I love being queer. But sometimes, I’m super jealous of heterosexual people. Straight people have privileges that I don’t, meaning that they benefit from unearned advantages based on their orientation.
Having privilege doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It simply means there are challenges and difficulties you never have to deal with that others do. Being aware of privilege is important to understand and tackle inequality and oppression. Here are just a few privileges straight people can count on while traveling:
1. Your travel plans never have to include researching how dangerous it is to show off your relationship in your destination.
It’s illegal to be queer in 76 countries. In plenty more countries, queer people aren’t legally protected from discrimination and hate crimes. If I have an opportunity to travel somewhere, one of the first things I ask myself is whether I can be open about my sexuality or not.
Even in countries where queerness is not criminalized, being open about your sexuality can be dangerous. I’m South African, and all people here are protected by the constitution regardless of their orientation. Yet, hate crimes against people who aren’t heterosexual (as well as people who are transgender or gender non-conforming) are all too common here.
When my partner and I travel through South Africa, we avoid being affectionate because we simply don’t know whether we’ll be accepted or not. In unfamiliar places, we’d rather err on the side of caution than be hurt.
2. When you and your partner are on a romantic getaway, you never have to book a twin bed to hide that you are a couple.
Some queer couples have to do more than avoid holding hands. Some make a point of booking a room with twin beds instead of a double bed so that it isn’t assumed that they’re a couple. A few people refer to their partner as their ‘friend’ to imply the relationship is platonic. Others don’t travel alone as a couple, but rather in a group of friends.
Heterosexism can suck all the romance out of a romantic getaway, to say the least. Having to disguise your love for someone out of fear can feel painful, dishonest and degrading.
3. You’ve never traveled solely to avoid persecution based on your orientation.
Travel can be a beautiful, mind-opening and life-changing thing. But for many people, it’s also the only method of escape — escaping from family and community, escaping from laws, and escaping from hate and inequality.
While studying at university, I’ve met many queer international students who choose to study in South Africa to avoid being criminalized and persecuted in their home country (as I’ve mentioned, SouthAfrica isn’t always a safe place for queer people — but our progressive laws make many people feel safer here than in their home country). A student from Zimbabwe, for example, told me that she came here because she identifies as lesbian and fears that her family and community will ostracize her. Others have faced bullying, abuse and sexual assault in their home countries and then decided to come here.
As a straight person, you have the privilege of traveling without these intentions. You’ll never have to move abroad, or even at least to different parts of a country, to avoid legal consequences.