15 Travelers Talk About Traveling to Countries Unsafe for LGBTQ+ People

Nearly 70 countries have legislation criminalizing homosexuality

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It’s Pride Month! We’re kicking off this joyous, meaningful month with a collection of features completely dedicated to LGBTQ+ travelers. Follow along on a gay writer’s adventures at Pride around the world; read about a bisexual woman’s journey to The Gambia to visit her staunchly religious family; and hear from a non-gender-conforming traveler about unexpected challenges and triumphs on the road. Then, find inspiration for your future trips with our guides to the best LGBTQ+ hidden gem attractions in every state, amazing national park sites with LGBTQ+ history, and actor Jonathan Bennett’s new travel venture. However you make your way through the features, we’re glad you’re here with us to celebrate the beauty and importance of inclusivity and representation within the travel space and beyond.

As of May 2021, there are 69 countries with legislation criminalizing homosexuality, with the specific laws and severity of the punishment differing country by country. For example, in Saudi Arabia, same-sex acts (as Sharia law interprets) are punishable by the death penalty, whereas gender expression is punishable by flogging and imprisonment. Singapore, too, has an 83-year-old colonial law that criminalizes consensual sex between men, though the law, Section 377A, is not enforced these days. While the city's tourism board and media are effectively forbidden from promoting homosexuality, travelers to the city-state will find a vibrant LGBTQ+ scene, with events like Pink Dot taking the place of Pride.

Considering the widely different ways in which anti-LGBTQ+ laws are enforced worldwide, we were curious to know what members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community thought about traveling to countries with such legislation. So, we asked our readers: Have you ever visited a country with anti-LGBTQ+ laws? Did the country's laws affect your behavior, if at all? And what countries will you never travel to because of their anti-LGBTQ+ legislation?

More than 40 LGBTQ+ readers and allies responded to our survey, sharing their experiences in countries ranging from Jamaica and Moscow to even the U.S. Read on to hear what they had to say. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Kristin, 35, New York, New York

I've traveled to both Morocco and Egypt. Because I am a straight-passing bisexual woman traveling either alone or with friends, their anti-gay laws didn't directly impact me. However, as a woman, both countries presented unique situations in terms of my interactions with local men (wearing a full head scarf helped minimize the comments from some local men). I've been to Morocco twice and felt notably safer and more welcome there than in Egypt. On the other hand, Egypt felt less receptive to my gender, let alone my sexual orientation, which I could easily hide (a privilege).

Honestly, there are parts of the U.S. that I would not travel to (West Virginia, parts of Texas, regions of the South) over other parts of the world. At least with another region of the world, there is an entire culture, political landscape, and perhaps even a rigid religious or century-long system in place that is informing their view of the LGBTQ+ community. In the U.S., I give a lot less leeway or room for this kind of intolerance.

Anonymous, 28, New York, New York

I've traveled to countries with anti-LGBTQ+ laws, including the U.A.E. (many times), Indonesia, and Morocco. I feel safer traveling to U.A.E. than, say, Yemen, solely based on a country's diplomatic relations with the U.S. I do a lot of research in advance. Even in extremely Western, LGBT+-proud countries like France, I often utilize rental sites like misterbandb (over Airbnb, VRBO) to match with LGBT+-friendly hosts. I haven't felt unsafe in the countries mentioned here, but I purposely don't seek out gay life/activities when traveling to these destinations. I'm more interested in learning about their cultures and experiences—I don't blame the citizens for their government's (often religious-based) laws. I've found that the citizens on the ground are a lot more tolerant than what the government mandates. For example, one time in Dubai, I checked into a hotel with a straight male friend. Without batting an eye, the hotel concierge asked us if we'd like one bed to share or two—despite the country's official stance and criminalization of same-sex relationships.

Anonymous, 36, Canada

I don't want to support economies that suppress or criminalize my fellow queer people, but I also know that not all governments represent the will of their people. It's complicated. I consider a country's laws before booking, but as part of researching what a place is like and what to do there. I was in Trinidad before it changed its law, as well as Singapore. As a bi, cis, fairly femme woman, I felt pretty safe, but I did change my behavior to ensure I didn't hold my partner's hand or show any public affection. In particular, in Singapore, it was a shift from the way we had freely held hands for months in Thailand. But I've had many similar experiences in parts of the U.S., even within the same state.

Anonymous

When traveling to places (be they countries or regions) that are more conservative, of course, my behavior as a bisexual and trans male traveler changes. I tone down certain aspects of myself, I make sure not to get caught doing certain behaviors, and I'm more careful about who's around me when I'm not out in a group of like-minded friends.

When it comes to countries that are openly anti-LGTBQ+, I avoid them outright. But it's the more subtly discriminatory places that sometimes bite a traveler in the ass with their policies, if not laws. I have, unfortunately, ruled out significant parts of the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe due to historical and recent discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. And while I will continue to travel within the U.S., unfortunately, a great many states have similar anti-LGTBQ+ (or specifically, anti-trans laws) that don't exactly differentiate them from countries with worse reputations.

Anonymous, 57, New York, New York

I prefer not to visit countries that criminalize LGBTQ+ people. I know how it feels to be discriminated against due to sexual orientation and prefer not to subject myself to those situations. I also prefer not to support their economy with my tourism dollars, preferring to visit destinations where I feel welcomed and comfortable. I have been to a country with anti-LBTQ+ laws—it made me feel very uneasy, and I couldn’t fully relax. Which was a pity because the country I visited was beautiful. As an American, I am used to having certain rights—including the right to be oneself—that I feel should be basic human rights. Therefore, it is really hard to want to visit a place where I would not feel secure.

Colleen, 43, New York City Metro Area

My oldest adult child is nonbinary, and I will not go somewhere where they would feel unsafe or unwanted. There are so many other welcoming places to go in the world. While I haven't researched a country's laws since my child came out as nonbinary, I will be doing this before booking our next trip.

Adam, 36, New York, New York

I have been to Jamaica and had to stay there to board a cruise around Cuba, but I definitely had reservations. We opted to stay at an American hotel chain—Hilton—to ensure we wouldn't run into trouble checking into a room with only a single King bed. I'm generally hesitant to visit countries with anti-LGBTQ+ laws (and I don't want to get my heart set on a place or change plans if I find out later the country isn't hospitable), but I might consider Morocco if going with a large group and renting our own house.

Colin, 27, Brooklyn, New York

I'm open to traveling to countries that criminalize same-sex relationships or limit gender expression. I assume that being a white tourist would be some form of protection, though I may be naive or wrong to think that. But I personally don't think my safety would be at risk if I traveled on the DL (e.g., avoided gay bars, coded clothing, PDA)

I looked up attitudes toward homosexuality before booking a trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. I was pretty sure that things were open in Thailand, but I knew less about Cambodia and Vietnam before booking. None of them criminalize homosexuality, but I think it wouldn't have impacted my decision to go, even if they did.

There aren't any countries that I wouldn't visit on account of their anti-LGBTQ+ laws. I'm very interested in visiting Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Malaysia, and Indonesia despite their laws. I would definitely adjust my behavior on a trip to any of those places and steer clear of risky situations.

Donna, 66, Florence, South Carolina

I am not gay, but my daughter is. In solidarity with her, I try not to go to places I think she would be unwelcome. I would rather not spend my money in a country that does not share my values or discriminates against people in any way.

Anonymous, 70, California

I look up LGBTQ+ laws in countries before traveling there, and I have traveled to countries with anti-LGBTQ+ laws. I felt safe. I found large LGBTQ+ populations in each country. LGBTQ+ individuals asked for ways to pressure their governments to stop discrimination. I will travel again to Indonesia for special and particular reasons. I avoid other anti-LGBTQ+ countries as a rule.

Cait, 34, New York City Metro Area

My wife and I have traveled to places where it is notably not gay-friendly. I usually look up the laws before and make sure there are areas that we will safe staying in. We specifically looked for accommodations stamped by the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association and were TAG-approved. Or, we travel with straight friends. I am a more masculine-presenting female, and my wife is feminine, so with me, we are notably a queer couple. But on past trips, we've kept PDA to basically zero whenever we were not at our LGBTQ+-friendly resorts or locations. I am afraid of traveling to many countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Russia, but we will likely travel to the Caribbean again even though I know many aren't friendly.

Robert, 55, Seattle, Washington

I went to Moscow in the spring of 2014 for an international bartending competition. Russia had just invaded Ukraine, members of the band Pussy Riot had just gotten out of jail, and Putin was cracking down hard on LGBTQ+ people. Three of the press members from the U.S. were gay (two were a couple) and were keeping the rest of us updated as we approached the travel date. Not only would they have to keep a low profile, but we would have to be careful about what we said around and about them as well. The couple had to make sure they secured separate rooms. The other guy had planned to wear a rainbow belt as a mini-protest, but I think I opted out. Obviously, public displays of affection were off-limits. I could tell one of the guys would kind of tense up when we were around the Russian Special Police Forces (who, ironically, have a big "OMOH" logo on the backs of their jackets).

I personally never felt unsafe, but I'm sure they did in ways that they hadn't had to spend much time worrying about most of the time in N.Y.C. and San Francisco for many years (though all three traveled a lot, so this was probably less unique for them than for me). But the fact it was always a shadow, a specter, in ways that were different from any other safety/security concerns being in the country (generally we felt very safe and comfortable roaming the city), was a huge reminder and throwback to me to growing up as a kid in Idaho in the 1980s, watching friends tormented for being gay, having another friend take his own life because (in part) he could no longer handle the anguish of being in the closet. Sometimes people get comfortable that, even with all the police brutality and racism/sexism/homophobia that happens here in the U.S., we still, for the most part, are comfortable raising our voices. But, unfortunately, in so many parts of the world, we still can't, and people have to live with that every day.

Melanie, 32, New York, New York

I have been to Morocco and considered moving there for a job—but I did not feel safe and hid the fact that I date women rather than men. In the past, I've looked up the laws in advance because I don't want to be killed or imprisoned at worst, let alone stressed on vacation. For the time being, I generally avoid countries with anti-LGBTQ+ laws. I feel that I wouldn't be able to relax, and I'd have to plan around going by myself or with friends instead of with a partner. I don't want to interact with those countries and feed their tourism as if they haven't violated their moral contract with me, but I wish I could go and experience them.

Joetta, 45, New York, New York

I'm not LGBTQ+, so the laws do not impact me, but I don't feel good about my tourism dollars supporting governments who criminalize LGBTQ+ populations. I am sure I have traveled to these countries, whether for work or pleasure, but I'm not actually sure which ones.

While I haven't looked up a country's laws before planning a trip, it would be good to have that context. I know I have assumptions about which countries criminalize homosexuality, but there are likely many others I'm not aware of because I'm stereotyping. In general, the ones I'm acutely aware of are also very anti-female, and I'd hesitate to travel there (e.g., Saudi Arabia).

Leiford

I won't travel if I know of such policies. Not knowingly. In fact, I do the opposite and seek out LGBTQ+ friendly places to go. I read a lot of news, so I am familiar with places that get a lot of attention for their anti-LGBTQ+ policies. I also have "generally" researched LGBTQ+ friendly travel locations without booking a specific destination. I definitely won't go to Russia, Poland, Hungary, most of Africa, and Uganda, in particular.

N, 37, Madison, Wisconsin

I travel to countries with anti-LGBTQ+ laws with my wife—I am open to any place that I'm interested in visiting. But I'm very cautious. We're not openly affectionate and do not mention our relationship when talking with locals until we know their position.

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