Depending on destination and culture, LGBTQIA+ travelers may encounter unique challenges while in transit and abroad, including harassment, intimidation, discrimination, barriers to medical and law enforcement assistance, incarceration, and physical violence. Before you leave, do your research and meet with the Travel Security Team. The criteria and resources below can help you think through potential challenges and risk mitigation strategies before traveling.
Laws governing gender identity and same-sex relations vary widely across countries, often in contradictory ways that are different from the United States and California; it's imperative that you research the legal protections, if any, available to the LGBTQIA+ community. Keep in mind that laws change, and many countries have complex legal landscapes. These legal landscapes can be de jure, codified and/or recognized by the law, or de facto, recognized by extrajudicial means such as extrajudicial cultural or societal enforcement. For example, some countries have laws criminalizing homosexuality that, even if rarely enforced, can cause harm to LGBTQIA+ persons. While other countries have decriminalized homosexuality, their governments may have yet to implement any protections against discrimination.
- Equaldex is a crowd-sourced knowledge base of LGBT rights by country and region.
- The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA) publishes an annual world report and a map on legislation that criminalizes or protects people on the basis of their sexual orientation or recognizing their relationships.
- Human Rights Watch (https://www.hrw.org/topic/lgbt-rights) Human Rights Watch’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Division combats violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity worldwide, and campaigns for effective legal and constitutional protections.
- LGBTQ Guide to Travel Safety: https://www.manaboutworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/LGBTQ-Guide-to-Travel-Safety.pdf
Research Cultural Attitudes
Discrimination and violence remain serious issues for the LGBTQIA+ community, even in countries that have legalized same-sex marriage or protect against discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity.
- The Global Divide on Homosexuality, a report from the Pew Research Center, highlights 39 countries' cultural attitudes toward homosexuality.
Identify Safe Spaces
Pervasive cultural attitudes can impact the actions of law enforcement and government officials. Review reports of official mistreatment and discrimination in your destination country so that you can identify safe spaces to seek emergency assistance.
- OutRight Action International, formerly known as the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), provides reports of human rights violations specific to LGBTQ+ communities.
- Amnesty International publishes a report on the state of the world's human rights.
- The U.S. State Department publishes annual human rights reports, which include acts of violence and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Take Care of Your Physical and Mental Health Abroad
Health care providers may not be aware of specific LGBTQIA+ health needs. You may also face discriminatory practices if you come out to a local health care professional. If you plan on being sexually active while abroad, make sure that you’ll have access to contraception and can take preventative measures to protect against sexually-transmitted infections or diseases. Not being able to authentically express your gender or sexual identities—or facing harassment because of it—may cause stress and anxiety. Be mindful of your mental health and seek the assistance of a professional, if needed.
- UC Davis Student Health and Counseling Services has resources specifically for the LGBTQ+ community. While abroad, you can speak to medical and mental health providers at any time through AXA Assistance, our 24/7 global emergency program.
Reducing Your Risk of Becoming a Victim of a Hate Crime
Below are recommendations for reducing the risk of becoming a victim of an anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime, being harassed by the government, or being discriminated against by the local population. This risk mitigation advice is organized by overall threat category; however, the following applies to all levels of risk. If you’re having difficulty determining if the country you are traveling to is higher risk please contact the Travel Security Team.
- Understand local expressions and words that may indicate a derogatory view of LGBTQIA+ individuals.
- Do not accept drinks, cigarettes, or chewing gum from strangers.
- Reports have shown that some assailants taint these products with drugs.
- Be mindful of local cultural norms most intolerant countries have very conservative societies. This could include conservative dress codes or other societal norms.
- If you are a transgender traveler, consider having your passport and identification changed to reflect your new gender before traveling to avoid confusion or problems.
- Remember that visitors to a country are bound by the laws of that country. They cannot expect to be released from a foreign country's prison by officials of their home country. Home country consulates will be able to give only limited assistance to their citizens who are imprisoned. In some countries, the burden of proof rests on the accused, not the prosecutor.
Extreme Threat Environment
Locations where being LGBTQ is illegal, enforcement of anti-LGBTQ laws is widespread, public tolerance toward LGBTQ individuals is low, and LGBTQ individuals face punishment ranging from fines to imprisonment
- If asked, avoid discussing sexual orientation.
- Do not engage anyone in conversations about sexuality or LGBTQIA+ issues.
- Do not publicly display affection under any circumstances.
- Do not engage in any behaviors that may draw unwanted attention.
- If harassed by police or any authority figures, immediately contact your diplomatic mission.
- Avoid using the words "gay," "lesbian," "sex," or other sexually related or suggestive terms while using the internet, writing emails, or texting.
- Do not use the internet to meet members of the LGBTQ+ community while in extreme risk countries.
High Threat Environment
Locations where being LGBTQ may or may not be illegal, enforcement of anti-LGBTQ laws may be inconsistent, and social disapproval may vary, but the overall threat to safety is high
- Be careful of cultural bias when assessing acceptance. Do not assume to understand mannerisms, unless you are familiar with the culture. For example, hand-holding between men is common in many cultures and meant as a gesture of friendship, not sexual attraction. Other behaviors that may appear to be romantically intimate may in fact be purely platonic.
- Avoid all LGBTQIA+ Pride events and festivals.
- If caught in a potentially violent situation, immediately seek shelter in upscale hotels or large public buildings, such as libraries, theaters, hospitals, or museums.
- Use extreme caution if engaging others in conversations about sexuality or LGBTQIA+ issues. Only do so with well-vetted acquaintances in safe locations.
- Do not visit local LGBTQIA+ bars or clubs.
Moderate Threat Environment
Locations where laws against LGBTQ conduct either don't exist or are not enforced and social attitudes may vary, but LGBTQ individuals have few, if any, protections
- Exercise caution during LGBTQIA+ Pride events and festivals.
- Evaluate the city and surrounding neighborhood for prevailing social attitudes before deciding on what public behavior is appropriate. This is particularly true for travel in countries with mixed records on tolerance.
- Use caution if engaging others in conversations about sexuality or LGBTQIA+ issues.
- Avoid public displays of affection and use caution if visiting local LGBTQIA+ bars or clubs.