The first time I went to Italy with my male partner in the late ’90s, I wasn’t sure about the reaction we’d get when we requested a matrimonio (double room) at a pensione. Fortunately, we never had a negative encounter at check-in, but those moments caused some minor agita since Italy offered few, if any, LGBTQ rights at the time.
With the advent of marriage equality and civil unions in most European Union (EU) countries and other societal changes, it’s a much smoother experience to travel to my ancestral homeland and other tradition-minded destinations. In the US, travel for LGBTQ people over the past few decades has also gotten easier as marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws have become the norm. There’s even a whole travel category that caters to same-sex parents and their children.
Still, anti-LGBTQ discrimination and even violence in many parts of the world are all too common. Nearly 70 countries have criminalized same-sex relations, according to the Human Rights Campaign. This means LGBTQ travelers still need to do some research before heading for parts lesser known. Here are some tips for traveling while gay.
DO YOUR DESTINATION HOMEWORK
If you’re thinking of visiting a place where you’re unsure of your welcome, check the US Department of State website (state.gov/travelers) for LGBTQ-specific advisories. (Some countries may not allow transgender people to enter if their gender presentation doesn’t match their identification.) If you do decide to go to a place with an advisory, it’s wise to identify resources for an emergency, like a US embassy or consulate, or a local LGBTQ community center or advocacy group.
DON'T ASSUME A PLACE WILL WELCOME YOU
While most places continue to evolve in an LGBTQ-friendly way—think Mexico and parts of heavily Catholic South America where marriage equality is now the law—the rainbow welcome mat is subject to change. I visited Moscow in the early 2000s for a friend’s wedding as it was becoming a more cosmopolitan place and felt comfortable. But I would probably not return, given the recent passage of a law that prohibits anyone from promoting same-sex relationships or saying that orientations other than heterosexuality are “normal.”
CHOOSE YOUR HOME AWAY WITH CARE
Major hotel chains typically have LGBTQ-friendly or nondiscrimination policies, but the same may not be true for apartment rental services or individually owned hotels, resorts or bed-and-breakfasts. Be open about yourself, and don’t book if you sense any hesitation from a reservation agent or owner, or if they ask inappropriate questions about you, your spouse or your traveling companions.
WEIGH LOCAL EXPERIENCES VS. YOUR COMFORT ZONE
In certain places, you may need to strike a balance between your comfort level and having an authentic local experience. During a trip to Morocco, where homosexuality is illegal, I wanted to stay in a riad, a kind of bed-and-breakfast that’s usually located in a grand restored home. But I also wanted to feel comfortable with my husband. We chose riads that were affiliated with major hotel booking services. This made it more likely that we would encounter staff who had experience with a diverse clientele while having the possibility of rebooking if any issues arose.
THINK ABOUT WHETHER YOU CAN TRULY RELAX
If you and your spouse are just looking to sip margaritas by the pool, and the resort isn’t LGBTQ-identified, you will want to do a deep dive into the website and user reviews to determine whether the atmosphere will feel right. Location matters in places like the Caribbean, where laws about homosexuality and marriage vary. In Jamaica, where homosexuality is illegal, you will probably want to stay in the resort “bubble.” By contrast, staying at a resort in gay-friendly Puerto Rico or Mexico gives you the assurance that you can venture off property without additional concerns.
Family playing in sand; Photo by Vane Nunes/Stock.Adobe.com
MAKE SURE THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
Like any parent, LGBTQ moms and dads want their kids to treasure their family vacation—whether it’s a week at the beach, a visit to Disney World or a bucket-list trip to Iceland. Some things to consider include choosing independent travel versus escorted trips geared toward LGBTQ families, making sure a foreign destination has kid-friendly activities and is LGBTQ-friendly, and carrying documentation that offers proof that you are the legal parents or guardians.
VACATION AS YOU LIVE
If you’re used to holding hands in public with your partner or spouse and not worrying about being seen, try to pick places where local LGBTQ people also live openly. Looking to visit other types of destinations? You may want to book with a specialty tour or cruise line to ensure that at least your group (and operator) are like-minded.
While travel can expand our horizons and even challenge our preconceptions, it’s also meant to transport us from our everyday cares and concerns—not add to them. With a little planning, LGBTQ travelers can hopefully minimize any worries while maximizing the benefits.