed in the hotel room, on our last cruise we had to request our two twins be made into one bed, etc. We are not fans of public affection in general so we don’t hold hands or kiss much in public but I think it is apparent to anyone paying slight attention that we are together.”
Apart of the bedding situation, Timothy doesn’t make a point of people knowing. His travels aren’t usually LGBTQ themed. “I am interested in doing a gay sailing trip but that would be the first time I had planned a trip specifically to be a part of a gay crowd.”
But Timothy does have travel tips: “Do your homework. When I am going to be travelling with my boyfriend we make sure that the country we are travelling to is at least not violent or hostile towards gays. We would very much like to visit Jamaica but their national policy towards gays is not warm and there are occasional reports of beatings and other violence there.
“Since my boyfriend is partially disabled we often choose laid back resort-type vacations and we want to feel safe at our resort or if we go out in town. We simply wouldn’t choose to visit Russia or parts of Africa or other countries that are openly hostile to gays. Primarily it is for our safety and partly it is because we don’t feel we should be supporting an economy where we are not welcome.”
“To sum that up, as an individual traveler you need to decide how important being out is to your travels and plan accordingly. If you don’t mind being closeted/secret for a trip then there’s really no problem going where gays aren’t welcome.”
Only Once Today
Inge and Lobke from Belgium run the lesbian travel blog Only Once Today. “We are mostly out when we travel, although it depends of the destination”, says Inge. “Some countries are less enthusiastic about LGBTQ rights and you can’t expect being welcomed with open arms everywhere.”
“As a gender non conforming person it’s hard to crawl back into the closet and people are often confused by my appearance. Going to the toilet can be a burden. It’s my main struggle abroad: the toilets!”
“We consider the European Union as an area where we can be ourselves, but even there it happens we keep a low profile when we don’t feel at ease. We play good friends and sometimes a straight couple.
But it does pay off to communicate, says Inge “We have met so many other LGBTQ’s that way.”
Mostly in hostels and backpackers, as travellers are usually more open minded there. “It’s feasible to talk about sexual orientation and gender identity, even if takes some courage. In Guatemala we spent an entire period at the Spanish class talking about LGBTQ’s.”
“I must add we travelled to countries as Guatemala, Bolivia and China where culture is different to our western culture. And sometimes it’s unclear what the situation is.”
Inge and Lobke love travelling to pride vents. “It’s like a citytrip, but more fun. Even if the Belgian Pride isn’t far, we’ll turn it into a weekend Brussels. Last year we attended World Pride in Madrid and we didn’t want to miss that. This year we’d like to attend Budapest Pride in Hungary.”
“We are also thinking of Ella Events and Olivia Cruises, but we haven’t done those yet. But a lesbian cruise could be so much fun.”
Inge stresses safety is paramount. “Follow your intuition. It will pick up signals such as people staring and showing hostility.”
“An issue for me are toilets. When I don’t feel like making a point I will chose men’s restrooms. They have never kicked me out, even if they noticed something isn’t right. Women’s restrooms can be a minefield.”
“You should never feel the need to get back into the closet. We fought long and hard to be where we are. But don’t put yourself or your partner in danger. Not telling something or doing a bit of acting is nit a crime. Luckily there are thousands of destinations where you don’t need to worry showing affection.”
“Oh, and if you haven’t yet: visit a pride.”
More on LGBTQ travel?