Rainbow balloon arch in downtown NYC.

Throughout the years, the LGBTQ community has overcome countless milestones such as the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011 and the lift of the ban on transgender people serving openly in the military in 2016. However, even though some societies are becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ community, there are still many cultures across the globe that are intolerant. Here are tips on how to determine whether or not a vacation destination is LGBTQ-friendly. 

Steps to Take Before Traveling

It’s important to put these general travel tips into action prior to leaving for vacation. This will help to ensure safety amongst travelers, and better prepare them for what may come. 

Update Your Passport

A passport is a travel document that is issued by the government to individuals that shows proof of their nationality and identity. To prevent any complications, travelers who have transitioned will want to update their passport to accurately reflect their current gender, and if applicable, their new name. 

In order to begin the process, the traveler will want to obtain a change of sex marker, a medical certification that indicates someone has had the appropriate clinical treatment (determined by a physician) for the transition from male to female, or female to male, or are in the process of transitioning. 

Passports are valid for different lengths of time depending on what stage an individual is in during the transition process. If they have completed the transition, passport validity varies from 5 years to 10 years, depending on the traveler’s age. However, if they are still in the process of transitioning, the passport will only be valid for 2 years. 

In addition to the regularly required documents, obtain the following when updating a passport:

  • Form DS-11, unless replacing a limited-validity passport with your new sex within two years of the date it was issued. 
  • An ID that resembles your current appearance. 
  • A new passport photo that resembles your current appearance. 
  • Medical certification for proof of appropriate clinical treatment. 
  • If applicable, proof of legal name change. 

Create Duplicates of All Travel Documents

When planning a vacation, especially internationally, travelers will want to make sure they have all the documents they’ll need. In fact, they will want to create duplicates of each and may even consider leaving an extra copy with a loved one back at home for additional security. 

By creating duplicates of travel documents, it ensures that you won’t leave without them, and will even have a backup copy just in case something happens to the original. These documents may include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Passport/Passport Card;
  • Government Issued Photo ID;
  • Travel Visa;
  • Medication Documents;
  • Custody Documents (if traveling with minors);
  • International Driving Permit. 

A non-official, yet vital piece of information that would be a good idea to duplicate as well, is the trip itinerary. By giving a trusted friend or family member a copy of the itinerary, it will show them what time you’re supposed to land, allowing them to know when you’ve made it safe, or if you haven’t yet arrived.

Pack Other Vital Information to Bring With You

It’s important to be aware of the different forms of documentation that is needed when traveling abroad, especially when going to places that have different legal rights and laws. Aside from the forms of the documentation listed previously, LGBTQ travelers will want to bring:

  • Directions and Contact Information to Your Country’s Nearest Embassy: Finding your country’s embassy location can help you get back home in a state of emergency. Some countries, like the United States, have free travelers programs that people can sign up for to help them travel smarter and safer. 
  • Emergency Contact Information (family, friends, physicians, lawyers): By having contacts, people are able to reach out to them in case of an emergency. Write/type them and keep a copy on your person somewhere, an extra copy in your suitcase, and a third copy with a trusted family member or friend back home.
  • Legal or Health Documents (ex: living will): Having documentation of legal and health files can help determine what to do in case the traveler isn’t able to make decisions on their own. 
  • Travelers Insurance Documentation: Travelers may become more susceptible to illnesses and accidents when traveling to a foreign land. Travel insurance provides a large range of benefits. For example, financial recovery for medical expenses, medical evacuation, protection against trip cancellations, legal expenses, and dental expenses. 

Is Your Travel Destination LGBTQ-Friendly?

Once the proper documentation has been obtained, the traveler will want to research potential vacation destinations that are LGBTQ-friendly, prior to finalizing any plans. Booking a vacation to a resort can be a safer option for travelers uncertain about local attitudes.

Research the Area’s Laws

A good place to start in the research process is figuring out the different countries that criminalize LGBTQ people. For instance, there are:

  • 72 jurisdictions that criminalize private and consensual same-sex sexual activity;
  • 44 jurisdictions criminalize private and consensual sexual activity between women using laws against lesbians and bisexual women;
  • 12 jurisdictions prescribe the death penalty for those who engage in same-sex sexual activity;
  • 15 jurisdictions criminalize the transgender and cross-dressing communities with a range of laws. 

How Are LGBTQ People Treated There?

The way people who are LGBTQ are treated depends on the country. Some are more accepting of the community, where others aren’t so much. Prior to planning a vacation, research the country and its laws on sexual orientation and gender identity. By doing so, it will help the traveler to better prepare for what’s to come.

Take Cuba for example: Mariela Castro, Director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education in Havana and the daughter of Raul Castro, Leader of Cuba, is a well-known activist for the LGBTQ rights. Because of this, booking a resort in Cuba has become more popular within the LGBTQ community.

Tips for Safe Travels

Planning a safe vacation doesn’t stop once the location has been determined, in fact, that is just the beginning. Below are tips for LGBTQ travelers on how to maintain safety throughout the entire trip. 

Be Aware of Potential Entrapment Campaigns

Of course, being aware of the country’s laws can help the traveler to avoid legal troubles, but being aware of ongoing entrapment campaigns is just as important. Entrapment happens when a police officer coerces someone into committing a crime. Unfortunately, in countries where same-sex sexual activities are punished, entrapment can be common.

Take Egypt for example. Gay and transgender Egyptians are harassed, entrapped, and driven underground due to the return of the military rule. “There was no deliberate campaign of arrest and monitoring,” says Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Researcher, Dalia Abdel Hameed. “But now the police are going out of their way to arrest gay men and trans women.”

Exercise Caution Around LGBTQ Neighborhoods

LGBTQ neighborhoods, also known as gay villages, are geographical areas with generally recognized boundaries. These neighborhoods will oftentimes consist of more than just housing. They may also include bars, restaurants, and shops too. Some of the most famous gay villages are:

  • Canal Street in Manchester, England;
  • Chueca in Madrid, Spain;
  • Dupont Circle in Washington D.C., USA;
  • Green Point in Cape Town, South Africa;
  • Greenwich Village in New York City, USA;
  • Newtown in Sydney, Australia;
  • Schoneberg in Berlin, Germany;
  • Zona Rosa in Mexico City, Mexico.

When Needed, Seek Help

If it comes down to it, don’t be afraid to seek help from your country’s nearest embassy. You can find your country’s embassy information by visiting Project Visa

gay travel

Photo by Marco Verch / License

No vacation is worth compromising your safety. With the proper research, a vacation can be safe and fun for everyone.