Palm Springs Law Blog

Friday, April 5, 2019

On the Go - LGBTQ Travel 2.0

Travel is refreshing and exciting, but can sometimes be risky. I wrote an article several years ago with some advice for LGBTQ people on the go. I’m looking again at the issues, and sadly, there has been little change in most of the problem areas of the world. Even more concerning, the change in the political atmosphere in the U.S. has made travel here less safe and comfortable in many ways.

In 2015, when the Supreme Court affirmed the right of U.S. same sex couples to marry, most of us sighed with relief. A hard-fought battle for equality was won, and we hoped for and expected many other LGBTQ problems to start fading away and be replaced by acceptance and tolerance. But shortly after, the climate changed. An increase in support for hate and bigotry of all kinds began to grow in conservative areas of the country. Talk show hosts and politicians grew bolder in their condemnation of diversity and equality. Some advocated a return to a time when gays were excoriated and treated as criminals. Some religious groups began to push for exclusion of LGBTQ people from participation in daily commercial life and normal human activities. Hate groups have multiplied. Hostility and prejudice is becoming the norm in some areas.

This means that travel in some parts of our country can be risky and uncomfortable. In general, cities and other areas with strong equal rights laws are welcoming and easy to navigate. But rural areas and many smaller towns can harbor hate groups and other folks who dislike us and may look for ways to harm us. From bullying on social networks to actual violence in the streets, they have an arsenal of weapons that we need to look out for and avoid if at all possible.

When it is necessary to travel in such areas, the wise traveler will plan carefully to avoid businesses and areas that are likely to support bigotry. The smart move is to behave just like the locals, and appear as they want you to appear. In your own hometown, you might hold hands with or kiss your partner or same-sex spouse in public. That is the wrong behavior to exhibit in areas where prejudice may be rampant. Calling attention to yourself in any way is not smart. Plan to spend as little time as you can in those places. Move on quickly.

Travel abroad is another story. Most of Western Europe is welcoming to LGBTQ folks, and spending an enjoyable time there should not be a hassle. As in the U.S., it is likely that the larger cities are more congenial than smaller ones and rural areas. But outside of these countries, being LGBTQ can be very risky, and in some places downright scary.

Mexico has made some progress with marriage equality and other gay rights issues, but many parts of the country are not up to speed. Even some urban and resort areas still experience an unsettling level of hate crimes.

There are more than 75 countries that criminalize homosexual and gender nonconforming behavior. The bias is so strong in some areas that penalties include capital punishment; and murder is tolerated by officials. Hate crimes and violence are common in many of these countries, and authorities rarely intervene. You could ask “Why in the world would I choose to go any of these dangerous countries?” But many of us don’t always have a choice. Your job might require it. Or you might have to pass through one or more of these countries on a trip to another destination.

As a wise traveler, you will check out the LGBTQ tolerance and acceptance status of countries you might visit. Study the current laws and events that could impact your trip or your stay. As in the U.S., behave as the locals want you to behave and be very wary of being drawn into unknown events or locations. They could prove to be harmful.

Here are a few tips that may help you avoid problems in your travels:

  • Join the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) that is offered by the U.S. State Department. They have their finger on the pulse of world affairs, and will contact you with information if there is a serious issue or emergency in any of the countries to which you are travelling.
  • Carry a copy of your advance health care directive and medical emergency information (or subscribe to LegalVault, which stores your legal documents in the cloud, available for you to access from anywhere in the world).
  • If you are a transgender traveler, check all your documents to make sure your sex designation is the same on all of them, and matches your physical appearance. Carry medical documents in English and in local languages so they can be easily reviewed wherever you are.

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