travel

Should queer people visit countries that are anti-LGBTQ?

Four LGBTQ voices from the travel scene offer their view on whether queer people should be spending their time - and money - in countries with anti-LGBTQ laws.

2022-05-23

Words: Attitude; Images: supplied

As travel restrictions continue to ease this summer, many LGBTQ people are ready to start re-exploring the world around them. But should countries with anti-LGBTQ laws or widespread homophobic or transphobic sentiment be on your short-list of destinations?

When it comes to traveling abroad, it's vital to be informed about local attitudes towards sexuality and gender identity, but should queer people be spending their time and money in countries with poor LGBTQ records in the first place? 

We asked four LGBTQ voices from the travel industry to give their take on an always-divisive issue...

Meg Ten Eyck (she/her) - activist, speaker, author

For the past 10 years I’ve been an LGBTQ+ travel content creator. If I’ve learned anything from exploring 60-plus countries, it’s that no one is entirely evil — or virtuous: we all exist somewhere in between. And rarely do a country’s laws accurately depict the people’s will.

I’ve encountered welcoming people in places like Aswan, Egypt and Nairobi, Kenya — and I’ve also encountered bigoted, biased people in New York City and Manchester. When we mark destinations as ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’, we’re acting on preconceived judgements that may or may not be rooted in reality.

Naturally, LGBTQ+s exist in every country and region, regardless of local policies, which is why travelling to countries with cultures and values different from my own is important to me.

GLSEN’s research shows that having first-hand exposure to someone who is LGBTQ+ is the best way to break down personal bias and misconceptions and to lay the foundations for acceptance of our community. If my travels accomplish anything, I hope I can be that person who changes someone’s perspective.

Rob Taylor (he/him) - 2TravelDads.com blogger

Working in travel, this comes up a lot. Views vary greatly. Personally, I choose not to visit such countries, either on my own or with my family. There are places with anti-LGBTQ+ laws ranging from fines to imprisonment to the death penalty. Enforced or not, it boils down to what could happen to me or my family should somebody choose to act on a law.

To give an example, Jamaica’s a very common destination for Americans, and a place many LGBTQ+s visit. I went there for work and was promptly told by my guide to keep my lips sealed and not to visit with my husband. For me, the perceived threat of legal action, including jail time, is not worth the risk.

The other side of the coin is that visiting places with anti-LGBTQ+ laws is necessary in order to provide a visual example of hope and to influence those you meet. If I didn’t have kids, I might share that view, too — of course I wish I could see certain places in the hope that my presence would make a difference for LGBTQ+s there, but at this stage in my life, the risk is too great.

Uwern Jong (he/him) - OutThere editor

It’s something of a no-brainer that we should spend our money in LGBTQ+-friendly countries, destinations and governments; places with LGBTQ+ infrastructure and community, where we feel safe, valued, celebrated.

However, I personally believe in boundless travel, and this is the philosophy I’ve instilled at OutThere magazine. Of course, I’ll always prioritise countries that welcome LGBTQ+s, but I won’t shy away from more challenging destinations. You’ll very rarely see me advocating boycotts of any kind.

LGBTQ+s exist everywhere — even in oppressive regimes. As someone whose heritage is from one of those countries, I understand the need for LGBTQ+ visibility. We haven’t got to where we are as a community from hiding away. If LGBTQ+s don’t travel somewhere, people there never see a different perspective. Visibility and dialogue create understanding and empathy, and help local LGBTQ+s find equality, justice, inclusion.

To support them, we have to see their lives for ourselves so that we are inspired to do more to help them. This is how travel opens our eyes.

Carla Manso (she/her) - communications manager, Rainbow Migration

There isn’t a simple way of responding to this. As a lesbian, before travelling anywhere, I usually check what the laws in my destination are. I do this for safety reasons, as I like to be able to hold hands in public with my girlfriend without feeling exposed. But also because, to the best of my ability, I want to avoid spending money in countries that sustain anti-LGBTQI+ laws that criminalise or even condemn my queer siblings to death.

That said, I think it’s important to remember that in many countries anti-LGBTQI+ laws are remnants of the colonial era. After all, it was mainly Europeans who violently imposed a cis heteronormative view of the world. One way to make an informed decision would be to ask the local LGBTQI+s most affected by criminalising laws.

There are many LGBTQI+ organisations founded by people who came to the UK seeking protection: for instance, House of Guramayle, a safe space created by and for the Ethiopian LGBTQI+ community. These groups know best how to bring about change in their countries of origin.