LGBT travelers have a lot to be thankful for—and a lot to wish for. Let’s take a critical look at LGBT travel destinations this holiday season.
Africa leads the world for most countries where homosexuality is illegal. In what may seem like mixed signals for foreign travelers, North Africa’s Islamic roots allow for public same-sex affection, but not romance, while some deeply religious sub-Saharan states view LGBT lifestyles as “pacts with the devil.” According to the Washington Post, four of the 10 countries worldwide carrying the death penalty for homosexual acts are on the African continent.
Milestones: International attention has succeeded in pressuring African governments away from anti-gay laws, including Uganda, whose Constitutional Court annulled the Anti-Homosexuality Act following a cut in foreign aid. To top it off, the African Commission passed the continent’s first resolution against anti-LGBT violence in May of 2014.
Wish list: Travelers, be wary. A leaked Ugandan bill, to be proposed in response to the August annulment, includes even harsher penalties for the “unnatural acts” of homosexuality. In northern Africa, a practice similar to the US military’s recently repealed ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy drives the LGBT community underground. A Moroccan teacher denounces the practice after an outed gay colleague was fired: “As long you don’t say you’re what you are, it’s ok. Society tolerates you… as long as you keep your mouth shut up.”
From the Middle East across southern Asia and the Pacific islands, Asia’s LGBT intolerance — whether toward visitors or locals — is only ranked better than Africa’s.
Milestones: Leading the Pacific toward LGBT tolerance, Australia’s policies of the 1970’s quickly decriminalized homosexuality. Today, a New South Wales Senator continues the fight with a November 2014-introduced bill against nationalized marriage discrimination.
Wish list: Indonesia’s national law may not criminalize homosexuality, but its two biggest provinces make LGBT life illegal. Even the Cook Islands, a self-governing country nearly 1,000 kilometers into the Pacific, declare same-sex love a crime. Let’s not forget that Australia’s new right-wing Prime Minister Tony Abbott stands publicly — and fiercely — against gay rights.
While LGBT travelers and nationals alike experience opposition in much of South America, the past ten years have seen dramatic change in attitudes. The US founder of a Nicaraguan NGO describes the progress in the region: “It is now possible for the first time to live openly LGBTQ lives and maintain relationships.”
Milestones: Many LGBT travelers have dubbed Brazil their “queer paradise,” where gay-marriage is legal, LGBT citizens are able to adopt and serve in the military, and the government’s National Health Service covers sex-change surgery. The popular Nicaraguan television show “Sexton Sentido” presents positive images of LGBTQ youth for an entire generation of young Nicaraguans. Meanwhile, Chile’s Cerro Santa Lucía, a small hill in the middle of capital city Santiago, is abuzz with gay frolicking by visitors and locals alike. Ironically, this lover’s hill not only overlooks the city but also a “cemetery for dissidents” from the 1800s. Who might that include?
Wish list: Although Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution of the 1970s and 1980s decriminalized homosexuality, the Catholic Church is very powerful and very conservative, and homophobia is still built deeply into the culture. A law that briefly re-criminalized homosexuality was recently repealed, but the country is not in the clear. Similarly, despite Brazil’s notoriety for LGBT openness, anti-gay violence has been on the rise, and an increasing number of religious-conservative congress members rejected a recent anti-homophobia bill. Over four years after a 2010 homophobic attack using lamps as weapons in São Paulo’s revered Paulista Avenue, a queer student at the Federal University of Pará in the northern city of Belém, Brazil reports, “With the lamp as our symbol, we are still resisting.”
New York’s Lady Liberty may well be transgendered beneath that modest gown, but the renowned coastal acceptance of the LGBT community only slowly moves inland. Despite the country’s reputation for freedom, San Francisco and NYC are a long way from the country’s Southern “Bible Belt.”
Milestones: Even conservative states such as Hawaii now allow gay marriage, and the 2013 repeal of DOMA (the Defense Of Marriage Act) was gaily celebrated across the country. Meanwhile, cities like Madison, Wisconsin are “liberal hotspots” in the Midwest, as described by a high school librarian: “Madison has a thriving LGBT community and many safe spaces for trans teens and adults around the area. The students in our high school’s [gay-straight alliance] even conducted a workshop to better educate their teachers on gender norms and the meaning of terms such genderqueer, polyamorous, asexual, queer and transgender.” Global citizens, rejoice! America is on its way.
Wish list: As the country makes slow but sure progress, there is still much to be done. Less than half of US states have workplace non-discrimination laws protecting the LGBT community, and a majority of states can still deny housing based on sexual orientation! “I don’t always feel safe,” confides a legal secretary from the southern United States now living in Washington, DC. The fight continues.
No European countries technically outlaw homosexuality — celebrate, global citizens, but also take a second look: “In Russia, we call the West something like ‘Gay-ropa,’ and it’s not a compliment,” explains one Russian master’s degree student currently studying in Berlin. “Gay marriage in Europe is considered a sign of decay.” Despite the progress made, the liberal West faces off with Orthodox traditions of the East.
Milestones: European openness toward what was once seen as “sexually-deviant” lifestyles leads the charge on this continent: in many Middle and Northern European countries, the debate has moved far beyond same-sex marriage. The ILGA, a group that advocates for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex people in Europe, requests that “parental leave”—European states’ gender-neutral maternity leave—be granted generously, evenly, and without regard to the sexual orientation or gender identity of the couple.
Wish list: Meanwhile, some Eastern European countries have literally leapt backwards, starting with Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law of 2013, and continuing with similar proposed legislation in the region. Less dramatically, more progressive countries such as Germany are led by religious parties and still give LGBT residents trouble; LGBT travelers in Western Europe, however, are mostly in the clear.