I I was just a teenager when I first came to a country where being gay was illegal. My parents invited my then-boyfriend to go with the family to Morocco, and it wasn’t until we were in the country that we realized our existence was considered a crime. We were holding hands in public, not realizing the danger in doing so, and the scary thing for me now is that we were so happy that we didn’t know it.
It is understandable that Morocco’s strict anti-gay laws are rarely enforced, but just a few years ago, in 2016, two teenage girls were arrested and faced jail time after their same-sex kiss. They are caught on camera. That’s the reality LGBT+ travelers face in many countries – too many countries – around the world.
Follow Faith in Dignity, 71 countries currently criminalize same-sex sexual activity between men and 43 countries between women. 15 criminalize transgender identities, and 11 put the death penalty on those accused. LGBT+ travelers must consider this every time we book a flight, as even transiting through a country that respects these laws could put us in immediate danger.
The reality is that a large part of the world is still off limits to us. While avoiding these countries may seem easy, it becomes difficult when your brother moves to Dubai and wants you to visit; when your best friend has a wedding in Nairobi; when your group of friends invites you to join them on a cruise around the Caribbean.
On a personal level, I’ve always dreamed of visiting every country in the world, but I’m beginning to realize how naive that dream could have been. Since I was very young, I have collected models of pyramids, saying that Egypt is the place I want to visit more than any other place; As an adult, I realized that might not be on the cards for me. It’s not about my personal safety – I can easily hide my gender – and it’s more ethical to visit and pour money into the economies of countries that actively repress the public sector. their LGBT+ population.
And not everyone has the privilege of hiding their identity. Same-sex parents traveling with their children, transgender and non-binary people all face difficulties that make travel impossible. Luxeria Celes, who documents her transformation online, had to have an official letter from her surgeon after facial feminization surgery abroad to explain why she could looks different from my passport photo. “While the letter was absolutely beneficial for my journey, it also helped me with border control, security and airport staff,” she told me. “I wouldn’t be able to go through a country where it’s illegal to be transgender without being detained, and that’s an extremely insidious mindset. Trans is beautiful, but it can totally come at a cost. ”
While it’s rare for LGBT+ travelers to be caught abroad, it’s not entirely unheard of. For example, the UAE has a history of arresting transgender tourists and those deemed “cross-dressed”. This included the arrest of transgender women from Singapore and a British man being detained for wearing tight jeans. Another was sentenced to prison for touching someone else’s hip.
Commuting is even more difficult for people of color who are gay; where white LGBT+ tourists may turn a blind eye, those from ethnic minorities may be at higher risk. Just recently, Asian stranger Tiktoker Cylovesfrogs shared her experience traveled to Paris with her partner, only to cut the trip short after being “treated terribly” and repeatedly being “taunted and harassed”. “The worst part of all of this is that it’s ultimately unsurprising,” she said in an emotional voiceover video. “Even living in many progressive areas, I am still harassed because of my appearance, my race, my gender. I have also visited Paris in Europe before and experienced a lot of anti-Asian rhetoric. ‘ She said she wasn’t sharing the experience to create discomfort, but just ‘to warn any openly weird people of color, especially if you’re traveling together as a couple. husband and wife, about the dangers of traveling anywhere, and remain vigilant at all times.”
Black LGBT+ travel writer Kwin Mosby notes, “I noticed that I was belittled and stood out in longer lines, while my white colleagues casually brushed past them with ease” – though he also realizes his privilege as a man. “My people of color – who are Black and identify as lesbian, transgender or non-hybrid – are more likely to be scrutinized while traveling. Traveling as an LGBTQ+ group or couple also has its limitations, as you must refrain from showing affection in public or be more reserved in places that may not be gay-friendly. male “.
These concerns for LGBT+ travelers are not exclusive to the laws of the countries we visit. A recent study from Booking.com found that 71% of LGBT+ people have experienced unpleasant experiences while traveling. Even places with a positive regulatory record can have cultural differences that make us our own targets. During a recent holiday romance with a guy in Romania, I was known to be unsafe holding his hand in public; and in Slovenia, I was kicked out of a “gay-friendly” nightclub after security saw me kiss another man. “We don’t do it here,” we were told after separating and pointing to the door.
LGBT+ rights are present and upheld in both of those countries, but official laws don’t always match local attitudes. Even at home in the UK, I get frequent unwanted glances, but when traveling in an unfamiliar place it can be difficult to discern whether those stares can turn violent. .
That being said, of course, there are many cultures around the world that accept it in a great way. Countries like South Africa, Mexico and Thailand make me feel nothing but welcome, and my advice would be to visit countries where LGBT+ people are accepted in both the eyes of the people and law. But if like me, your dream is to visit every country in the world? Until we see drastic reform on a global scale, the sad truth is that we may have to put those dreams on hold.
Calum McSwiggan is the author of Eat, Gay, Love.