While it’s clear that attitudes to the LGBT community in this country still have a long way to go, there are plenty of other parts of the world that make the US a shining light of equality and enlightenment. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are treated differently in pretty much every country, so traveling the world can often cause problems when it comes to keeping healthy and safe.
With this in mind, we thought we would break down some of the issues you might face while traveling, and give you some advice to ensure that you not only enjoy your trip away, but you also get home safe, sound, and in robust health. Let’s get started with some of the basics.
It all starts with research…
You could write several theses of material on the different attitudes towards the LGBT community, as they vary so significantly – not just from region to region, but also from country to country. But here are some of the stark facts: homosexuality is punishable by death in eight countries at the moment. And same-sex relationships are criminalized in a further 72 countries, 45 of which have outlawed sexual relationships between women, too.
But that’s not all you need to know. While there are plenty of countries that recognize the LGBT community and grant them a certain amount of rights, it’s not the whole story. In many countries around the world, we are still in the early days of progress, and social acceptance of the local population is not at the level you might expect. Just like in the US, there is a sense of intolerance in many areas of the world, and it’s important to do your research before booking a trip abroad.
There are a few places you can start looking, however. Plenty of guidebooks offer valuable information, many of which specialize in LGBT travel matters. And the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association website has a great interactive map where you can see the most dangerous parts of the world for LGBT travelers.
You should also check out discussion forums online, where you will find plenty of good advice from seasoned travelers who can give you a ground view of traveling in any given country. And finally, make sure that you check with your local tour operator, who might have a good idea of where you can go that will be safe for the duration of your trip.
Planning for your health
Once you have decided on your destination, make sure that you visit your doctor well in advance. Your physician will talk you through the health implications of any given country and can provide you with any immunizations that are necessary, or that you need to make you up-to-date. Feel free to take notes – some of the diseases in foreign countries can be complicated, and it’s a good idea to jot down any advice on preventing disease in a language you can understand.
Be sure to check out the CDC travel website, too. Not only will it confirm what your doctor is telling you and give you the opportunity to print off vital information, but you will also see if there are any particular flare-ups in a particular part of the world. It also gives you key info in general health and safety advice on diseases like malaria, water safety, and rabies – all of which can be an issue in many parts of the world. If you intend to travel to a developing region, it is vital that you educate yourself and get your immunizations at least a couple of months before you leave.
Insurance for LGBT travelers
Make sure you are properly covered for traveling by your health insurance. Read the small print – because many countries are still hostile towards the LGBT community, you may not be covered correctly if you travel there. You may have cover for standard travel – even Medicare Plan F covers that, for example – but you must make sure that you are covered for almost every event you can imagine. At the very least, you should have Evacuation and Repatriation Coverage, which will help you get home in the event you become ill or injured in a country that doesn’t offer adequate health care.
You have to understand that this isn’t medical coverage per se – it just gives you the necessary transportation to the nearest acceptable hospital that can treat your illness or injury. Let’s say you are enjoying yourself on a cruise ship, and get a case of something like appendicitis. You will need a Medivac to get you to a hospital – and short of people like Bill Gates, few could afford the tens of thousands of dollars it would cost to get you to safety without the right insurance coverage.
Another important point to remember about traveling is that there are still some countries that have HIV-related travel restrictions. This isn’t the place to debate the rights and wrongs of such policies, but the simple truth is that there are a few places that ban anyone with HIV, and a larger number that restricts entry – even for short-term stays. The Middle East makes up the bulk of those countries, but you will also experience problems when traveling to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Sudan/South Sudan at the time of writing.
However, depending on when you travel, some of these restrictions may have changed, so always check with the relevant authorities. And also, bear in mind that if you plan on traveling to a certain place for a long-term stay, you will need to check what policies affect people living with HIV if you are your traveling companion is living with the condition.
Mental health issues
OK, so the world is an enormous place, and there are many places you might want to go to. But, as we mentioned above, it can be a dangerous place for members of the LGBT community. And while you can – technically – travel anywhere you like, as long as you are careful, of course, don’t underestimate the sheer weight of strain that can arise from being in an anti-LGBT country. Whether you are traveling, vacationing, or studying abroad, it’s important to be mindful of your mental health. In a country where your sexuality is actually illegal, you will have few people to turn to, and you have big decisions to make about how open you are.
According to research, pretty much 100 percent of LGBT couples state that they don’t show any affection at all while traveling abroad, and when you feel like you are hiding your true self from others, it can be an incredibly stressful experience. And, of course, stress is a lot more serious than a lot of people recognize. Not only can it have mental health implications, but it can also result in severe physical conditions like heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure.
But what happens if you are carefree, and focus instead on reducing your stress levels and act in a way you normally would at home? Well, a lot of the same-sex couples from the report make it clear that they have suffered from threats of physical violence. Clearly, there is a delicate balance to strike, so a thorough knowledge of the local attitudes to the LGBT community is essential if you want to protect both your physical and mental health.
General health tips
As most people in the LGBT community understand, research suggests that LGBT individuals face large health disparities which are linked to all kinds of things. Social stigma, discrimination, denial of human and civil rights – all of it has an impact in this country, let alone where more archaic attitudes exist. It’s vital to understand that in many other countries in the world, it won’t be any easier, and is actually likely to be a whole lot more difficult to deal with.
Sexual health is also a big issue. No matter where you are in the world, you must ensure that you have the right protections easily at hand. Given that HIV is more prevalent in some groups within the LGBT community, you are dicing with enormous health problems if you don’t protect yourself. The reality is that STDs of all descriptions can be rife in this country, but the problems are far worse elsewhere.
Finally, don’t forget about your general health requirements before traveling. You may need to arrange a bulk purchase of prescription medicine, for example, to keep you going for the entire duration of your trip.
It is possible for members of the LGBT community to stay safe and healthy throughout their trip away, no matter where they go in the world. However, it is vital to remember that depending on your destination, it can be a lot more complicated than just turning up and having a good time being yourself. And also, that hiding your true instincts and sexuality can be difficult, especially if you are going abroad for a long-term experience. Avoiding the threat of violence can be difficult on the mind when you are at it for 24/7/365 – so make sure you are taking as much care of your mental state as you are your physical condition.