Palm Springs Law Blog

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Planning a Trip? Some Legal Tidbits for LGBT Safety

You have an itinerary, reserved your lodging, bought your plane ticket and shopped for new clothes. Are you ready to hit the road? No, not yet. You have homework to do. You aren’t really prepared to go until you learn about safe travel for people in the LGBT community. 

Gay rights issues can complicate our plans, whether we are travelling within the U.S. or to international destinations. Some states and countries have laws supporting LGBT equality, may recognize same-sex marriage or registered partnerships, and offer a relatively comfortable gay scene in which we can be pretty much ourselves. Some other states (especially in rural areas) and countries are much more conservative, don’t recognize gay relationships and may have little or no tolerance for physical shows of affection. Finally, in many areas of the world, laws and customs demonize and criminalize homosexuals. To be safe, exercise discretion wherever you are. 

You can find out about travel situations from local LGBT groups, or trusted and savvy travel agents or tour operators. They know the attitudes and issues of the country or city. Be especially careful if you intend to frequent cruising areas or internet chat rooms. Police in some countries have been known to carry out entrapment campaigns.

The often open and relaxed nature of gay scenes can mask criminal activity. Be wary of new-found “friends” who may simply be out to exploit you. Stay alert to the people and the area around you, and stay away from places that aren’t well lit or seem suspicious.  It makes sense to give your itinerary to a relative or friend, and to have a plan with your travel partner for possible emergency situations that could arise.

Check your health care coverage to see what medical care will be covered outside the U.S. Many policies provide for very limited or no services at all in other countries, and you may need a supplemental health insurance policy to provide coverage in case of a medical emergency. Make sure to have a copy of your Advance Health Care Directive with you.

In my practice, I encourage my clients to electronically store all their important documents in an account such as LegalVault or DocuBank. Your health care directive, personal medical information, Will or Trust, power of attorney, list of credit cards, copy of passport, and any other important documents are securely stored, and can be accessed via internet, wherever you are. An emergency card lists your personal agents to be contacted, and gives medical professionals immediate access to your health care directive 24/7, anywhere in the world.

Don’t use hotel or other public computers or Wi-Fi networks to access your personal or financial data. You have no way of knowing whether they are secure.

It is best not to bring debit cards on a trip, but if you must access cash at ATM’s, use ATM machines in bank lobbies rather than other locations. Banks are most likely to be secure, and usually have camera surveillance.

Don’t bring your checkbook, social security card, or more than two credit cards. Keep only your driver’s license and one credit card in your wallet, and keep the second credit card in the hotel safe (or in your luggage if on the road) in case your wallet is stolen.

Consider carrying a “sham” wallet with a few dollars and some old hotel key cards or other worthless plastic cards in it. If a thief targets you, hand over the sham wallet, and he is likely to run away thinking he made a big score. You will still have your regular wallet, which you should always keep in a buttoned shirt or pants pocket.

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a valuable service of the U.S. Department of State, offering assistance in an emergency. You file your travel plans on-line, and then you can be contacted in case of a family or other emergency at home, or a crisis or change in safety level in the areas you are planning to travel to or through. 

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