What to Know About Traveling While Queer

Matthew's Place
Sep 29, 2021 · 4 min read

by Judy Bokao

It is an irrefutable reality that LGBTQ+ individuals face unique, and to some extent harsh, challenges when it comes to traveling. LGBTQ+ travelers have to think twice before letting their wanderlust quest get the best of them and have the additional stress of navigating prejudice while traveling safely. With homosexuality criminalized in over 70 countries across the world, LGBTQ+ travelers are prone to intimidation, discrimination, harassment, physical violence, and imprisonment.

It is imperative for queer travelers to exhaustively research a country’s laws on homosexuality before making a decision on whether it is safe to embark on a journey or not. Each country has an intricate legal landscape that changes over time. It is important to note that some countries may have criminalized homosexuality but don’t necessarily enforce the law. There are also other countries that have recently decriminalized homosexuality but are yet to implement any protections against discrimination. This is something every queer traveler should familiarize themselves with ahead of any trip.

In order to reduce the risk of hate crimes, systemic discrimination, and legal repercussions, LGBTQ+ travelers need to be aware of the social and cultural attitudes of a destination. This will help them mitigate the risks of violent attacks and they need to do this even in destinations considered LGBTQ+ friendly. In countries that are progressive like America, discrimination and violence remain pressing issues for the queer community. It is sometimes easier to change new laws than it is to change cultural and social attitudes. Queer travelers need to keep in mind that local social groups may have harsh anti-LGBTQ beliefs. There have been cases where locals have attacked LGBTQ+ travelers while local police refuse to help.

If one is traveling to such destinations, LGBTQ+ travelers may need to prepare to censor themselves and be aware of the risks at all times. Displaying public affection or doing what local officials could consider sexual acts openly could be extremely dangerous. Ubiquitous cultural attitudes can influence the actions of law enforcement and government officials. Violating local laws is not a legally defensible position, and foreign authorities may not be able to intercede for the LGBTQ+ traveler.

Access to healthcare is another concern that queer travelers need to factor in before choosing a destination. Some countries are not aware of specific LGBTQ+ health needs. This especially applies to transgender travelers, who should read up on the country and their access to any medications, supplies, or services they might need. They should also check if they will need any additional documentation to travel with medication or supplies. In the back of their mind, they should also note that there is a possibility they might be denied healthcare should a medical emergency arise.

The transgender community face even bigger hurdles when it comes to traveling. For transgender people, safety when traveling is a top priority because they are more likely to suffer violent attacks. From the beginning of the trip, they can have challenges including invasive TSA checkpoints, which can be agonizing. The body scanner has been particularly problematic and if anomalies are detected, the traveler requires additional screening. This at times can be dangerous and embarrassing. The scrutiny they face at border crossings can also lead to them being outed at the new destination and heighten the likelihood of transphobic attacks. It is a shame that the travel industry has done little to be more transgender inclusive.

Having to hide your sexual orientation and be on guard 24/7 can also take a toll on the queer travelers mental health. It is a stressful experience particularly for publicly-out LGBTQ+ individuals who may feel traumatized by being closeted again. If this will be a triggering experience, it is advisable to prepare mentally ahead of the trip or choose another destination.

Depending on the location, the level of the threats change. Queer travelers need to take a more adaptable and subtle approach to their security and planning. It is crucial to remember travelers in any location are bound by that country’s laws and are not offered special protections even if the law does not exist in their own country. Luckily, the world is opening up and is more accepting of homosexuality with different countries passing LGBTQ+ protection laws. LGBTQ+ travelers need to make informed decisions and speak up more on their experiences to advocate for the changes they want to see in the travel industry.

About the Author:

Judy Bokao is 20 years old and was born in Ethiopia but relocated to Nairobi two years ago. She is passionate about everyone having equal rights and is also big on conservation and speaking up for our planet. Judy loves reading and photography and is just a free-spirited young lady trying to grow into a woman her mom can be proud of.

Matthew’s Place

Matthew’s Place