In light of the approaching summer holiday, Alice Layton discusses some of the dangers and misconceptions about LGBT attitudes abroad.
A good friend of mine recently announced that she had purchased a “Some people are gay. Get over it” t-shirt and was planning on wearing it on the streets of Turkey to test the public’s reaction. Understandably, I was a bit concerned – I quite like my friends, and would rather they remain safe and happy if possible. Having visited Istanbul myself and fallen in love with the city, I figured she would probably be fine when she was out and about – it was the potential encounters on nights out when alcohol was involved that worried me. Homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey, however many areas are socially conservative and openly exhibiting your sexual preferences risks receiving unwanted attention. My friend’s actions were intended as a symbol of defiance and I admired her courage, but personal safety should remain a priority over principles – especially when you’re on holiday looking for a good time.
In terms of LGBT rights, progress has been made in leaps and bounds over the past decade, both in terms of legal rights and social attitudes. However, there is still a long way to go and particular caution needs to be taken when visiting certain countries. The idea that British nationals should have to hide their sexualities while on holiday is ridiculous, yet for the time being, in some places it is a sad reality.
Popular holiday destinations worth being aware of include Russia, Jamaica, India, and many Middle Eastern and African countries. Attitudes towards LGBT in Jamaica are hostile, and certain laws have criminalised homosexual acts; it’s important to remember that being a British national doesn’t give you a get-out-of-jail-free card.
In a saddening backwards-step, India’s Supreme Court actually re-criminalised homosexuality in 2013; although prosecutions are rare, if you are convicted then you face a jail sentence. Having said this, attitudes in cities like Delhi and Mumbai are generally quite cosmopolitan – on a recent trip to both cities, I observed me walking down the street openly holding hands. The law still stands however, and as a tourist it simply isn’t worth the risk.
It goes without saying that extreme care must be taken in countries where being gay or transgender is criminalised, however homophobia and narrow-minded attitudes can be observed in other countries too so members of the LGBT community have to be careful and responsible.
Progress continues to be made on the international level, and I like to think it isn’t unrealistic to imagine a world in which individuals will be able to live and travel freely and openly, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. For the time being, however, the best thing individuals can do is take certain precautions to ensure that people’s prejudice doesn’t ruin what should be a great trip, wherever it may be. Being a responsible tourist, avoiding risky situations and confrontations is the best way to go. You’re more likely to experience trouble in rural areas, so exercise discretion here.
Be wary of new-found “friends”, as criminals sometimes exploit the generally open and relaxed nature of the LGBT scene. Most importantly, remember that you are subject to the laws and the judicial process of the country you’re visiting. If you’re not sure what these laws and processes are, the FCO’s travel pages are a good place to start; the FCO’s Twitter page is also great for providing regular useful updates.
The future does look bright for LGBT rights across the world – many countries have recently confirmed they will recognise UK marriages of same-sex couples and civil partnerships, including Canada, Denmark, France, Argentina, Finland, Germany, and New Zealand.
Others now permit UK consulates overseas to carry out services of marriage locally, and these services are beginning to be publicised on social media and in local media. However at present, in many countries people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender continue to experience discrimination and intolerance, meaning LGBT travellers must take caution.
In an ideal world this article would not be needed. Travelling the world would be safe for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Unfortunately, these tips might be useful and could even save someone from some unpleasant or even dangerous situations.