Flights? Check. Visas? Check. Hotel, suitcases, passport? Check. For most people (read: heterosexual, cisgender people), there isn’t much more to think about when planning a holiday. But there are concerns that fly over the heads of most people which are constant worries for LGBT travellers.
I was recently talking to a (heterosexual) work friend of mine, who asked whether LGBT travel was a thing, and more importantly, why. Obviously, there are countries across the world where LGBT individuals aren’t accepted, and where being gay is a crime – there are nine countries in the world where being gay is currently punishable by death and 75 countries where it is illegal in various forms. Most LGBT people would avoid going to at least some of these countries, if not for fear of persecution then out of principle. But what about travelling in Europe, or to the USA? As my work pal asked, what concerns would we have in travelling to those places, or even inside the UK? While verbal or physical abuse is the most obvious concern that comes to mind, there’s so much more to it than that.
For a lot of LGBT people, there’s always the concern in the back of our minds that people will be weird, or worse than that – the concern that hoteliers, Airbnb hosts, homestay owners or anyone you encounter might be outright homophobic or even violent. I’ve stayed in Airbnbs in rural areas of the UK and been plagued by the niggling worry before arrival that the hosts might not be accepting (they were). I’ve visited Barbados, where same-sex relations are punishable by life in prison, and felt awful when my girlfriend had to spend an hour enduring the homophobic rants of a dive boat captain (she’s a saint). More innocently, I’ve been on holiday to Greece and been asked by hotel staff whether my girlfriend and I are sisters or friends: one, neither, and two, none of your business. I’ve also stayed in an Airbnb in New Zealand with gay hosts, who didn’t feel comfortable revealing their sexuality on their listing and referred to one another as ‘friends’ until I revealed my sexuality. It works both ways.
Consulting my other gay (male) work pals, they reflected the same concerns. One of them had a situation in Italy with his boyfriend where the Airbnb host tried to set up separate beds for them, and only stopped when they insisted it was fine and that they really didn’t mind. I think its worse for men – it’s not unusual for two girls to go on holiday together and share a bed, but guys don’t go on holiday with their mates and cuddle up in a double – and in many countries where being gay is illegal, that applies to gay men and not lesbians. In some situations, you’re almost required to out yourself, and even if the situation isn’t dangerous, it can at the very least be awkward and unwanted.
For Trans* people, these situations can be equally as difficult and potentially dangerous, if not more so. What if, as Trans* person, you stay in a gender-segregated hostel (or use a public bathroom, or changing room) and are faced with confrontation from strangers for being in the ‘wrong’ room/bathroom/changing room even though you identify as that gender? Or are outed by airport security or hotel receptionists for not outwardly presenting as the gender on your passport?
These were things my straight friend had never had to think about, things that had never even crossed her mind. For LGBT people, there are always things to think about no matter where you’re going in the world. There are very few places where I wouldn’t be slightly worried that someone might not accept me and my girlfriend when we’re just trying to enjoy ourselves and each other’s company.
And that, my friends, is why LGBT+ travel exists, and why there should be more of it. If you own an Airbnb, it doesn’t take much to whack a little ‘LGBT friendly’ at the bottom of your intro. If you run a hotel, it’s not a big ask to add ‘We welcome LGBT individuals’ to your About Us section. Those few small words could erase hours of worry for gay people, and help LGBT people feel safe walking into a situation that heterosexual, cisgender people might not think twice about. LGBT travel is a niche market, which usually works to attract gay tourists to certain travel destinations known for their open-mindedness. But what about everywhere else? Just because I’m gay, doesn’t mean I want to exclusively holiday in San Francisco, Amsterdam or Miami.
I want to travel everywhere, and I want to know that I’m safe while I do it. If you own an Airbnb in the Deep South of the USA and are happy to host LGBT people, tell us. If you run a hotel in Jamaica and are welcoming of gay couples or Trans* people, we want to know. LGBT travel shouldn’t be about beaconing gay people to certain countries, but about telling us where and with who we are welcome and safe in all countries, and it should be an effort taken on by anyone who is accepting of everyone, no matter who they are, what they look like, or who they love.