As a LGBTQIA+ traveler who decides to go abroad – whether that be to study, teach, intern, or volunteer – you are making the decision to take on an even bigger challenge than their heterosexual and cis-gendered peers. Every country around the world has varying laws, customs, and beliefs about the LGBTQIA+ community, and therefore will react and treat LGBTQIA+ travelers in a unique way. After potentially overcoming the challenges of coming out in their home countries, LGBTQIA+ students who head abroad can be overwhelmed when faced with coming out all over again, except this time in a completely foreign and sometimes unfriendly environment for people who identify as LGBTQIA+ that may or may not lack an understanding or acceptance of LGBTQIA+ students. On the flip side, there are other countries that are more open and welcoming than the US may be.
Traveling as an LGBTQIA+ person can be daunting, when the culture and attitudes of new places are unfamiliar, and it’s easy to assume that you’re the only person who identifies this way in town. Yet, all around the world, individuals are living with gender and sexual identities that would be seen through Western eyes as LGBTQIA+ – but they’re not. Infinite identities and experiences which escape Western labels exist in almost every corner of the planet. So, if you think you’re alone as an LGBTQIA+ traveler in distant places, you’re probably not as alone as you think.
Questions to Consider/Action Items
Being Out Abroad
You are probably familiar with the fact that being ‘out’ or ‘out of the closet’ is a personal and often difficult experience for many LGBTQIA+ people. Many LGBTQIA+ individuals have their own story of this process of publicly identifying themselves with a LGBTQIA+ identity. Being ‘out’ is not possible or even advisable in all situations. When going abroad, there are locations and programs where being ‘out’ might not be the safest idea for a student. These locations change often and can depend on many factors, so they are not listed here. It is best to consult with IPE advisor/coordinators for the most up to day information and resources. Some questions you may want to consider are:
- What are the laws regarding homosexuality and gender identity in my host country?
- Is it safe for me to be out when I’m abroad? Should I come out to my host family?
- What are the cultural norms for dating and friendship?
- What kinds of LGBTQIA+ resources are there in my host country?
- What is the LGBTQIA+ population like in my host country? How visible and large is it? How do they dress, behave, etc.?
- Put your safety first.
- Before you leave, familiarize yourself with the customs and laws of your host country.
- Research whether or not talking about sexuality is taboo.
- Research the terms and definitions used in your host country to talk about LGBTQ+ issues.
- Find a support network abroad.
Upon arrival, you will surely feel a mixture of excitement, anxiety, and anticipation. It is completely normal to go through a period of adjustment, also known as culture shock. If you are prepared for it to happen, it will be much easier to overcome. Do your best to embrace and learn about the local way of life, instead of criticizing it, and maximize every opportunity for cultural immersion. Seek out local organizations, events, or venues that are specifically catered to LGBTQIA+ students or the local LGBTQIA+ community in general. These will prove to be a great place to meet other LGBTQIA+ students and locals, socialize in a comforting environment, and provide you will a place to learn more about the LGBTQIA+ community in your host country
- Spectrum Center’s International page
- U.S. Department of State: LGBTI Travel Information
- GoAbroad.com: An LGBT Guide to Studying Abroad
- ILGA World – The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association
- National Center for Transgender Equality: Air Travel Tips for Transgender People
- Rainbow Scholarship