8 Things LGBT Travelers Should Know About Safety

Human rights for the LGBT community have advanced at differing speeds internationally, making for unequal laws and provisions from country to country. International travel for LGBT people still requires more consideration and planning to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.

Although much of the world has accepted the LGBT community with open arms, there are many locations globally, including many countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific, as well as Russia, where laws or social customs create an unwelcoming and unsafe environment for travelers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. More than 75 countries consider consensual same-sex sexual relations a crime, and in about 10 countries a person could be put to death for being gay, according to the United States State Department.

Considerations LGBT identifying travelers should make before a trip

  • #1  What are the LGBT rights/laws situation of the destination?  And what is the track record of enforcement?  In some countries, sexual orientation may make a traveler a target for law enforcement.  And beyond the law, is there a precedent for enforcement of these laws. Many countries, and even some states within the U.S., have very archaic laws that are not enforced.  
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  • #2  Should I hide my sexuality? What is the safety situation like for openly LGBT travelers?  In some countries a traveler may have no safe place for being open while in other countries a traveler may be at more risk outside the major cities or in certain neighborhoods.
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  • #3  What organizations are there for my safety?  Apart from hardline religious countries, there are likely organizations that lobby for LGBT rights and can be a source of helpful information. Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call and ask for advice. In the age when 90%+ of organizations use email as their primary communication tool, calling up and asking for a few minutes of perspective will probably go a long way. 
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  • #4  Where is the LGBT scene?  Is it in a safe part of town?  Look on travel forums and discussion pages.  Do not just rely on local information guides as these can often have an overly positive bent on local crime and as we have seen with the recent scandal with TripAdvisor, it is hard to trust any organization that has an economic interest in making a place seem safer than reality.
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  • #5 If I’m traveling with a partner, do we need to worry about booking one bed or two, or being more than friends in public?  Anyone who has worked at a small or more cash strapped company, has probably had to share a room with a colleague and is wondering why this would draw attention.  But keep in mind, there are numerous cases, particularly in the Middle East and Latin America where hotel staff act as “enforcers” for what they consider undesirable behavior.  This enforcement is usually against men bringing prostitutes to their rooms, but the enforcement is sometimes so over the top that there are numerous anecdotes of hotels mistakenly stopping married couples from accessing their room. 
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  • This type of snooping could easily be applied to an LGBT couple so at the very least, if you are traveling to a country where being LGBT is illegal, book a room with two beds and make it appear as both beds have been slept in.  It is sad to say that this level of effort must be taken. 
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  • #6  Your employer is probably not going to be a great source of guidance.  Many reading this may have the opposite experience with their employer and this is great. Unfortunately, most companies are not doing enough to meet their obligations when it comes to travelers and instead focus on executives despite that executives are generally under no greater risk than their employees.  Even so, by asking your travel or security department for guidance you are making them aware of an issue they may have never considered.
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  • #7  Consider using the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association as a resource for finding LGBT owned and affirming businesses in countries where you may have more concerns. Knowing that a business is owned by LGBT people or specifically seeks out LGBT accreditation may offer some peace of mind
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  • #8  Connect with locals online before you travel for some tips to find the best bars, and community safe spaces. Be aware that dating apps are sometimes used for entrapment by the police. While Grindr and Tinder may seem like obvious choices for reaching out to the local LGBT community, they can also be used as evidence against you in countries where being LGBT is illegal.
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Luckily there are some great resources for determining many of the answers to the above questions.  Equaldex.com curates LGBT rights and news around the world, and 76crimes.com reports on the 76+ countries where homosexuality is still illegal. Lastly, the U.S. State Department publishes a useful page with LGBT travel information.

Do your homework, use social media, reach out to a destination’s local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and be prepared to respect different cultures. If proper research is done beforehand and the rules and cultural norms of a location are respected, it will go a long way in reducing the potential for issues.