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Being Gay Is Still Illegal in 76 Countries, but That Doesn't Stop Us From Traveling

by Dante Harker Dec 6, 2016

My husband and I are currently planning for our fourth extended trip (over 6 months). We’ve been together over 11 years and in that time we’ve been to 53 countries. Interestingly, in many of these countries it’s actually illegal to be gay. In fact, there are 76 countries in the world where it’s still illegal, and a shocking 10 countries where being gay is punishable by death. It’s almost enough to make any gay couple stay at home, or worse, spend their vacations in the variety of gay hotspots around the world: Gran Canaria, Sitges, San Francisco…but where is the fun in that? Staying at home or going to the same place over and over is something that my parents did — they bought that caravan and went year after year (being Yorkshire folk, getting their money’s worth is in their DNA).

Thankfully, neither my husband nor I have been put off by the foolish bigotry of men, certainly when there are exotic animals and wondrous sites to be seen. We refused to miss out on the amazing diving at Sipadan off Malaysian Borneo just because the country has discriminatory laws. There is an argument that queer travelers should not give money to countries with such antiquated laws, but why should we miss out on visiting over two-thirds of the world?

As I said, we’re about to set off on our fourth long trip, our most intrepid yet. This journey involves visits to seven countries where it is still illegal to be gay, and potentially one country where men have been executed in recent years. Now, we might be adventurous and a little gung-ho at times, but we’re not stupid. We are going to approach our trip with sensitivity, though we certainly won’t lie about our relationship unless our lives are clearly in danger.

Unfortunately, in many of the countries we’ll be visiting on this trip our lives may depend on it. This means that like many LGBT couples we’ll have to say that we are just friends. Actually, as we’re married and share the same last name, we will most likely say we are brothers. The interesting thing about doing this is that in the countries we’re visiting where it’s illegal to be gay, it’s quite common for brothers to share a bed, because of space or money issues.

It’s unfortunate that we would have to say these things and not be open, but we don’t want to miss out on the wonders of the world because of out-dated laws and customs. There are other simple things that we do before we arrive in a country, such as checking our government’s advice on travel in that country. In the UK they have specific advice for LGBT travelers here; however, it’s a little limited and, with all travel, it pays to check what the Foreign Office has to say about the countries you’re visiting.

Another excellent resource is the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association which tracks issues for LGBT travellers around the world. They also have an excellent map that shows you which countries you need to take extra precautions in.

These websites often tend to paint a bleak picture of the rights of LGBT people around the world; it’s important to read them, but judge accordingly. We live in a time where the mainstream news focuses on the misery of life and ignores the good. The LIGA map, for example, makes it very clear that LGBT people are still put to death in many places. However, it makes a much smaller deal of the fact that nearly a quarter of the countries in the world now allow some form of same-sex union — a huge step forward from even 20 years ago.

My point is that you should not be put off travel; do your research and measure up the risks. There are some other simple things we’ll do though that will help with our safety. We’ll keep things like public displays of affection to a minimum. I can’t say I’m a fan of seeing anyone make out in public, to be honest, so this isn’t much of a hardship. Plus, we both have chunky fingers, so holding hands as we walk down the street has never been a thing we’d do.

The real key for any LGBT traveler is not to be put off traveling by any scaremongering you read online.

In over 11 years of travel and 54 countries, we’ve actually only had issues with being a gay couple in one place — our own country, the UK. There we’re often questioned if we’re sure we want a double bed when we book into a hotel, and in the UK we’ve had abuse shouted at us (we yelled back, don’t worry, we’re classy like that).

With that in mind, we’re always pretty happy to go off traveling, and we don’t have any real worries about our sexualities in our future travels around the world; I encourage everybody to feel the same way.

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