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Travelling While LGBT: A Justified Anxiety?

The New York Times released its list of the top places to go to in 2015. It puts together two of my favourite things: easy-to-digest lists and travel destinations. This year’s list was pretty exciting – among some places that we’d visited on this past trip (Manhattan, Philadelphia, and, surprisingly, Orlando), there were a lot of places I’m interested in visiting.

Singapore and St Vincent and the Grenadines in particular caught my eye. Singapore for its city-state strangeness and St Vincent for its diving. That coral reef photo looks so inviting! But wait.

Before I can plan any more, before I get too excited about a new travel destination, I go to the Wikipedia page for LGBT rights by country. (Or, I recently found a great site called Equaldex. I wanted to build something similar – it has a map and an easily-searchable database of countries showing the status of various LGBT-related laws.)

Does that seem strange? It still does to me, even though I do it fairly regularly. But unfortunately I feel like I have to. For example, checking out St Vincent and the Grenadines shows me that male homosexuality is punishable by ten years in prison. I guess that takes it off the “potential diving spots” list.

Singapore has a prison sentence of two years for gay guys. Another one off the list.

Going back to the New York Times list, there’s a couple of countries that I know are not LGBT-friendly – Oman (up to three years imprisonment) and Morocco (six months imprisonment). Checking some more, there’s also St Kitts (ten years imprisonment), Zimbabwe (up to ten years imprisonment), Sri Lanka (up to ten years), Papua New Guinea (up to fourteen years), and Tanzania (a minimum of twenty years imprisonment). That totals nine countries out of the fifty-two! I guess forty-three remaining travel destinations would still keep you pretty well-occupied.

That’s just going off countries that ban same-sex activities, mind you. There’s even more countries that don’t ban LGBT discrimination. When looking at destinations, I’m usually more lax with that. I mean heck, we couldn’t even visit Florida if I included places that allow LGBT discrimination in the “no-travel” list.

What does this serve? Am I just being unnecessarily anxious? Is this narrowing our experience of the world over something quite small? I mean, we’re from two globally dominant countries. Surely LGBT travellers aren’t arrested that regularly? There’s a couple of high-profile cases that spring to mind – a British gay guy was arrested in Morocco, and four LGBT Dutch people were arrested in Russia. But the number of LGBT travellers far outweighs those, surely. We’d probably be “unnoticed.”

As well as the “danger,” there’s also an aspect of avoiding such countries for economic reasons. We can freely choose to spend our money in, say, Spain – which has far better equal rights for LGBT people – over another country that does not.

It’s weird having to read through any destination list with the knowledge that you’ll maybe have to cut out about ~15% of it. I’m interested to hear what anyone reading this – both LGBT and non-LGBT – thinks. Am I being too paranoid? Is it a valid, maybe arbitrary choice (I mean hey, it’s a useful way to narrow down all possible countries into a smaller list, right)? Do you have any “rules” for choosing whether you’ll visit a country?

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