For business or pleasure, gay males are some of the world’s most prolific travelers. There is no reliable research behind why, but we believe it could be because we are less likely to have children, thus able to have careers that not only allow us to take to the roads and skies more often, but these jobs usually pay better. Many of us are also either single or DINKS (double income, no kids), which provides for a more significant sum of disposable income. Or maybe we are more willing to save and spend for the vacation holidays and events we want to attend.
Whatever your reason(s) for traveling, either locally, nationwide, or to foreign nations, it is crucial to know how to keep yourself safe when you are away from home.
Traveling while homosexual is not as simple as some make it seem. The brochures don’t discuss the rate of homophobia, gay bashing, or that having same-sex relationships are illegal. They also don’t address concerns a man of color and/or one living with HIV may have.
These are not small apprehensions we are talking about. Depending on where you are jetting off, it could be the difference between life and death, freedom and jail. At least 69 countries have national laws criminalizing same-sex relations between consenting adults.
We at GMJ have traveled to and lived in a large portion of the world at one time or another. We have traveled within and around countries known to be hostile towards us, but also visited some unique places where we not only felt at ease but welcomed.
Our goal is to get you thinking about where and when you travel. Not scare you away from any nation or destination. This is not a complete list of states or countries to avoid or visit, purely a guide to assist you in making important decisions when on the road.
The elephant in the room
Finding competent information about a location before you travel can be challenging.
- Most companies and organizations that specialize in tracking statistics for our community’s travel patterns rarely, if ever, speak specifically to the issues facing gay males. Usually, they consider the “LGBTQ community” to be a monolith. Which provides us with little to no helpful information
- Firms that market themselves as travel experts for us are often not open or explicit about how safe it is for us to travel to specific destinations because it does not help their bottom line.
It is pretty shitty that such a large and profitable demographic as homosexual males cannot find the information we need in one place. Many of us piece data together from multiple sources broken down into separate markets.
We are going to change that with this article.
Traveling while gay
It should go without saying that not every location is a safe place for us to travel. Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in. Over the last few years, the physical, emotional, and verbal attacks on our community have only increased. Sadly, the period up to and including Gay Pride Month is one of the most dangerous.
We read a lot of travel sites, both for work and pleasure, and they are quick to point to surveys about the most “gay-friendly places” inside a country or around the world. Most neglect to tell you how they arrive at these conclusions and the statistics regarding bias attacks on residents and tourists.
Our hometown of New York City, New York is always at the top of these lists. Cuddlynest places us behind other historically gay havens such as San Francisco, California, and New Orleans, Louisiana. But, if you live in any of these cities, you know that hate crimes are rising against homosexuals and people of color. When seeking a place to vacation, you need to do more homework than others just to have an enjoyable getaway.
We have chosen not to list or link to statistics for any particular cities because the numbers will have changed depending on when you are reading this article. Keep in mind that even if the crime rate is considered to be low, if you, or someone you love, is a victim, it is far too high. One bias attack based on sexual orientation or race is one too many.
We will discuss the countries considered to be gay-friendly and those that you should be careful in. Please remember that “friendly” does not mean safe. Spartacus travel is the most significant ranking company, and many others use their lists. So we will too.
Canada is usually at the apex for gay tourists, but so are Spain, The Netherlands, The United Kingdom, and Sweden. Generally, European Union countries have high rankings as the laws are standardized. The level of acceptance outside of Pride season or any gay-targeted event will vary, and larger cities are usually more tolerant than small villages.
Latin American countries have been making more significant strides to combat elevated levels of homophobia, usually connected to the teachings of the Catholic church. Some have enacted not only protections for homosexuals but also adopted same-sex marriage laws.
Countries in this region receiving high marks include Argentina, Colombia, and Uruguay.
Finland, France, and Luxemburg round out the bottom twenty-five (25) from the Spartacus rankings. Countries further down have a much more complex history with homosexuals. Most notable is the United States of America, which is number thirty-one (31) on the list. Subjectively, we believe this to be a generous score.
The USA is a large country comprised of fifty states (50) and five (5) inhabited territories that all have individual rankings. Additionally, there are over 330 million residents, including immigrants from almost every nation. This makes it one of the most visited countries in the world, as it affords a wonderful melting pot of locations, cultures, and possibilities. Also a great deal of homophobia. It has never been a leader in gay rights, usually closer to the bottom, and has no Federalized protections for homosexuals. This creates a mash-up of 50 separate jurisdictions, with varying levels of rights and protections based on sexual orientation, if any at all. Even more troubling is that laws within a particular state can vary from city to city and county to county.
Red flag countries
Let’s cut to the chase. Religious countries are far down the list for gay friendliness, including the entirety of the Middle East, Russia, and uncomfortably large parts of Africa and Asia. For the same reason, many Latin American countries are also at the lower end of the curve.
This does not mean that you should not travel to these countries, and we cannot tell you that. It does mean that you should be educated regarding their laws and what is socially acceptable. Countries like Egypt and Jamaica are legally harsh towards our community and also have strict mores against male same-sex relationships and physical contact. The penalties for such behavior in the lower-ranked countries can include deportation on the lighter side, imprisonment, and even death on the other end of the spectrum. Most tourists will not be subject to the more stringent legal punishments afforded residents but may fall afoul of lighter offenses and social backlash.
Traveling while Black or Brown
Trust us when we say that no one hates talking, thinking about, and dealing with race and racism more than people of color. It takes up a lot of time and energy when all we want to do is go on about our day without being judged negatively for the color of our skin. But, we would be remiss if we did not include a discussion on how traveling with highly melanated skin can ruin a good trip.
Being a person of color can and sometimes should affect your travel decisions. Some places are known for having significantly larger issues with racism than others. Conversely, there are places known for being homophobic that will not present the same issues to a tourist of color.
A few years ago, we began hearing the term BLAXIT. This social movement promotes the expatriation of Black/African-African Americans from the United States to destinations abroad. The term Blaxit was coined in the wake of Brexit by academic, journalist, and human rights consultant Dr. Ulysses Burley III. The term combines Black and Exit to form Blaxit in the same manner that Brexit describes the British Exit from the European Union.
This movement is a response to racism in the United States and the United Kingdom. Two places that have reasonably high spots on the Spartacus ranking.
Earlier, we listed most of the European Union as destinations considered gay-friendly, but many of these same countries are not as kind to travelers of color. Some are known to be downright hostile, like Italy. Germany, inside and outside of Berlin, is considered by people of color who live and travel there as having a high incidence of racial bias. Even Canada, considered a country of “nice people”, is experiencing a backlash regarding police interactions with Black and Brown people and has a disgusting rapport with the native peoples.
Black travelers through Japan, China, and other Asian countries report being gawked at and treated like animals in a zoo. Like in Germany, strangers touch their hair and skin without permission, say racist things about their complexion, and provide them with some of the most regrettable travel experiences of their lives.
Of course, there is the unholy trinity of racism; Australia, The United Kingdom, and the United States. We will not insult anyone’s intelligence by diving into these troubled nations. Even the most significant cities, claiming to be welcoming to all gay folks, are uncomfortably high on the list of racist destinations people of color either need to avoid outright or be cautious when visiting. Yes, we are including New York City in this assessment.
Alternatively, an example of the flip side of this coin is “the year of the return”, created by the Ghanaian government. Not only are Black Americans and Britons moving back to the African content in growing numbers, but Ghana is explicitly a hot destination.
The tourism board fails to mention the towering presence of homophobia throughout the country. It was the first country to coin the phrase “don’t say gay.” Alas, it is still promoted to all “from the Diaspora” as a haven away from racism, which is fine, if you don’t mind the life-threatening homophobia.
Our experiences while traveling as gay men of color, may not be the same as someone else’s. Either good, bad, or indifferent. Before booking our flights to a new destination, we take time to view YOUTUBE videos and speak to others we know who have been there, and who are also gay men of color. But, just like for you, in the end, the final decision is left in our hands.
Considering that homosexual males of color have the highest incidence of bias attacks, we must consider all of this information when traveling.
Traveling while living with HIV
Life with HIV has come a long way in the last four (4) decades. No longer do we take multiple pills, multiple times a day. Our health prospects are better than ever, and when properly treated and reaching a level of undetectable, we can’t pass the virus on to others sexually (#uequalsu), even without the use of condoms or PrEP.
These scientific gains have not changed the hearts and minds of lawmakers in many countries. HIV criminalization is a global phenomenon, with problematic legislation in every region.
“HIV criminalization refers to the use of criminal and similar laws against people living with HIV based on their HIV-positive status. In many countries around the world, criminal laws have been introduced that punish the transmission of HIV, potential or perceived exposure to HIV, and even non-disclosure of HIV status. In some places, HIV has been added to the list of infectious diseases that were already criminalized, and in others, specific legislation has been brought in.”
Some countries, like The Netherlands, distinguish between intentional and reckless infection, and they are only criminalizing the former. Most countries see no difference between the two and punish those living with HIV for simply “exposing” another to the virus. Even when it does not result in infection. Having prior knowledge of your positive status is enough to find one guilty.
To the surprise of no one, The United States was the first country in the world to introduce HIV-specific criminal laws, beginning in 1987, and there have been thousands of reported cases since. Over half of the states (27) have HIV criminalization laws with lengthy sentences. This includes party hot spots like Miami, Florida, and New York City, New York.
Not to be outdone, Canada, the number one (1) spot holder on the list for gay friendliness for many years, also brutally enforces these outdated laws.
“Canada has one of the highest numbers of reported cases of HIV criminalization in the world, despite the absence of HIV-specific legislation. Courts there have defined non-disclosure when there is a “realistic possibility” of transmission as aggravated sexual assault, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. In some cases, people have been charged and imprisoned for acts with zero to negligible risk of transmission, including sex with an undetectable viral load, oral sex, or sex with a condom.”
No one would be shocked if we listed all the Eastern European and Middle Eastern countries with harsh HIV laws, but many Asian and Western European countries are guilty, as well as Australia.
Some states in Australia have recently passed laws allowing police to forcibly test anyone they think might have been exposed to HIV via spitting or biting. Even though expert scientific consensus argues that this only leads to unnecessary worry for police – who will not have been at risk – and violates the rights of the people forcibly tested.
Once again, we are not saying anyone living with HIV should not visit these countries. Rather, if you go, and plan to have sex, know the laws and penalties associated with your status.
Before you go…
At this point, you may be wondering if there is any place in the world that is truly gay-friendly. Our simple answer is, NO! That is the reality of our lives. Ignoring this fact, downplaying it and/or believing it can never happen to you, or in a particular place, leaves you uneducated and vulnerable. This vastly increases if you are also a man of color and/or living with HIV or a disability.
Even gay male-specific venues, such as bars, clubs, saunas, events, and cruises, may present challenges to those of us outside of the promoted stereotypical archetype. We may all be equal in theory, but we are not all treated the same by others. We do ourselves and our community a disservice by challenging how others experience the world or seek to protect themselves.
Finally, every one of our festivities has the possibility of being a “super spreader” event for STDs, monkeypox, Covid19, and even the flu and common cold. Not because of our sexual orientation but because these spots are typically crowded, with guys in close proximity and usually engaging in some level of sexual activity.
NOT THAT THERE IS ANYTHING WRONG WITH THIS.
With all of this being said, we live on a fantastic planet with wonders worthy of excursions that we deserve to experience to the fullest. So GO, but as an educated traveler and not a clueless tourist.