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7 Things Gay Travelers Should Appreciate About Southeast Asia

Asia Student Work Activism
by Ben Lambert Apr 8, 2015

1. There are no anti-discrimination laws for LGBT people.

Because they don’t need them. Seriously. The number of instances of discrimination against LGBT people, solely for being LGBT, is so low in these cultures that there is simply no need for them. That is true acceptance, or at the very least tolerance. Maybe Indiana should take a look at Southeast Asia the next time they feel threatened by their gay neighbors.

2. All Southeast Asia countries have an established gay scene.

Outside of Bangkok that gay scene may not be the ‘in your face, wrapped in the gay pride flag’ type of scene you expect in the west. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not present and that it is not accepted. I’ve been to gay bars throughout Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, in addition to gay nights at bars in Burma (where the scene is just developing). I’ve heard about some awesome gay places in Vietnam, which I’m excited to check out. And these aren’t little hidey-holes, with no signage and a secret handshake to get in. They’re out there for everyone to see.

3. Attitudes towards sexuality are the same for everyone, gay or straight.

The truth is that everything even remotely related to sex or sexuality here — whether gay or straight — is pretty discreet. It’s rare to see straight couples even holding hands in public here. That’s just the way it is. For everyone. And I can respect that.

4. It’s actually okay to be gay here.

Chalk it up to Buddhism or whatever you want, but all of the countries I’ve been to so far have been more than accepting and welcoming. At first when the female staff of my hotel or the local bar would (semi) jokingly ask if I had a girlfriend, I’d just laugh and say, “No. No, girlfriend.” Which would always be followed by more questions like “Why not?” or “You want one?” I would always laugh it off, saying that I traveled too much.

Then one day in Laos, I decided to press my luck when asked if I had a girlfriend. Instead of my usual response, I replied, “No. I don’t really like girls.” I braced myself waiting for the anti-gay response. But what I got was, “Ohhhh. Hmmm. Maybe I have friend for you. You like him.” Holy shit. All my naïve, preconceived ideas went out the window right then.

5. Ladyboys are everywhere.

Another of my stupid ideas before traveling through SE Asia was that ladyboys only existed in Thailand. I was so wrong. I have met them everywhere I’ve been throughout SE Asia, from smaller towns to capital cities. They are accepted members of society here, for the most part, and are treated far so much better than their counterparts in India.

6. Gay rights take on a different tone here, but things are improving.

Ok, so it’s true that there is no same-sex marriage here, gays don’t adopt, etc. But things are changing rapidly. Thailand is considering a same-sex marriage law. Vietnam has recently decriminalized same-sex wedding ceremonies (this does not mean that same-sex marriages are legal yet. But previously, to even have a non-legal, non-recognized gay wedding ceremony was in itself illegal).

7. The majority of gays here enjoy full support by their family.

Nearly all of the gay people I have met here are out to their families and are accepted. Many have been informed that their families always knew and some parents who didn’t know were actually excited to learn their son or daughter was gay. The only gays I can recall who hadn’t come out to their family yet were those raised by Catholic or Christian families. That speaks volumes.

More importantly, of those who did come out to their families, not a single one of them I met was kicked out, verbally abused, disowned or anything short of lovingly accepted. Think about that for a minute the next time you hear about the liberal, ‘LGBT-supporting’ family down the street who went ape-shit when their own son or daughter came out.

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