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Safety first: The best (and worst) travel destinations for LGBTQ couples

Aeshwarya Singh Mundel | Updated on: 14 March 2018, 16:10 IST

It's no secret that most couples choose to escape the stresses of work by heading off on an exotic trip together. What’s not so universally known, however, is that there are several popular travel destinations that are more dangerous for non-heterosexual couples. 

LGBT people, when they’re traveling, have to be concerned about safety like everyone else, but there’s also an extra dimension, because LGBT people are subject to prejudice and bias, harassment, and even violence and worse, unlike their straight counterparts.

In fact, there are 76 countries that criminalize homosexuality and/or gender expression or identity, some of which are popular travel destinations that gay couples may not realize are precarious.

Be cautioned that in some countries in Eastern Europe can be “a little bit more conservative. In some countries, they don’t even acknowledge that there are gay people there.  Hence, must research about local customs and rules before booking for their dream holiday. But what about the best travel locations among those that are LGBTQ-friendly?

Top-Rated LGBTQ Travel Destinations

This, at first, might come as a bit of a surprise; considering how heavily Catholic the country is. However, equality is a big concern for Spaniards, and in 2005 the government legalized same-sex marriage against the strong protestations of the Vatican. This move was supported by at least 66% of the population. Spain is home to some well-known queer hotspots such as Sitges and Ibiza. However, Barcelona and Madrid also have thriving LGBTQ communities and activities.

This country is often rated as the most egalitarian nation on the planet. The capital’s annual Pride events are attended by a large number of the straight community. In at least one year, the mayor (who is heterosexual) even dressed in drag to open the festival. At least one prime minister was an “out” lesbian who married her partner shortly after the law changing the definition of marriage to gender-neutral went into effect. Violent crime is a rarity in Iceland, and hate crimes are even more rare.

South Africa
Once a place known for horrendous racism and intolerance, South Africa has adopted a very liberal constitution and was the 5th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage (and the 2nd country outside of Europe). LGBTQ travelers routinely speak of feeling safe in the country, and Cape Town has become a popular destination for same-sex weddings.

Mexico City and Oaxaca, Mexico
The Mexican culture has a strong “live and let live” attitude; however, Mexico City and Oaxaca are known for being welcoming cities. Recently, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is a constitutionally protected right which helps to show that things are changing in this wonderful country. Public display of affection (PDA) is often frowned upon, but that applies to heterosexuals as well.

This North American country was among the first in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. While there are some areas that are more conservative, generally speaking, LGBTQ people can feel safe traveling throughout this large nation. Many large cities have gay villages, and Canadians are famous for being kind and welcoming. Toronto and Vancouver, in particular, are noted as being extremely queer friendly.

New Zealand
Kiwis are some of the friendliest and most welcoming people in the world, but they were a bit slow to join the other nations recognizing same-sex marriage. When their parliament passed the law, though, they collectively began singing a Maori love song to commemorate the moment. As if people needed more reasons to love New Zealand! It is one of the safest countries to visit for everyone, including LGBTQ people. A queer couple, while holding hands might encounter people congratulating them, but generally won't have to deal with homophobia.

Least favourite LGBTQ Travel Destinations

This list could be really long, unfortunately. Instead of listing all the countries that could pose potential problems for the queer traveler, we've focused on the most unsafe ones.

This country has taken homophobia to extremes. After enacting a law labeled as an “antipropaganda” measure against promoting homosexualty as a “normal” lifestyle, the Russian LGBTQ community experienced a drastic upswing in violent hate crimes. For the most part, police have seemed to be supportive of these crimes, rarely intervening even during attacks. Not satisfied with their level of overt hatred, the legislature recently tried to pass laws against same-sex couples showing any public displays of affection and/or “coming out” publicly. Surprisingly, those attempts (which specifically excluded females) failed, but it would be almost stunning if the law isn’t revisited at a later date. People have also been attacked for merely “appearing gay.”

This African country is excessively homophobic. An attempt to pass a law calling for members of the LGBTQ community to be executed was changed from “kill the gays” to “jail the gays.” Fortunately, that was annulled by the courts; however, lawmakers haven’t given up trying to pass legislation that would provide punishments for “unnatural acts” which would include homosexuality.

Nigeria seems to be in an unspoken battle with Uganda as to which country can be more homophobic. There are multiple news stories covering mob attacks on suspected queers, even pulling them from their homes and beating them in the streets.On many of these occasions, the police have joined in on the attacks.

This island is well known for being laid back and enjoying a party lifestyle. However, when it comes to LGBTQ people, all bets are off; particularly if you’re male. Sex between men is illegal in this country, and the laws are often firmly enforced. The government is known for supporting violence against gays, so if you’re a victim of a violent hate crime don’t expect to receive any assistance from local officials.

As part of their European Union membership, this Baltic nation had to entrench some protections in their laws. However, the general attitude toward LGTBQ people remains poor. Any type of public event, such as Pride, is often accompanied by violent protests. Legal protections here shouldn’t be considered as encouraging to queer travelers. While those protections may be “on the books,” it doesn’t mean they are enforced, and police are generally known for being very lackadaisical and uncaring in their response to victims.

Gay sex is not specifically outlawed in Egypt; however, people are often arrested and convicted under morality laws which provide for up to 17 years of imprisonment (with, or without, hard labor and fines). It is not uncommon for people of the same gender to hold hands or walk arm-in-arm, so many same-sex couples find these types of PDA to be relatively safe. However, as a foreigner you might draw unwanted attention, so caution would be advised. Arrests at suspected gay gatherings are not uncommon. While Muslim males are more likely to receive harsher treatment, all visitors can be subjected to the same laws and punishments.

First published: 14 March 2018, 16:10 IST
Aeshwarya Singh Mundel

#Mustang with a knack for traveling & writing~