Gay Travel – Just how safe is it?
The world is more connected than ever before, with people travelling to all corners of the globe. But how safe is the world for LGBT travellers?
Gay men and women in numerous countries across the world now enjoy the equality and freedoms they have for so long been denied. But these rights are not universally replicated across the world. Homosexuality is still illegal in 73 countries – the severity of punishments ranges from a ‘short’ spell in prison to (in the most extreme cases) the death penalty.
Is it safe to travel to countries where homosexuality is illegal?
Despite the torrid persecution that many locals face, instances of travellers and visitors being arrested or imprisoned are, thankfully, incredibly rare. As a gay traveller, it is, of course, advisable to research social attitudes of a destination before you decide to book. But, and I say this with a reserved confidence, there are very few places to be avoided purely on the grounds of your sexuality, provided that you adhere to local laws and customs.
Let’s take Kenya as a case in point, despite its draconian views on sexuality, according to the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office), 100,000 British nationals visit Kenya every year and nearly all visits are classified as ‘trouble free.’ This kind of data is replicated in many places where homosexuality is illegal. While it’s not advisable to engage in public displays of affection in these countries – beyond that, it is unlikely that as a visitor you will be subject to any hostility.
Are any countries off-limits for LGBT travellers?
There are several publications which have attempted to gain traction, and traffic, by posting blogs rendering certain countries off-limits for LGBT travellers. These should be read with caution and often include countries which are perfectly safe to travel to. Lithuania features heavily on many listicles of supposedly ‘dangerous destinations’. While laws in the country aren’t as progressive as you might expect, or wish, from a European nation, you are very unlikely to receive any raised eyebrows or abuse – even if travelling with your same-sex partner. The capital, Vilnius, is a cosmopolitan city with a few gay venues and moderately liberal attitudes.
It would be churlish to argue that there are no countries where LGBT travellers should not visit, for instance, Saudi Arabia and Iraq – though these destinations are unlikely to be at the top of anyone’s travel bucket list at the moment. Most of the countries which might be considered a questionable destination for the LGBT community would also be suspect for anybody to visit and don’t necessarily fall under a different remit of visitability.
Neither the UK or US governments specifically advise against going to any one destination, rather they encourage independent research and advise adherence to local laws.
Where should I get my advice?
It seems a little pitiful that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can’t provide a list of where homosexuality is illegal, helping those interested in gay travel. They cite the reason for this elusive standpoint as difficulty in pertaining where exactly it is illegal and often the ‘law is unclear’. Nobody is doubting making such political assessments is difficult, however, surly that is the job of the officials and diplomats who are in receipt of a handsome salary to understand negate the political landscapes of the countries where they are assigned.
Luckily, there are many other resources available for ascertaining information about travel destinations. The website Equaldex documents countries where homosexuality is illegal. It also looks at other equality indicators such as access to healthcare for LGBT people and where conversion therapies are promoted. If you’re looking for comprehensive news and current affairs coverage from countries where homosexuality is still illegal then 76 Crimes is an excellent resource.
There are many articles and accounts online that will give you an idea of what it is like travelling to a particular country – though it is worth bearing in mind that, by and large, people have a tendency to only report something when they have a negative experience. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t take notice of what you read but it’s always wise to keep things in context.
Shouldn’t I stay away from these countries in protest?
While one might be tempted to go and make a stand in defiance of the laws of homosexuals– it’s a terrible idea and we advise against it. Don’t flout local laws and customs even if you feel that they are in contradiction to our progressive ideologies.
However, we would suggest that you visit a country, even though you don’t perceive that country aligns with your values. When foreigners visit regressive nations, it doesn’t solidify that country’s treatment of minority citizens rather it opens it up to different ways of thinking. The more diverse, globalised and connected countries become, the more likely they are to adopt liberal values.