Travelling Safely: LGBTQ+ Rights Abroad

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Following international condemnation, protests and boycotts this year, the East Asian state of Brunei announced that it would not enforce the death penalty for gay sex. Brunei is not an isolated example of a country brutally cracking down on LGBTQ+ rights, as there are at least 68 other countries that criminalise consensual same-sex relationships. Even in countries where same-sex relationships are technically legal, LGBTQ+ people can face state-sponsored persecution.

I recommend that you research which countries have the best record regarding LGBTQ+ and other human rights if you are deciding upon a holiday destination. Also, within each country, tolerance of LGBTQ+ people can vary widely, with rural areas usually being less accepting. The UK Foreign Office has a ‘local laws and customs’ section for each country on its travel advice website which briefly explains the hostilities that LGBTQ+ people face in that location. Equaldex‘s crowd sourced website is more comprehensive, with timelines and the status of various LGBTQ+ laws in each country.

Your safety is paramount, and to ensure this the UK Foreign Office advises LGBTQ+ people to refrain from public displays of affection. Sadly, even in the UK, two-thirds of LGBTQ+ people avoid holding hands in public as they fear a negative response. Where there are visible LGBTQ+ communities such as bars, clubs and Pride festivals, support them and embrace them as a space where you can truly be yourself. If you can, book accommodation that is explicitly LGBTQ+ inclusive or part of a well-known chain to avoid discriminatory treatment by the owners. This is especially important if you are travelling with a partner of the same sex.

Whichever country you visit, exercise caution on location-based hook-up or dating apps such as Grindr or Tinder. Be careful which personal details you disclose and which strangers you meet. Vigilantes in Russia, alongside police forces in Egypt, are amongst those that have entrapped Grindr users, to arrest, attack or sexually assault them. Earlier this year, to improve the safety of its LGBTQ+ users, with help from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) Tinder introduced a ‘Traveller Alert’. This safety feature automatically hides users in any location that is potentially dangerous to LGBTQ+ people, unless they choose to be shown.

Transgender people also have to overcome extra stress and bureaucratic hurdles in preparation for travelling abroad. To secure a passport that reflects a transgender person’s gender identity, the UK Government guide to passports outlines that they must either submit:

  • your full birth or adoption certificate in your birth gender
  • any other documents outlined in the guidance booklet
  • one of the following:
  • a Gender Recognition Certificate
  • a letter from your doctor or medical consultant confirming that your change of gender is
    likely to be permanent, and evidence of your change of name such as a deed poll.’

Furthermore, there are many instances of transgender people facing discriminatory and traumatic experiences at airport security. In 2017 at a Florida airport, Olivia, a transwoman, was pulled aside when a full-body scanner highlighted her groin area. She was not allowed on to the plane until she was patted down, then forced to remove her underwear, to prove that she was not carrying an explosive device. This sickening violation of transgender rights at airport security is shockingly not an isolated incident.

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Politics Editor 2019/20 Studying Politics & International Relations

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