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International Day Against Homophobia and What It’s Like to be a Gay Traveler

The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia is observed every year on May 17. It probably wasn’t on your calendar. But in cities across the world there were protests and demonstrations to fight against homo-, bi- and transphobia.

According to the official website, over 120 countries participated and there were countless celebrities, politicians and others interacting with the international event hashtag #IDAHOT.

Berlin’s local LGBT community organizer, Enough is Enough, scheduled a rally and march and though there were far fewer attendees than their previous rallies (see photos here), I still found it an important event to attend. And from the global perspective, despite countless advances for LGBT rights, the time still seems incredibly ripe for activism.

“No one should face violence or discrimination—no matter who they are or whom they love.” —President Obama #IDAHOT

— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) May 17, 2014

To commemorate the day, IDAHOT, The Guardian published a fascinating map in partnership with All Out to showcase current lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights around the world.

The data visualization (see it here) shows how few rights LGBT individuals have across the globe. And while tides are certainly turning in countries like my home, the United States, it’s still shocking to see how few guaranteed rights exist in even just supposedly developed countries. And with the statistics provided by All, there are few places in the world with full equal rights:

  • In 77 countries it’s a crime to be gay. Those countries are home to more than 2.7 billion people. (source)
  • Just 20% of North American countries offer full equal rights for LGBT citizens. (source)
  • There are 10 countries where homosexuality is punishable by death. (source)

I’m not sharing these numbers to scare you (or me). But to motivate and inspire. With recent steps forward for equality, there’s obviously still a long way to go.

Speaking out, visibility and activism are as important as always. India once was a political safe-haven for gays, but recently re-instated a draconian law.

Other countries, like Uganda, have famously been making news because of even more harsh laws making homosexuality punishable by death. And Russia. Oh, Russia.

Their recent homophobic laws have been making headlines since before the Olympics. There is so much more to do. So much to still change. And as a gay traveler I feel there’s a certain responsibility to be a part of that change. That’s why I participate in demonstrations, why I will continue to call out for change, why I will not be afraid when I don’t have to.

This is a popular saying at gay rights rallies, turning a phrase many LGBT have heard their whole life: “When did you decide to be heterosexual?” and a popular cry at Saturday’s Enough is Enough rally.

What It’s Like to Travel When You’re Gay

To bring things back to travel, let me share a few personal anecdotes. Traveling as a gay individual is sometimes more complicated than you might expect.

Hundreds of countries around the world have hundreds of different laws, attitudes and beliefs toward homosexuality. And knowing these laws and attitudes before visiting a destination can make or break a holiday.

Many travelers don’t necessarily need to look up the political attitudes of a destination before a trip, but I think you’ll find many gay and lesbian travelers actively seek this information out before, during and even after a holiday. I want to know whether the country is safe to visit.

Whether the government is actively fighting against gay rights, or just passively accepting it. These are things worth knowing as a gay traveler.

If I’m booking a holiday with a boyfriend, I don’t want to be surprised by unexpected problems. As a gay couple, there are plenty of possibilities for uncomfortable and awkward situations. Two hotel beds…or one? And as a solo gay traveler, there have been numerous occasions where I’ve had to answer questions about fabled “girlfriends.

But perhaps the most difficult thing for me personally as a gay traveler, is the fact that I regularly have to come out. Drinking beers with new friends in a hostel bar, eventually the topic of relationships comes up.

And eventually I have to find a way to announce “I’m gay.” For me, it’s never been a problem except for slightly awkward conversations that sometimes follow. Awkward isn’t bad, of course, but it’s sometimes not how I wish to spend my holidays.

And it’s important to note that homophobic remarks aren’t exclusive to countries outside your comfort zone. In the past, I’ve had slurs thrown at me in downtown Berlin and Berlin is arguably the gayest city in Europe.

Homophobia can happen anywhere and that’s why political activism is still so important. It’s why we need public support. Why we need rallies. Why we need gay pride.

Saying all of this, though, there’s also quite a well-connected community of gay travelers. As I learned recently at the IGLTA convention in Madrid, countless companies are actively supporting the LGBT community.

Whether with diversity training, special promotions or just by openly acknowledging LGBT tourism in marketing and social media. As a gay traveler, I also have more than a few resources, apps and websites available for meeting and connecting with other gay travelers. Look for a future article here or on my gay travel site about how to meet other gay travelers when abroad.

Political Resources for Gay Travelers

  • – The collaborative LGBT rights knowledgeable. A user-generated website for keeping up-to-date with current LGBT laws and rights around the world.
  • – The International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association is a gay-friendly global travel network dedicated to connecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender travelers to the businesses that welcome and support them.
  • – This special webpage on the US State Department site outlines LGBT travel specific information, including resources and useful tips for individuals and families.
  • The International Lesbian and Gay Association is a world wide network of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered groups working together for the human rights of LGBT people.

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Tell me in the comments: have you ever thought about LGBT rights before visiting a country? Have you participated in any political rallies to support gay rights?

  1. Jessi says:

    I’ll be going on my first couple trip with my girlfriend in just over a month, and the implications of traveling together have definitely crossed my mind. How will people perceive us? How will we deal with the one-bed, two-bed situation? Or, most importantly, is it safe? Can I hold her hand or steal a kiss in public without fear? Being two girls, we may be construed as easy targets within an area where homophobia runs rampant.

    For the most part, I think we’ll be fine (we’re spending out time in Southern and Eastern Europe). But it’s still something that I think about regularly and I know it is something I will research no matter where my travels take me.

    • Adam says:

      Thanks Jessi for sharing about your experience. I know you’re not alone in your thoughts as I think the same things before I travel with my boyfriend.

  2. Jeruen says:

    Oh, I recently started worrying about this topic early this year. My boyfriend and I had our first big couple trip last March, and while we went to relatively gay-friendly destinations like Italy and the UK for almost three weeks, we still kept this in mind at the micro level. We used AirBnb the whole time, and we always made it a point to subtly let the hosts know that two guys will be sharing their guest room. If they don’t want that, they can always decline our booking. I felt it’s better this way, than keep quiet about it, and then an unpleasant surprise ensues when we get to check in.

    Aside from that, it’s also always in our heads to keep in mind that we are not locals, and therefore we really cannot know the local sentiment towards two guys holding hands on the street, for example. So we just keep that at a minimum. And yes, this also restricts potential future destinations. I tend to think that I can “pretend to be straight” and visit countries like Russia and Uganda if I want to, but my boyfriend thinks otherwise. Kuwait still hasn’t invented the gay scanner, right? Oh well, there are other interesting places I can visit in the meantime.

    • Adam says:

      Hey Jeruen – thanks for your comment. Traveling as a gay couple can be complicated but I find the internal thinking the most difficult. I’m always wondering, “is it safe to hold hands here?”, “what’s going to happen when I ask for one bed?” etc. I hate having those internal conflicts in my mind when I’m supposed to be relaxing and just enjoying my time!

      I know what you mean about pretending to be straight, ie, going back into the “travel closet.” I guess that’s always an option but I certainly wouldn’t bother visiting countries that are actively fighting against LGBT rights.

  3. Franca says:

    Great post Adam! No matter which sexual preferences are people must be treated equally and that should be in any situations from the everyday life to when we travel. Who cares if I have a boyfriend or a girlfriend?

    • Adam says:

      Thank you Franca for the support! Equality is so important and hopefully more and more rallies will only further the cause.

  4. Great post, Adam! We certainly research the current political situation regarding LGBT rights for any country we’re visiting. Most recently, on our month-long trip to Indonesia, we discovered that we were seen as “mentally handicapped” in the eyes of the law. It certainly gave us a good chuckle, and even more determined to challenge the way people view lesbians. For example, we asked the front desk staff at a hotel that follows Shariah Law what we needed to do to have one bed. After a bit of obvious discomfort from the hotel staff, he explained that we would simply have to provide a copy of our marriage certificate. Step-by-step, we’re making the idea of lesbian a bit more normalized. :)

  5. Sarah Harvey says:

    Hi Adam! Great post. I currently live and work in Maldives. I’m not sure if homosexual acts are punishable by death, but it’s certainly illegal. This is coming from a country who sentences a young girl to lashes because she had sex out of wedlock (she was raped by a person of trust).

    I just hope one day things change. People need both protection and freedom- homosexuality isn’t anything that needs protecting from- maybe someday this will be a universally accepted norm.

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  7. Matt says:

    Great blog post Adam, highlighting IDAHOT day is definitely needed :)

    Will you be going to EuroPride in Latvia? It’s going to be the first time and they need all the help they can get.

    Matt :)

    • Adam says:

      Hey Matt – Yep, I’ll be in Riga – will you be there?! Will be great to meet you. IDAHOT is always one of those days that pops up that I’ve completely forgotten about – it comes and goes every year with little notice, I think.

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