Just when we thought it was safe to hit the road, we were walloped by the Delta variant, the latest plot twist in the 18-month-and-counting pandemic story. The surprising data that fully vaccinated people could transmit the virus came shockingly from Provincetown with a 90% vaccination rate. Ptown quickly tightened restrictions requiring masking at all indoor locations and proof of vaccine at all entertainment venues — interventions that worked. As of press time, the positivity rate there is much lower than much of the rest of the U.S. and it remains one of our top recommendations this fall and beyond. Ptown demonstrated a successful response — stressing safety yet continuing to deliver a deeply satisfying experience.
Read on for our favorite queer-friendly destinations striving to create a safe space for you and strategies for navigating the increasingly complex world of pandemic travel. Safe, beautiful and fun LGBTQ-friendly destinations, experiences and accommodations beckon whether you seek to recharge your batteries, deplete them or a little of both.
Queer and safe destinations
• Provincetown, Mass. is our very own home beyond the rainbow as suggested by this year’s Carnival theme. Book far ahead for popular weeks (July 4; Bear Week; and Carnival) but we recommend visiting outside of the most popular times for a less frantic more enjoyable stay. There are diverse LGBTQ-oriented events almost every weekend through New Year’s Eve. Information: Provincetown Business Guild and Provincetown for Women.
• Fort Lauderdale and Miami remain the beating heart of LGBTQ-friendly Florida despite the barbaric state-level response causing the Sunshine State to be among the worst hit in the U.S. by the pandemic. Fort Lauderdale has been world renowned for its authentic and inclusive vibe for all visitors since 1996. More than 1,000 local businesses have taken the Safe & Clean Pledge. Likewise, Miami has implemented the Greater Miami Travel Guidelines and Destination Pledge accessible from the destination’s homepage outlining how safety measures are being implemented throughout the community.
• Puerto Rico is the undisputed LGBTQ capital of the Caribbean enticing visitors with reliably warm, sunny weather and a sincere outreach to queer travelers. Despite unfortunate, highly publicized attacks on local transgender people, Puerto Rico boasts a visible and vibrant trans community, and nightlife options that specifically cater to queer and non-binary folx. This helps create a safer and more comfortable environment than other warm-weather destinations in the Caribbean or Mexico, which lack venues for a trans community that mostly lives in hiding. Information: Discover Puerto Rico.
• Philadelphia makes for a fun urban getaway. Once the kids are back in school and the lines at the Liberty Bell disappear, you’ll find a warm, walkable and LGBTQ-welcoming city. Find LGBTQ restaurants, safe nightlife, engaging events and recommendations galore at Visit Philly. Pro tip: Try to schedule a half day at the Barnes Foundation art collection.
• Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Wait, what? Yep, this charming midwestern town is our top unexpected recommendation. You’ll find historic cultural venues, a walkable entertainment district with plenty of topnotch live music and theatrical performances, a delectable culinary scene and a truly warm welcome. Find trip-planning recommendations at the destination’s website.
Queer cruises and land vacations
Cruises are coming back, and it may be surprising to hear that they are probably the safest vacation you can take. According to Randle Roper, CEO at VACAYA, an LGBT+ vacation company, “With cruise lines soon to mandate that all guests and crew members must be vaccinated, cruise ships will be among the very safest locations on the planet – with the entire population vaccinated. Making sensible choices like masking and social distancing while ashore, cruisers can avoid infection altogether.” Resort vacations are also safe with similar universal vaccinations and plenty of room for guests to spread out. Remember with no children during LGBTQ weeks at mainstream resorts, they offer much more space per adult guest. VACAYA’s big 2021 fall events include an all-inclusive Mexico resort vacation (Oct. 30-Nov. 6) and a New Orleans Cruise (Nov. 14-22). In 2022, there are only two trips that still have rooms available: the Caribbean Cruise (Jan. 10-17) and the all-inclusive Costa Rica Resort (June 5-12). Information and booking at MyVACAYA.com.
Not only will queer tour companies get you there and back safely, but “they also can ensure your money is being spent with other welcoming, progressive and even queer businesses and individuals around the world,” according to Robert Sharp, founder of Out Adventures. “This is even more important,” he continues, “when planning travel to countries that are known to be less than queer welcoming.” Visit their site to read about their New Year’s Eve trips to Thailand and Cuba and in 2022, their Iceland winter trip, and four back-to-back Croatia small group cruises, which are starting to sell out.
R Family Vacations is one of our top recommendations for planning an incredibly fun and satisfying tour or cruise (big ship and river cruises) in the company of other queer travelers and allies. You don’t even have to have children to join their trips. In 2022, R Family offers land tours in Thailand and Ireland; an LGBTQ group on board a cruise in Alaska; and a magical all-queer full-ship-charter Uniworld river cruise in Northern Italy among other trips. Information: R Family Vacation, rfamilyvacations.com.
Even in this uncertain time, you can enjoy enriching and joyful travel opportunities in LGBTQ-friendly environments in a way that maximizes safety and minimizes risk. You just have to plan a little more. We highly recommend using an LGBTQ expert travel adviser who keeps up to date on LGBTQ-friendly tour, cruise, and safari providers, as well as destinations and hotels and that understand innately the needs and concerns of LGBTQ travelers. They dedicate themselves to both LGBTQ travel safety and keeping up with the latest, ever-shifting pandemic-era guidance, health protocols, openings, and closings. They know how to get the best value for your time and money, and, thanks to their global connections, they can often score VIP upgrades for you at hotels, on cruise lines, on tours, and more. They are also your most important advocate when trips are cancelled or rescheduled. Best of all clients use travel advisers, like our top picks here, for no additional fees:
We’ve heard far too many stories of queer guests receiving a frosty welcome (or worse) when checking into a hotel or AirBnB. These are our top choices for LGBTQ-friendly resources for accommodations where you can truly relax and be your authentic selves:
MisterBnB includes one million LGBTQ-friendly listings in 200 countries and is primarily geared towards gay men.
FabStayz proudly offers accommodations inclusive of all the letters of our ever-growing acronym.
Booking.com is rolling out an LGBTQ certification program, including live training and ancillary materials, for their hotel partners over the next year. Look for the “Proud Hospitality” label on listings.
NYC-based Ed Salvato is a freelance travel writer, instructor at NYU and the University of Texas at Austin’s NYC Center, and an LGBTQ tourism marketing specialist. This article is courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association.
TikToker and model Rose Montoya has called out the Transport Security Administration (TSA) on TikTok for how their scanners give trans people “immense anxiety”.
In the viral video, which has been viewed more than three million times, she talks about her experience with airport security and why “we need to change how the scanners function and educate TSA about trans people”.
She explained: “Going through the scanner, there’s a male and female scanner for the TSA checkpoint.
“But going through the scanner, I always have an ‘anomaly’ between my legs that sets off the alarm. So she asked me if I had anything in my pants and I say, ‘No’, so she said, ‘Maybe it’s just the metal buttons on your shorts.’
“So I went through the scanner again but I set off the alarm again, so I said I am trans woman and to just pat me down.
“Her solution was to ask me if I wanted to be scanned as a man instead. I didn’t, but I ended up doing it.
And my boobs set it off, because of course. So I tried to make a joke out of it and said don’t worry, there’s just a bunch of plastic in there.
“Then she said we have to pat you down and asked if I would prefer a man to do it. I said absolutely not.”
She also posted the TikTok to Instagram, where many trans people commented with similar experiences while travelling.
Montoya wrote on Instagram: “It’s been proven that the system we have in place is broken and doesn’t work.
“We also need to train people on how to treat trans people. If I tell you I’m a trans woman, it most likely means I want to be scanned as a woman, treated as a woman, and patted down by a woman.”
In the video, Rose Montoya also discussed her privilege as someone who is “cis-assuming”, or often mistaken for being cisgender.
The TSA has frequently come under fire for their binary scanning technology and officers lacking awareness of trans issues.
A previous ProPublica investigation found that trans people can face invasive searches by the TSA in airports, including allegations that TSA officers have required passengers to show their genitals in order to board a flight.
GayCities encourages you to stay safe during the Covid 19 pandemic. If you choose to travel, we recommend that you follow all CDC Travel Guidelines and adhere closely to all local regulations regarding face coverings, social distancing and other safety measures.
If you’ve been doing Zoom workouts in your living room since the world went into quarantine, sun, surf, and beaches surely are calling you.
With a stylish mask and six feet apart emblazoned in your mind, it’s time to get out and catch that summer Vitamin D before the leaves start to fall.
We’ve dusted the sand off our list of the best gay beaches both for eye candy and waves. Make sure to check local listings to make sure your favorites remain open and avoid weekends where crowds make social distancing a challenge rather than the norm.
For a more cautious approach, put these on your bucket list for the post-COVID world.
Let us know which beaches we missed in the comments section, and start packing your sunscreen and beach towels now.
Playa Los Muertos is the epicenter of Puerto Vallarta. Situated just south of the Malecon and the Cuale River in the Romantic Zone (or “Old Vallarta”), the beach draws locals, traveling sun-seekers, and adventurers alike. Rafael Zamarripa’s iconic sculpture, “Caballero del Mar,” or “The Seahorse” stands strong at the end of the beach, just off of the popular Mantamar Beach Club Bar & Grill. Mantamar boasts a truly adults-only beach experience with a sexy pool scene, delicious cocktails, and plenty of eye candy. Not in the mood for a beach club? Grab a spot on the chairs in front of Blue Chairs Resort and soak up the sun. Architect Jesus Torres Vega designed the new Los Muertos Pier, which opened in the winter of 2013. Stroll along the pier towards the Malecon and take in the sculptures, sites, and sounds of the new(ish) Puerto Vallarta.
Mykonos has been luring gay boys to its golden sandy beaches and transparent waters since Jackie O brought her entourage and drew her many chic followers to the island back in the 70s. There are plenty of world-class DJs, water activities, and sites to see on the island but locals and tourists take their beach time extremely seriously on the island. Elia Beach is not only one of the island’s largest beaches, but it also has amazing restaurants and plenty of bungalows to snuggle into and create an ideal vacation. Ditch the trunks on the right-hand side of the beach and strut your stuff as you dive into the pristine water.
Known as Cape Town’s St. Tropez, Clifton is one of Cape Town’s biggest gay draws. There are four beaches that makeup Clifton Beach, and Clifton 3rd is definitely the most “family-friendly.” Apply that SPF and soak up the rays while taking in the turquoise blue water before you. Definitely take in the sunset, the view from this side of the Twelve Apostles is extraordinary. Want to ditch the suit and let it all hang out? Hop on over to Sandy Beach, just be sure to get the sand out of your nooks and crannies before heading to happy hour.
Fire Island, the center of outer barrier islands just parallel to Long Island, is a longtime gay mecca and summer destination. Despite a few weather-related speed bumps, literal fires, and a pandemic Cherry Grove and The Pines are back up and running. The sprawling beach passes both communities on the island and they’re additionally linked by a notorious sandy, woodsy, and a cruisey section of the island affectionately known as “The Meat Rack.” And please, stay away from any non-socially distanced parties that may pop up on private parties or beaches. Really, it’s not worth the risk.
The cat’s out of the bag: Gran Canaria is a gay summer wonderland. The most popular of the Canary Islands, this paradise practically straddles the coast of Morocco. With over 100 pristine beaches surrounding the island you never know who you’re going to run into in the alluring sand dunes. Maspalomas has taken off over the past few years, especially the Playa del Inglés region.
North Bondi is the ultimate beach destination for Aussi sun-seekers and the rule of thumb is “the more north you travel the gayer the beach (and the better the eye candy). Star performer Pam Ann has boasted in the past that “North Bondi is where all the gay show off their pecks and promenade to and from the water’s edge.” North Bondi is definitely a great place to swim and play in the waves. If you’re looking to let it all hang out, head on over to Lady Bay (yes, Lady Bay), one of Sydney’s original nude beaches.
Part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, Herring Cove is Provincetown’s most popular beach. It’s definitely “over the river and through the woods,” but once you arrive you will spot plenty of handsome beach dwellers enjoying this gorgeous unofficial nude beach. While it is technically illegal to disrobe here, the National Park Service is known to look the other way. The dunes are infamous for cruising and connecting, but don’t wander down that primrose path right now. Wait til post-pandemic to indulge.
Tel Aviv, with a population of around 400,000, has become one of the gay capitals of the Mediterranean in the past few years. The biggest draw, Hilton Beach, offers golden sand, blue waters, and arguably the most gorgeous men in the world. Hilton beach is located just below the Hilton Hotel between Metzitzim Beach and the Tel Aviv Marina.
Manuel Antonio, considered one of the gayest destinations in Central America, has an enormous public beach “La Playita.“. The beach has long been known as one of Costa Rica’s only nude beaches, but be careful because skinny dippers have been known to be slapped on the wrist by local police. Don’t worry, the dress code is still skimpy, skimpy, and more skimpy. Enjoy the view.
BearWeek is definitely one of the biggest events of the Sitges gay calendar, and local hotels book far in advance, but there’s plenty of sun and surf to explore during the full season (spring through early fall). Platja de la Bassa Rodona is the main gay beach in town. Situated directly across from Hotel Calipolis, between the lifeguard station and picnic restaurant. Bring plenty of sunscreen because it’ll be hard to leave once you set that towel down and take in the sweeping (and burly) views around you. Looking to strip down and show off? Swim over to Balmins and let it all hang out. You’ll surely get a lot of “woofs.”
“Marriott International has long been a champion for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and our commitment to the cause is stronger than ever…we believe in a warm welcome for all.” Brian King, President, the Caribbean and Latin America region.
Celebrate with PRIDE now through October 31, 2021 Accommodations for 2 adultsComplimentary room upgrade upon availabilitySelf-parking for one vehicle per nightWelcome Amenity upon arrival2pm check out Book your escape using code 4LG
Copenhagen is one of the world’s most gay-friendly cities on the planet with its colorful buildings and welcoming lifestyle! WorldPride 2021 is August 12 – 22 and will celebrate equality, arts, and human rights proudly hosted by Copenhagen Pride in collaboration with Malmö Pride. COVID protocols mean the Opening Ceremony will be live-streamed, setting the stage for the next 10 days of spectacular events.
Steel House Copenhagen embodies “industrial chic” combined with a warm and welcoming staff who create a positive vibe around the house. You’ll settle right into this hip, luxury hostel.Manon les Suites manifests a tropical vibe smack in the middle of Copenhagen. You’ll experience bohemian luxury in a festive atmosphere at this sustainable and 5-star hot spot!
Bryggen Guldsmeden is Denmark’s most accomplished sustainable hotel. Its name comes from the Islands Brygge. “Bryggen” is a waterfront neighborhood best known for “Havneparken,” and within walking distance to Tivoli & the Central Station.Axel Guldsmeden is a lovely, eco-friendly hotel located in a turn-of-the-century building in the center of Copenhagen. Their garden, lush with plants and flowers, has an outdoor fireplace & fleece blankets to wrap around yourself. Ahhhh.
GayCities encourages you to stay safe during the Covid 19 pandemic. If you choose to travel, we recommend that you follow all CDC Travel Guidelines and adhere closely to all local regulations regarding face coverings, social distancing and other safety measures.
The risk of transmitting Covid is known to decrease outdoors. Therefore, planning a trip to a gay campsite is not only one way to get a little closer to nature, but also the possibility of socializing with others a little more safely.
Don’t know where to start? There are dozens of gay campgrounds across North America. Here are just a few recommended ones.
Roseland Resort in West Virginia
Roseland is one of the best-known gay-owned and operated campgrounds in the US. It’s set amongst 222 acres of West Virginia countryside. Besides stunning views, it offers bed and breakfast style cabins and tent sites. There’s also a pool, bar area and the Walnut Tree restaurant. It’s aimed at gay men over the age of 21. It scores highly on Trip Advisor for its clean facilities and friendly staff.
“This place is amazing. Beautiful scenery, great facilities, but most importantly very, very nice people. I can’t stress that enough. Just a lot of fun, easy going energy,” says one reviewer.
One recent visitor praised the local landscape: “One of the most under appreciated aspects of Roseland is how much amazing hiking there is,” said Mike (@thedreamofthenineties)
You’ll find it at 925 Nolte Lane, Proctor WV 26055. It’s quite a drive into West Virginia and the owner do recommend you check the route on Google Maps as some GPS systems don’t track all the small local roads.https://www.instagram.com/p/CCT830NjKdo/embed/?cr=1&v=13&wp=1080&rd=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.gaycities.com&rp=%2Foutthere%2F53815%2F10-best-gay-campsites-us%2F%3Futm_source%3Dqueerty%26utm_medium%3Ddirectlink%26utm_campaign%3Ddirectlink%26utm_content%3D10%2Bof%2Bthe%2Bbest%2Bgay%2Bcampsites%2Bin%2Bthe%2BUS%2Bfor%2Bsummertime%2Bfun#%7B%22ci%22%3A0%2C%22os%22%3A1501%2C%22ls%22%3A1016%2C%22le%22%3A1033%7D
Sawmill Camping Resort, Florida
One of the most highly-rated gay and lesbian camping grounds in the south-east, “where camping meets nightlife.” Sawmill offers it all: Four bars, Woody’s Nightclub, a clothing-optional pool, plus nature trail, lakeside walks (around Ricki Lake!), and local Zip Lines and antique shopping. There’s also a nightly campfire and regular entertainment on the courtyard stage.
“How wonderful is it to find a place where you can go and be you,” said one visitor on TripAdvisor. “Very welcoming and inviting. Along with all the amenities, one could want while camping … Sawmill Campground is truly the best”
You’ll find Sawmill Resort at 21710 US Highway 98, Dade City, FL 33523. You can rent a cabin, or space for your RV or tent. Membership is required, which costs $35 and lasts for 12 months.
Vitambi Springs in Florida
Near the tranquil Lake Vitambi, you’ll find Vitambi Springs at 28280 Etumakee Way, Clewiston, FL 33440. Once again, do check Google Map before setting off on your drive as it’s quite out there in the wilderness! It’s around 90 minutes to Miami, Naples or Fort Lauderdale.
Around two-thirds of this huge site are clothing optional. It offers a range of accommodation, including inn room, private cabins, military barracks, plus space for RVs and tents. There’s a pool, a lakeside dock with canoes, a bar, gym, café, ‘Big Oak Lodge’ and plenty of wild deer wandering around. There’s also a regular calendar of event, such as Bad Bear weekend.
Nestled in a hidden valley of the Superstition Mountains, it offers bed and breakfast accommodation along with camping facilities. Amenities include a hot tub and pool, BYOB Saloon, full food menu, karaoke, community fire pit and 40 acres of trails. It’s also clothing optional!
Local attractions include the Tonto National Forest, Hike Peralta Trails and the town of Superior.
There’s also an airport shuttle service if you’re flying not driving to the resort. It hosts regular events, such as its upcoming Wellness Weekend and Drum Circle on May 14, and ‘Cowboy Fling’ weekend.
“You get to meet new people and everyone is so nice and very welcoming!” one customer, Cesar Alonso Borey, told GayCities. “They don’t treat you like a stranger even if it’s your first time there. Uncle Bobby and Rich always do their best to make you feel very comfortable! You get to really talk to people like we used to! A totally wonderful, relaxing, fun experience!”
Copper Cactus Ranch Men’s Retreat, 4516 North Elephant Butte Road, Queen Valley,
Campit Resort in Michigan
Campit Resort bills itself as an “affordable getaway and vacation destination” for the LGBTQ community, their friend and allies. “We are all affirming, with a reputation as a very friendly, welcoming and safe place to relax and play.”
It offers 33 acres to explore and roam, ten minutes from the towns of Saugatuk and Douglas. The Lake Michigan beaches are also not far away.
Besides space for tent and RV’s, there are also 22 log cabin which can be rented, plus a five-bedroom bunkhouse. It also offer a clubhouse with regular entertainment, swimming pool and nature trails. Themed weekends are aimed at both gay men and lesbians.
Someone who’d visited several times told GayCities he liked it for its range of sleeping options, while nearby Saugautuk is also very gay-friendly and offers a number of cider mills, breweries and a winery to visit.
Campit Outdoor Resort is at 6635 118th Ave, Fennville, MI 49408.
The Woods Camping Resort in Pennsylvania
Nestled in the Pocono Mountains, and open since 2004, the Woods Camping Resort in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, is another of the country’s best LGBTQ camping grounds. It’s set amidst 161 private acres with its own streams and four-acre lake.
You’ll find it open between May and October, with a whole calendar of events to explore and activities such as yoga and volleyball. In addition to plenty of space to rent for tents and RVs, it offers 30 cabins and three resort homes.
Events include an annual bears gathering, leather/country weekend, and Christmas in July weekend, among many others. To make a reservation, you’ll need to take out a membership.
The resort’s ethos is simple: less digital interaction and more real-life interaction!
“In an era when old methods of meeting people have dwindled, The Woods has risen.
“At The Woods, you are among like-minded people in an inviting atmosphere which encourages face-to-face interaction. You can choose from a variety of activities and places where you’ll be among real live people! Talking, laughing, dancing and yes, cruising if you so choose.”
The inclusive resort welcomes everyone from the LGBTQ spectrum: “The only people not allowed at The Woods are bullies, racists, fighters, immature jerks and those who get overly intoxicated.”
The Woods Camping Resort, 3500 Forest Street, Lehighton, PA 18235.
Triangle Recreation Camp in Washington
Triangle Recreation Camp (47715 Mountain Loop Highway, Granite Falls, WA 98252) in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, 21 miles east of Granite Falls, has a history dating back to 1975.
Situated in a beautiful, extremely rural part of the country, this clothing-optional site tends to pull in visitors from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, as well a further afield.
It is regarded as the premier “recreational campground that is Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer owned and operated” in the northwest of the US. It’s open from mid-April to October, and offers 80 acres to set up your tent or RV.
There’s stunning scenery to enjoy, including a local waterfall, beach and forests dominated by huge, centuries-old trees.
Freedom Valley in Ohio
Freedom Valley is an acclaimed camping ground in Ohio, about 57 miles from both Akron and Cleveland.
It offers a large bunkhouse, a handful of cabins and trailers, plus plenty of space for tents amongst its flowery meadows. It is aimed at “all Men of all backgrounds, sizes, and ages (over 21).” It offers a pool, firepit, plus several themed weekends throughout its summer season.
In 2017, respondents to a survey in the South Florida Gay News voted Freedom Valley their second favorite campground in the US (behind Sawmill). It’s been praised for its appearance, accommodations and community atmosphere. You’ll find it at 1875 U.S. 250 South, New London, OH 44851.
Jones Pond in New York
Jones Pond in Angelica, NY, has a history as a gay camping ground going back to 1991. You can choose from a bunkhouse or cabin, while there’s an expansive area to rent space for a tent or RV (175 camping sites!).
An all-day cafe takes care of all your food needs, while there’s over 100 acres of rural, Western New York State to explore.
Aimed at men aged over 21, it’s clothing optional around the pool area. Like the other sites mentioned here, there are plenty of themed weekends throughout the summer, like an annual Pride weekend celebration and Cowboy Weekend.
Jones Pond camp site is at 9835 Old State Road, Angelica, NY 14709.
Camp Camp in Maine
Camp Camp is not a camping ground but a big, annual LGBTQ camping event that takes place every August in southwestern Maine (45 miles west of Portland, Maine).
It’s been running for over 25 years and routinely attracts around 200 attendees.
Activities include everything from hiking, zip-lining, rock wall climbing, and canoeing to pottery and stained glass workshops. You sleep in bunk beds in cabins named after LGBTQ icon like Ellen DeGeneres, Harvey Milk and Oscar Wilde.
The organizers say that around 75% of those who attend return for at least a second visit: a testimony to the unique and special atmosphere fostered by this inclusive event.
The International LGBTQ+ Travel Association has published an online guide that allows travelers to explore which countries and regions around the world offer same-sex marriage. In addition to marriage equality, the guide also features an application that sources LGBTQ+ rights and protections in over 250 countries and regions around the world.
The application was developed in partnership with Destination Pride, a data-driven platform that reimagines the Pride flag as a dynamic bar graph, then uses it to visualize the world’s LGBTQ+ laws, rights and social sentiment. The platform, which was created by PFLAG Canada, brings together thousands of data points from around the globe—including marriage equality laws, census data and real-time social sentiment—to generate a Pride flag visualization for each destination.
Currently, just 29 countries recognize same-sex marriage. More than 70 countries currently have laws that allow for the punishment of same-sex activity between consenting adults, including more than 10 that allow for those ‘crimes’ to be punished with the death penalty.
This is the latest IGLTA resource to help LGBTQ+ travelers explore the world more safely, and to provide tourism professionals with easily accessible information on LGBTQ+ rights and protections to better serve their clients. The content complements IGLTA’s other site offerings, which include tips on finding LGBTQ+ welcoming tourism businesses around the world.
“IGLTA has been working for nearly 40 years to make travel safe and welcoming for the LGBTQ+ community,” said IGLTA President/CEO John Tanzella. “So on this International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, which draws attention to the discrimination experienced by LGBTQ+ people around the world, we wanted to make a contribution to improving awareness of LGBTQ+ rights within our global community of travelers and industry professionals.”
Companies and organizations that join IGLTA agree to a code of conduct and will not discriminate on sex, race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
About 17 May: The date was chosen as the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia to commemorate the World Health Organization’s 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.
The International LGBTQ+ Travel Association is the global leader in advancing LGBTQ+ travel and a proud Affiliate Member of the United Nations World Tourism Organization. IGLTA’s mission is to provide information and resources for LGBTQ+ travelers and expand LGBTQ+ tourism globally by demonstrating its significant social and economic impact. IGLTA membership includes LGBTQ+ and LGBTQ+ welcoming accommodations, destinations, service providers, travel agents, tour operators, events and travel media in 80 countries. The philanthropic IGLTA Foundation empowers LGBTQ+ welcoming travel businesses globally through leadership, research and education. For more information: iglta.org, igltaconvention.org or iglta.org/foundation and follow us on Facebook @IGLTA, @IGLTABusiness or @IGLTAFoundation, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram @iglta.
Since the tragic events of 9/11 and the abrupt halt to travel that followed, about every 10 years, the tourism industry is knocked back on its heels. The economic meltdown of 2008 and 2009 was even worse on the travel industry than 2001. And the pandemic is a once-a-century calamity exacerbated by the very things that make travel so enriching: large in-person events, meeting new friends at a hotel lounge, slaloming through a crowded bar in a far-flung city.
The travel industry rebooted before, and it will bounce back again soon. And if history is any guide, LGBTQ travelers will lead the way.
Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel Association, the Washington, D.C.-based organization representing all segments of travel in America, says, “Gays lead, and the rest follow. They’re adventurous and like new experiences. They have a penchant for travel far greater than their heterosexual counterparts. They travel more and spend more when they travel. They’re the darlings of the travel industry when it comes to spending and dollars.”
Recent history has demonstrated that LGBTQ travelers — especially those in dual-income-no-child households — are always among the first to travel after social and economic crises. Following 9/11 and again after the 2008/2009 financial crisis, destinations, hospitality companies and travel brands noticed that LGBTQ travelers were prioritizing tourism over other purchase decisions, helping fill airplanes, hotels and, restaurants and animating destinations. So, they began to market to this segment in earnest.
Smart travel marketers will note that this is happening again now. We see — anecdotally and with the support of research by Community Marketing, Inc., Harris Interactive and IGLTA — that this segment travels in higher proportions and intends to book and execute travel in greater proportions than their non-LGBTQ counterparts.
Queer travelers tend to have more disposable income and time to spend it, helping fill destinations and hotels, especially during the quieter periods when kids are in school. Being among the first to travel safely, this resilient segment grants permission to others that they can return to travel safely. The LGBTQ segment has always been disproportionately present in online platforms, which provide a safer way to meet and interact with others in an otherwise potentially anti-LGBTQ world.
They also help achieve travel marketers’ goals by experiencing more, creating social media content and generating buzz.
The segment displays intense loyalty to brands that welcome and include them. There are also surprising halo effects: By signaling welcome to this group, marketers send a sign of inclusiveness to other overlooked and marginalized segments, like Black and LatinX travelers, and the family and friends of queer people are also positively motivated by outreach to LGBTQ people. Finally, these messages resonate strongly with millennial and Gen Z audiences who plan their travel — as well as plot their careers — to destinations and at hospitality brands whose missions align with their more inclusive values.
The segment has also demonstrated a strong affinity for cruises of all sorts, including all-gay or all-lesbian cruises, LGBTQ groups on mainstream cruises, and simply joining mainstream cruises as a same-sex couple or in small friend groups. While cruise vacations are still on a pandemic-induced pause in the U.S., cruise companies — including Carnival, Celebrity, Cunard, Uniworld and the brand-new Virgin Voyages — have all firmly established LGBTQ travelers as a core segment.
“National Travel and Tourism Week takes on special significance this year as we look ahead to recovery following the most challenging year this industry has experienced,” says Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line and national chair of the U.S. Travel Association. “Across the country, we are recognizing travel’s value, and the long-standing support of the LGBTQ community will help accelerate our rebound. I know that for Carnival, we pride ourselves on an inclusive atmosphere where every guest is appreciated, and we look forward to welcoming them back as soon as possible.”
One reason queer travelers are uniquely suited to help power the return of travel during this crisis has to do with their decades of experience living under the ever-looming shadow of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, during which they learned the importance of risk mitigation for the good of all. Wearing masks to protect yourself and others resonates with a community that understands the importance of condoms and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
According to Randle Roper, co-founder and CEO of VACAYA Full-Ship and Full-Resort LGBT+Vacations, “[Our] guests showed incredible resilience by traveling safely during the pandemic, and they proved they could adapt to live with health protocols that would keep each other and their loved ones back home safe.”
Travel safety is organically entwined with the LGBTQ community’s DNA. In 70+ countries, many popular with LGBTQ travelers, homosexuality is criminalized. That includes 11 countries in which death is the punishment meted out for those convicted of homosexuality and other “crimes” of sexual and gender non-conformity.
While travelers would be spared the harsh treatments locals may suffer, they nonetheless have a great deal to consider when traveling. Same-sex couples still receive awkward and uncomfortable service when checking into hotels with a single bed on the reservation or even simply existing in places where everyone’s assumed to be heterosexual. When a lesbian boards a plane with her legally married wife and their legally adopted children, they could land in a destination where their marriage license is void and their legal guardianship of their kids is in question. Trans and non-binary travelers, especially those oF color, may encounter challenges including lack of safe bathroom access, awkward encounters at TSA security and even outright hostility and worse in any public setting. In the face of all this, queer people still explore and have a lot to teach the rest of the world about how to travel with intent and joy while maintaining their own safety and that of the community around them.
LGBTQ travelers can also show the world how best to support the tourism and hospitality industries in ways that also strengthen their own communities. “LGBTQ consumers have the power to make change and support LGBTQ-friendly companies and destinations by choosing to spend their travel dollars with those that support our community,” says Jeff Guaracino, co-author of the “Handbook of LGBT Tourism and Hospitality.” “LGBTQ-owned hotels, bed and breakfasts, tour companies, bars and restaurants, festivals and destinations have been especially hard hit by COVID, and as a community, we can support LGBTQ-owned and friendly businesses and their employees by spending our travel dollars with them first.”
LGBTQ tour companies and travel agents have a direct connection to queer travelers and report strong interest in and bookings of travel. According to Robert Sharp, co-founder and CEO of Out Adventures, “After [releasing] our entire tour schedule through the end of 2022, we saw our largest month of sales in our 12-year history.”
Kelli Carpenter, co-founder of R Family Vacations, adds, “Our highest sales have come from our river cruise products and international tour business, showing that travelers are ready to explore the world again.”
VACAYA’s Roper has seen extremely robust sales over the past several months — including selling out their Antarctica Cruise. “With a starting price of around $25,000 per room, that was our best sign yet that our community members are ready to break free from their cages and return to travel,” he says.
Robert Geller, founder of FabStayz, agrees: “Pent-up demand is visible, palpable and quantifiable.”
NYC-based Ed Salvato is a freelance travel writer, instructor at NYU and the University of Texas at Austin’s NYC Center, and an LGBTQ tourism marketing consultant.
Ben Rimalower, 44, has been vacationing on New York’s Fire Island since 2005. The island’s Pines section, a popular beach destination for gay men dating back to the 1920s, has been a reliably safe and sunshine-filled locale for Rimalower and his friends, primarily other gay men, to spend the summer.
“I first fell in love with Fire Island from afar while in college in California during the early ‘90s,” he told NBC News. “It seemed like Shangri-La to me.”
Rimalower said even on the “queerest blocks” of New York City, where he lives, he’s “uncomfortable kissing or holding hands” with another man, “but on Fire Island, I’m free.”
This year, however, his annual trip to Fire Island Pines is shrouded in uncertainty.
“If we can go at all, it will be with lots of changes,” he lamented. “I hope we can be safe on the beach, because that’s my favorite part.”
“This is all so new and complicated,” he said, adding there’s still a chance he and his friends will cancel their trip. “We haven’t even broached the topic of house rules yet, but I imagine at least at first we won’t be having any hookups or friends over.”
With the typically busy summer season kicking off, LGBTQ beach destinations in the Northeast — a region particularly hard-hit by the global coronavirus pandemic — are bracing for a new normal, and some of their loyal patrons are apprehensive.
New York’s Fire Island
Fire Island is a narrow, car-free, barrier island just south of Long Island and not far from the ritzy beaches of the Hamptons. While Fire Island boasts 15 communities, two of them have long been popular with LGBTQ beachgoers, with the Pines historically catering to gay men and Cherry Grove to lesbians.
The Pines only has one hotel, which is currently closed, so nearly all visitors rent houses during their stay. According to a community newsletter published May 14, brokers shared that vacation renters “have generally made their last payments and are planning to come to the Pines this summer, even if bars and restaurants are not open.”
P.J. McAteer, a co-owner of the Outpost Pines, which make up the majority of the Fire Island Pines’ commercial businesses, opened two of his restaurants May 15 for to-go service, and he plans to continue opening additional venues and expanding services as Suffolk County and Gov. Andrew Cuomo allow.
At his businesses, there will now be temperature and hand sanitizing stations at the entrances, a 50 percent capacity maximum and a mandate that employees wear masks and other personal protective equipment.
McAteer, who typically employs about 40 people during the summer months — from event photographers to drag queens — said his employees are eager to get to work.
“All of my staff and entertainers are chomping at the bit to come back,” he said. “They all cannot wait to be back here and bring back the life that is Fire Island Pines.”
“The gay community is very creative and inventive, especially in a crisis … We survived the HIV epidemic and made a comeback. I think the same thing about this. Those same creative energies will be out this summer.”
JAY PAGANO, FIRE ISLAND PINES PROPERTY OWNERS’ ASSOCIATION
And when beachgoers return to the island for the summer, they won’t be alone. Jay Pagano, president of the Fire Island Pines Property Owners’ Association, said occupancy has been higher than usual over the past few months, because many homeowners opted to quarantine on the island starting in mid-March.
“A large number of residents chose to spend the pandemic in the Pines,” he said in early May. “They thought it would be a safer or nicer venue to be locked down in. I’m guessing that’s probably 200 to 250 homes are occupied full-time right now, and that’s unusual this early.”
And while there hasn’t been much to do over the past two months, there’s always the beach.
“The beaches are open, and they will remain open,” Pagano explained. “We have a wonderfully wide beach this summer. We are going to encourage the residents to use it, but the requirements for social distancing and masks will be implemented on the beach as in the community, and the police will be enforcing those requirements.”
In neighboring Cherry Grove, the beach is also open to sunbathers, swimmers and strollers.
“It’s as safe here as it is anywhere,” Diane Romano,president of the Cherry Grove Community Association, said, adding that “the people in Cherry Grove have been really great at implementing social distancing.”
And for those thinking about heading to Fire Island’s Cherry Grove section, Romano said, “We want to make sure you’re someone that will follow guidelines and work with the community to make sure you protect yourself and others.”
In order to ensure everyone’s safety, Romano said local law enforcement, starting in mid-June, will patrol the beach to make sure everyone is following proper social distancing guidelines, which include limiting large groups from congregating.
Fire Island regulars, such as Rimalower and Zach James, who reserved a house for a week in July, are preparing for a different Fire Island experience than they’re used to, which typically includes large beach dances, drag shows and house parties.
“It’s going to be an isolated house trip without the fuss, which will be just fine,” James said. “We will change what we do out there to be in line with the world we live in.”
Arguably the most popular event in the Pines — the annual Pines Party dance and fundraiser, which is typically held the last weekend in July and draws an estimated 3,000 attendees — will not go on as planned this year. However, Guy Smith, the event’s creative director, said his group is “hard at planning” an alternative “to bring together our community and continue the Pines Party magic.” He said this year’s event will include live performances streaming from the Fire Island Pines that will “broaden the reach of our event and raise much-needed funds for our 2020 beneficiary, Stonewall Community Foundation.”
As for ferry service — the only way in and out of Fire Island unless you own your own boat — the schedule is more limited than recent years due to a decline in ridership amid the pandemic. The boats will be running at a maximum of 50 percent capacity, and all passengers must wear face coverings.
“Fire Island has so much beauty, and there’s so many things out here to do,” McAteer said, looking ahead to the next few months. “Whatever the new normal is, it’s going to be OK; we’re going to figure it out.”
“Summer 2020 is not canceled in my book,” he added. “Summer 2020 is just going to be done differently.”
New Jersey’s Asbury Park
Asbury Park, a 1.6-square-mile city located along the Jersey Shore, has been attracting an increasing number of LGBTQ homeowners and beachgoers since the ‘50s, when New Yorkers started purchasing and restoring Victorian homes, leading to the city’s rejuvenation.
While the city’s beach and boardwalk had been closed due to the pandemic, they recently opened ahead of the Memorial Day weekend. In order to ensure everyone’s safety, officials have put a number of new measures in place.
“We know our residents are looking forward to summer, and Asbury Park has always welcomed visitors — we know how much they help our economy,” Mayor John Moor said in a statement. “That said, this is not a normal summer season. We are in the middle of a pandemic, and we need to be smart. We are going to have to limit numbers, practice social distancing, wear face coverings and masks, and make the experience as contactless as possible for the safety of beach visitors and our staff.”
The city’s measures, which can be found on its website, will include the limited sale of beach passes, which are required for beach entry; one-way travel in each direction on the boardwalk; and a face mask requirement except when sunbathing or swimming.
“The next few weekends are going to be our tests to figure out how to do this, because all of this is so new, and we are learning as we go,” Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn said. “If people do not respect these rules, we will make changes.”
Michael Cook, who has lived in Asbury Park since 2005, said he’s preparing for a “Jersey Shore summer with a twist.”
“We all will learn a slightly new way of living this summer,” he said.
As for the shops and restaurants that line the city’s downtown area — including the popular gay venue Paradise — they remain closed.
“Right now, the music isn’t playing, and the cocktails are not flowing, but this is simply a moment,” the last post on Paradise’s Instagram reads. “We will all dance together again.”
Delaware’s Rehoboth Beach
Rehoboth Beach along Delaware’s coast has for decades been a popular beach destination with LGBTQ travelers from Philadelphia down to Washington, D.C. The resort town boasts over 200 gay-owned businesses, according to GayCities, and its Poodle Beach section is particularly popular with queer beachgoers.
While Delaware has not been as hard hit by the coronavirus as New York and New Jersey, Rehoboth Beach Mayor Paul Kuhns said the town is taking precautions and heeding the governor’s guidance on reopening.
“About 80 percent of the homes in Rehoboth are owned by people from out of town. What we have seen is a lot of those second-home owners have come to Rehoboth in order to get away from where they were, but they have been very positively practicing social distancing,” Kuhns said earlier this month. “It has been very manageable, but as we get more crowds coming in, it will be a difficult situation.”
As of 5 p.m. Friday, beaches along the Delaware coast will be open for exercising, sunbathing and swimming. Guidelines, which can be found on the state’s website, require social distancing among those from different households and encourage face coverings. There is a catch, though: Those who reside out-of-state will have to maintain a 14-day quarantine upon entering Delaware in order to enjoy what its beaches have to offer.
Kuhns, however, said, “We will not have police at the entrances of Rehoboth checking your ID and making sure you live in town or not.”
As for the town’s shops and restaurants, many will be open with restrictions, with most offering only curbside pick-up.
As the artist’s colony in Provincetown began to thrive in the early 20th century, so did its gay community. By the 1970s, the bohemian village at the tip of Cape Cod became known for its cabaret and drag scenes. Today, Provincetown boasts around 300 businesses that are part of the Provincetown Business Guild, an organization that focuses on drawing LGBTQ visitors to the destination.
“We are spending a lot of time talking about what the P-Town experience is going to look like this summer and trying to reimagine the Provincetown experience, because we believe there will still be people that come here,” Bob Sanborn, executive director of the Provincetown Business Guild, said. “We have a lot of these large-scale events and theme weeks that won’t happen as they have historically happened. With that said, we aren’t expecting the up-swells and crowds that traditionally happen here week to week.”
During the typical summer peak season, Provincetown has a population of about 30,000 to 50,000, with peak holidays and events seeing nearly 100,000.
“Eighty percent of the homes are second homeowner owned, so those people will still come with their house guests,” Sanborn speculated. “And we still believe there will be some tourists. So it’s going to be a slower but steady summer.”
Both of the region’s most well-known beaches — historically gay beach Herring Cove and Race Point — are part of the Cape Cod National Seashore and have not been closed amid the pandemic, though their operations have been limited. The area’s smaller beaches, those around the harbor, have been closed, but will open on Memorial Day. Social distancing will be expected on all beaches: Household clusters will be allowed to gather, but larger groups, especially with 10 people or more, will be prohibited.
“This summer will still be uniquely Provincetown,” Sanborn explained. “It will be a special summer. Many people are saying this will be like Old Provincetown, before the big theme weeks became such a part of our culture. People used to flock here years ago for the sun and the fun and the joie de vivre and the simple, colorful life. We believe it will be a summer like that.”
And, just like in years past, Sanborn and other community leaders acknowledged the resiliency of the LGBTQ community when unforeseen threats arise.
“The gay community is very creative and inventive, especially in a crisis,” Pagano said. “We survived the HIV epidemic and made a comeback. I think the same thing about this. Those same creative energies will be out this summer.”
Instead of relying on hearsay and anecdotes from other travelers, we took a deep look at LGBTQ+ rights, country by country. We’ve gathered data from a variety of trusted international sources to create a “LGBTQ+ Danger Index” that will help you find the worst (and safest) countries for LGBTQ+ travel.
Legalized Same-Sex Marriage (0 to +50 Points) — Is same-sex marriage legal and equal under the law in this country? If marriage is not equal, are civil unions legal? If not, does the country legally recognize foreign LGBTQ+ marriages? We ranked the scores for this metric based on how many years same-sex marriage has been legal in this country. Civil unions and other types of partnerships received half points and were also ranked by number of years they have been legal.Source: Recognition of same-sex relationships – Human Rights Watch
LGBTQ+ Worker Protections (0 to +50 Points) — For the people living in that country, are there legal protections against discrimination in the workplace? Full points were awarded for both sexual orientation and gender protection; half points were awarded for sexual orientation protection only.Source: LGBTQ+ Worker Protections – The World Policy Center
Legal Protections Against Anti-LGBTQ+ Discrimination (0 to +50 Points) — Are there either constitutional or broad legal protections of LGBTQ+ people in this country? Constitutional protections were awarded full points; broad protections were awarded half points.Source: Sexual Orientation Laws 2019 – ILGA
Criminalization of Hate-Based Violence (0 to +50 Points) — Is anti-LGBTQ+, hate-based, or homophobia-inspired violence considered a hate crime in this country? Is hate-based, anti-LGBTQ+ speech considered hate speech? The existence of hate crime penalties received full points; incitement-only punishments received half points.Source: Criminalization of Hate-Based Violence 2017 – ILGA
Adoption Recognition (0 to +50 Points) — Is joint adoption and/or second-parent adoption legal in this country for same-sex parents? The recognition of both joint and second-parent adoption received full points, while only second-parent adoption recognition received half points.Source: Adoption Recognition 2017 – ILGA
Gallup Poll Scores (0 to +100 points) — In a 2018 Gallup poll, individuals were asked, “Is the city or area where you live a good place or not a good place to live for gay and lesbian people?” The percentages represented and used in our metrics include those who said “good place” for that country. We gave this factor a double weighting because it gives a very good pulse on the general attitude towards LGBTQ+ people in that country.Source: Gallup World Poll (2018 Data)
Illegal LGBTQ+ Relationships and Acts (0 to -100 Points) — Can “sodomy,” “indecent acts,” or “buggery” result in punishments under the law such as physical violence, a fine, or prison time? Any possible death sentences or life-in-prison sentences under the law receive the maximum -100 safety penalty. All other punishments were ranked by severity. We gave this factor a negative double weighting because the fact that homosexuality is illegal and can receive the death sentence means that the laws of these countries are definitely not favorable to LGBTQ+ people.Source: Global Anti-LGBTQ+ Laws – Human Rights Watch
Propaganda/Morality Laws (0 to -50 Points) — Are there laws sanctioned by the state to prevent the dissemination or publication of information about queer culture? Are there laws affecting the creation of LGBTQ+ advocacy groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)? This metric was graded based on the severity of the punishments.Source: State Sponsored Homophobia 2017 – ILGA
To measure LGBTQ+ safety abroad, one cannot look only at data on whether or not same-sex marriage is legal and if anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination laws are in place. It also depends on the general attitude of the culture, minutiae of the legal system, and oppression of LGBTQ+ rights. These issues can affect everything, from your ability to show public displays of affection to being able to share a hotel room bed to the capacity at which you can use dating apps without being caught by the local police. A few items on our list, such as adoption recognition and worker protections may not affect LGBTQ+ travelers directly, but these factors are a good indication of overall attitudes within the culture.
Where are same-sex relationships illegal?
There are some places on the planet where it’s perfectly ordinary to kiss or hold hands with a same-sex partner in public, but in other places, that action could result in fines, imprisonment, hard labor, whipping, or, in some cases, death. These countries where homosexuality is illegal are also often severe human rights violators, usually penalizing male/male sexuality and/or trans women most harshly.
Unfortunately, some countries where it’s illegal to be gay or trans also happen to be popular vacation spots. For instance, it’s illegal to be gay in Jamaica; the “buggery law,” which is leftover from the colonial era, allows for a sentence of up to 10 years in prison including hard labor. Jamaica was called “the most homophobic place on Earth” by Time magazine in 2006. That label has clung to Jamaica ever since, and with good reason. In a 2013 survey of 71 LGBTQ+ people conducted by Human Rights Watch, more than half said they had been victims of homophobic violence. Non-violent discrimination is even more pervasive, with bullying and exclusion faced in education, healthcare and within local communities. Although there is some light at the end of the tunnel for Jamaica since there are signs that it’s moving toward reform.
Those looking for trans- and gay-travel-safe countries should reconsider popular vacation destinations like Malaysia, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Myanmar, and Egypt as well as some of the more popular beaches in the Caribbean, like Saint Lucia and Barbados.
The following countries are not in the top 150 most visited by international tourists, so they have not been included in our LGBTQ+ Danger Index graphic above. However, same-sex relationships are illegal:
The following countries are not in the top 150 most visited by international tourists, so they have not been included in our LGBTQ+ Danger Index graphic above. However, same-sex relationships are illegal:
The following countries are not in the top 150 most visited by international tourists, so they have not been included in our LGBTQ+ Danger Index graphic above. However, same-sex relationships are illegal:
As noted, an asterisk next to the country names in the above list means that it was a former British colony. A whopping 47 of the 70 countries that have illegal same-sex relationships were part of the British Empire. That is 67%! This isn’t a coincidence. In almost all cases, the laws outlawing consensual gay sex were put into place under British rule and were left in place following independence.
India is an example country that has only in 2018 managed to annul Section 377, a British colonial-era law prohibiting “unnatural acts,” in order to legalize consensual gay sex. Ancient Indian literature such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana have many references to LGBTQ+ heroes including transgender warriors and two queens who made love in order for one queen to get pregnant with an heir for their kingdom. Long story short, this points to the fact that it was likely the British influence that largely led to Indian homophobia in the first place.
Which are the top 25 safest countries for LGBTQ+ travelers?
Being born this way can be rough, but one thing should not give you anxiety when you’re trans, bi, lesbian, queer, or gay: travel. Europe, North America, Oceania, Africa, Asia, and South America all have LGBTQ-safe countries where it’s OK to just be you. These are some of the best places for LGBTQ+ travel enthusiasts to go, where queer and trans individuals have important basic rights and protections like marriage equality, constitutional protections, and hate-crime punishments for targeted violence. By looking at the legal rights of each country, we found these top 25 LGBTQ-friendly countries, which often serve as the top gay vacation destinations for travelers the world over:
As of now, 27 countries have marriage equality (which will soon be 28 once it becomes legal in Costa Rica), and 11 countries provide civil unions or partnerships. Two countries — Bulgaria and Israel — do not allow marriage equality for their citizens but formally recognize marriages overseas (Armenia will as well soon). See a list of same-sex-marriage countries and their laws to see when those laws were enacted and how each country’s laws work.
Countries with marriage equality laws are often great spots for LGBT+ vacations, but be aware that gay travel to rural or fundamentalist communities can be dangerous in almost any country — definitely don’t make assumptions when visiting smaller towns and communities.
What other countries might be a problem for LGBTQ+ international travelers?
Sixty-four of the 150 most-visited countries offer at least some form of legal protection for LGBTQ+ people, but 47 of the 150 countries penalize either sexual acts or the dissemination of information about their rights. That leaves roughly 39 of the most-visited countries with no legal language for or against trans and queer people. This creates a gray area where it’s not quite safe to be out but not immediately threatening.
But the conversation about danger is a little bit different than the question of which countries do not allow gay marriage. Japan is rarely dangerous, with 35% of locals saying Japan is a “good place” for gay people to live, while Russia frequently polls at only 9%. Countries like Armenia (at 3%), Kyrgyzstan (4%), and Mongolia (6%) all may be bad places to go as well, despite not having any formal anti-LGBTQ+ legislation that could harm travelers.
Beyond gay-marriage-illegal countries, here are some real problem places among the list of most-visited countries in the world:
China — China’s relationship to LGBTQ+ culture is dubious to say the least. Homosexuality is no longer considered a mental disorder as of 2001, and the consensus is that homosexuality is legal and that most locals won’t care so long as you find the right bar to hang out in. At the same time, groups and events have frequently been banned, and censorship laws have frequently been used to ban LGBTQ+ content online in China. LGBTQ+ travel is possible, but only with an extreme amount of caution.
Iraq, Mozambique, and Bahrain are also examples of countries where same-sex relations are not illegal in the traditional sense but expression of LGBTQ+ sexuality has been suppressed and may still be considered “indecency” with legal consequences, depending on the circumstance.
If the country you want to visit is in one of those gray areas, consider reading more about it, talking to fellow travelers, or doing a bit more research before booking a flight.
37 safety tips shared by four LGBTQ+ travel experts
As one can plainly see, LGBTQ+ travel safety varies a great deal, from relative comfort to the real possibility of danger. We looked at the specific legal status of rights abroad as well as polling information to create our LGBTQ+ travel index, but the on-the-street experience can be much more nuanced. Because anti-LGBTQ+ crime and harassment is rarely reported, especially not on an international scale, it’s hard to find data to inform travelers of what walking the streets might be like. Beyond our list, ask other queer people and allies there before you go. Make an online friend, do your research, and take your time.
Want to get tips from our four LGBTQ+ travel experts?
8 tips from a trans travel expert
Aaron Edwards, an FTM trans travel blogger, shares the following helpful tips on staying safe while traveling.
1. Remember to bring all your documents
If possible, try to travel with documents that reflect who you currently are. (Or as close as you can be given the laws where you live) Photo, name, gender marker, etc. AT MINIMUM, make sure your photo reflects how you currently look.
2. Research your destination thoroughly
Read up on local laws regarding LGBTQ+ people. Some places are much more restrictive than others and it is better to know your rights and not need them than to be stuck in a jail cell somewhere.
3. Knowing your next bathroom stop is must
Always know where your next bathroom stop will be or have a backup bathroom plan in case you are not comfortable with the situation.
4. Some destinations are best to avoid
Do your research and know which locations are best to avoid.
5. Have a letter from your doctor handy at the airport
If you are on HRT (hormone replacement therapy), always try to bring a doctor’s note to keep with your medication in your bag in case you have issues with airport security.
6. You will probably be questioned
Brace yourself to be questioned. A lot of cultures are known for their bluntness. Even people who pass extremely well can get stopped and asked questions based on documents, appearance, etc.
7. If possible, travel with a friend or a group
When in doubt, be with people. There is safety in numbers, especially if they are your friends and people who will stand up for you if it is needed.
8. Network via LGBTQ+ Facebook groups
Join transgender or LGBTQ+ related Facebook groups. It is an easy way to find other trans people who LIVE where you are traveling. They can give you their personal experiences, ideas of places to go, or even offer to hang out with you and give you a local tour.
12 travel safety tips from a gay couple
Derek and Mike are an American couple living in Europe and are the authors of Robe Trotting. They have written the following useful tips.
1. Check out Misterbnb
Try Misterbnb for LGBTQ+ friendly accommodations. The service is similar to Airbnb, but it caters to the LGBTQ+ community. Hosts are usually members of the community themselves and can offer great tips on where and how to safely experience their city and its gay community. The site itself maps out the gay nightlife areas where applicable. There are hosts available in most destinations, even in countries where the LGBTQ+ community is less visible. Misterbnb also includes rooms available at LGBTQ+ friendly hotels and resorts, so it’s a fantastic resource for finding the best gay lodging.
2. Bring copies of your important documents
All travelers should carry backup copies of their passport and other personal information, but there are some extra considerations that LGBTQ+ travelers should consider. It isn’t fun to think about, but Healthcare Power of Attorney and Hospital Visitation Authorization documents are essential. This is because domestic partnership and same-sex marriage laws differ widely around the world. We carry these documents on a flash drive and our attorney has prepared laminated wallet-sized Hospital Visitation Authorizations. This is something we hope to never use, but we feel better having when we travel.
3. Know your rights
Transgender and gender non-conforming travelers face higher levels of marginalization than other “LGB” travelers. For trans and gender non-conforming travelers, it’s important to know your rights, especially in airports. There are legal protections in the EU, UK, and USA to protect trans and gender non-conforming air travelers. Do some additional research when traveling outside of America, the UK, and Europe. In this travel zone, here are a few tips and expectations.
4. Select the gender that appears on your Government ID
When booking tickets, indicate the gender that appears on your government-issued identification. Sometimes this is different than the gender you present, but the legal requirement is only for the names on your ID and travel documents to match. You should never be questioned or forced to further prove your gender based on your gender presentation.
5. Pat-downs are based on the gender you present, not your ID
If a security pat-down is required, it must be completed by security personnel of the same sex as the passenger. In a pat-down situation, it will be based on the gender that the passenger presents and not their government-issued ID.
6. Body scanners don’t actually show your body
For trans and non-binary travelers worried about body scanners, the countries mentioned do not display the actual scan of your body to security personnel. In fact, all passenger images are displayed as generic body forms on the screens visible to staff. The screen does identify areas that should be screened more closely, but it uses a generic body form. For example, there would be a highlighted box around the midsection of the form if a traveler forgets to remove their belt. It does not show any details of the body or anatomy.
7. Wearing a prosthetic device or binder can lead to further questioning
Trans and non-binary travelers should be prepared for additional questioning if wearing prosthetic devices or binders. These travelers are not required to show, remove or lift clothing to reveal these devices. Simply answer any questions in a straight-forward manner and speak to a supervisor if any of those described situations should arise.
8. Consider LGBTQ+ tours
We all find safety in numbers, so consider LGBTQ+ tours that will specialize in gay travel. Similarly, consider booking a traditional tour company where you will have a local guide who is familiar with customs, speaks the language and can advise you on how to stay safe while exploring the world. Many tour companies display their credentials in serving the LGBTQ+ community on their websites. You can also contact their customer service staff with additional concerns or specific questions on travel to certain destinations.
9. Know the local laws in the country you plan to visit
Do some research on the laws that exist in each country you plan to visit. Specifically, look up how often they’re enforced and when the laws were written. For example in Africa, many laws are left-over colonial-era codes that were put in place by other powers and are not enforced or are selectively enforced. For example, Morocco only sporadically enforces its anti-LGBTQ+ law and does not enforce it in resort towns like Marrakech. It’s mostly a law that still exists because of Islamic morality. Morocco even has an LGBTQ+ rights group and is largely viewed as tolerant. Some nations, like Uganda, are actively creating and expanding laws that target the LGBTQ+ community with penalties of death. Make a distinction between countries like Morocco and Uganda when considering your travels.
10. Remember to enjoy the local historic sites and cuisines
Focus on what you can do, and not what you can’t. Many countries will have a less visible LGBTQ+ community and social scene. Sometimes, this can be a blessing in disguise because it frees up your trip for other meaningful activities. Travel should be more than gay bars and night clubs. Focus on what you can do like touring historic sites, visiting museums and trying new cuisines. It can be tough for a couple to resist public displays of affection, but no laws will be able to keep you from building travel memories, and you can make it up with extra private displays of affection.
11. Be careful with the location feature of dating apps
On gay apps like Grindr and Scruff, turn off the location feature. Even in countries where your rights are protected, gay-bashing can be an issue. In the Ukraine, for example, the “how far away” location feature is disabled nation-wide because of past incidents. Still, there is a thriving gay culture and plenty of gay locals. Always exercise caution and meet strangers in public spaces.
12. Always be culturally aware
Be culturally aware when you’re traveling anywhere. In many nations, public displays of affection from any couple, same or differing sex, are a taboo. Comply with these customs without feeling singled out. It may still be upsetting, but know that different-sex couples are also conforming their behavior to local norms. Similarly, some conservative destinations will have different norms on appearance and dress. It can be triggering to change your appearance, clothing, mannerisms, and behavior if you are LGBTQ+. Previous life experiences like bullying can bring up tough emotions but know that it’s most often local customs and not bigotry that require cultural conformity. I realize that for some individuals that will be easier than for others. My advice comes from a point of privilege as a masculine cis-gendered male, but I truly feel that certain sacrifices are worth it to travel.
9 safety tips from a traveling lesbian couple
Meg and Lindsay Cale are the creators of Dopes on the Road which is a website dedicated to inspiring and equipping LGBTQ+ travelers to live a life of adventures. They shared the following tips.
1. Cisgender people will most likely have fewer issues
Are you passing? It’s shitty I even have to go here, but it’s a reality of the world. Those who pass as straight and cisgender will have far fewer issues while traveling. If you can pass as a binary gender you may be safer in some regions of the world. This detail may help you determine what countries you’re more comfortable traveling around.
2. Respect local customs
Be aware of local gender expectations. Are women supposed to be covered, wear headscarves or avoid certain activities? Try to respect local customs and blend in as much as possible.
3. Have someone you trust know your itinerary
Be sure to leave your itinerary and contact information with someone you trust. It’s always a good idea to have someone back home who has an idea of what you’re up to and where you plan on heading. It doesn’t have to be a minute to minute break down, contact information of hotels and flight numbers will work just fine.
4. Find LGBTQ+ friendly businesses before you leave
Consider using the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association as a resource for finding LGBTQ+ owned and affirming businesses in countries where you may have more concerns. Knowing that a business is owned by LGBTQ+ people or specifically seeks out LGBTQ+ accreditation may offer some peace of mind.
5. Be careful with PDA’s in certain countries
Be mindful of public displays of affection, in some locations like Russia or Morocco, mundane actions like holding hands, requesting a double bed at a hotel, casual touching, and kissing can be considered public displays. In some countries these actions are illegal and the consequences can be anything from a fine to imprisonment to being punishable by death. Not to be overly sensationalist here, there are lots of people who have traveled in anti-LGBTQ+ countries and have been just fine. There are also people who have not. It’s a case by case situation.
6. Be sure that sex toys are legal
In some countries, traveling with sexually explicit material can be used as evidence of sex work which may result in you being detained while traveling. Transgender and gender nonconforming people are often unfairly targeted, be aware that in recent years there have been a few instances where people have used sex toys to victimize LGBTQ+ travelers. One couple was the victim of an alleged hate crime by TSA agents and another couple was arrested in Malaysia for being in possession of a sex toy. Keep in mind that traveling with these items into some countries is illegal. Be very cautious and do your homework before crossing borders with anything you think could be questionable.
7. Consider who you disclose your identity to
Consider who you disclose your identity to while you are traveling in countries that are not as LGBTQ-affirming as your home country.
8. Walk with confidence
Appear confident while walking in public areas. The more afraid and buckled over you look, the more of a target you’ll appear to be.
9. Invest in your personal safety
When in doubt invest in personal safety, if taking the more expensive cab ride over the bus ride seems like the safer option for you, do it.
8 tips from a gay travel expert
Andrew Dobson runs Dobbernationloves, an LGBTQ+ travel blog based in Toronto and shares these very helpful tips on international travel safety.
1. Take precautions with dating apps
Be wary of who you trust on dating apps in countries like Egypt, where police have been known to create fake accounts to “catch” LGBTQ+ travelers looking to engage in “illegal activity.” It’s best to request social media accounts like Instagram to verify the persons identity before you agree to meet them to ensure your safety.
2. Use the geo search to research your destination prior to leaving home
Use the geo-search feature on dating apps like Scruff and Grindr before you depart for your trip. You can ask locals about what the most popular gay bars and businesses are before you even arrive. Many destinations have suffered from gay bar closures so weekly or monthly LGBTQ+ parties are the norm and locals are always in the know.
3. Connect with the locals before you arrive
Use gay dating apps to connect with locals before you arrive and you’ll find friendly folks keen to show a tourist around. This is particularly helpful if you’re visiting a country like Germany where bartenders may not speak English.
4. Keep spots you discover confidential in sensitive destinations
If you’re visiting places like Egypt or Jordan where the LGBTQ+ community is largely underground for safety reasons, be sure to keep the spots you discover confidential to protect the local LGBTQ+ community. Posting about a popular gay coffee shop hangout in Cairo on TripAdvisor, for example, is a no-no.
5. Negative LGBTQ+ laws may not reflect tourist areas
Remember that just because a country’s government may have negative LGBTQ+ policies, doesn’t mean it isn’t a great gay holiday destination. The Maldives, for example, has laws in place for locals but during our visit to the Four Seasons Maldives, a majority of the guests at the resort were gay couples. Research the hotel and resort brands you’re planning on staying before you book to ensure they are LGBTQ+ friendly.
6. Certain regions may be very LGBTQ+ friendly within a conservative country
Indonesia is largest known as a conservative Muslim country but ironically the island of Bali is considered to be one of the best LGBTQ+ destinations in Asia. There can be significant tolerance differences based on each region you visit. Many hotels host luxurious gay honeymoons in Bali
7. Do your research on festival dates
Research the annual LGBTQ+ festivals to determine when the destination is likely to offer the most fun on holiday. In North America, we’re familiar with Pride parades but in Europe, the annual festival is referred to as CSD Celebrations or Christopher Street Day. LGBTQ+ festivals vary based on the culture of a place and its people. North American and Europe are known for flashy parades and all-night parties, where some smaller towns or more reserved countries focus on political protest, poetry readings or events centered around theatre and film.
Contact your hotel ahead of time
If you’re traveling with a same-sex friend or partner we always suggest contacting your hotel in advance to confirm what sort of bedding they offer. In some countries, two men will always be booked into a room with separate beds. In other countries, they’re happy to provide one bed for two men but you’d have to specify that in advance as they’ll automatically assume you’re traveling friends.
Why we wrote this article and did this research
Lyric at age 2 singing with her mom, Karla DeVito Photo credit:Us WeeklyGrowing up, Lyric’s favorite person in the universe was her “Uncle”. Magical, loving, kind, and the best storyteller around, he was her parents’ best friend and one of the most influential people in her life. He also happened to be gay.
Lyric grew up in Hollywood surrounded by actors, producers and what she thought was a very open and accepting community for LGBTQ+ individuals. It wasn’t until she was 13, when she overheard her Uncle explaining that he was concerned he would be fired from an acting job if they found out he was gay, that she realized even one the most liberal US communities were still plagued with homophobia.
Since then, LGBTQ+ rights have been in the forefront of Lyric’s awareness. She wondered how safe the US was for the LGBTQ+ community vs the rest of the world after hearing stories from other travelers. We then decided to dive deep into the subject and what we found was shocking.
So many questions entered our minds. For example, “Is it safe to travel to countries where the death penalty or life imprisonment is still a sentence for being openly gay?”
As travel journalists, we wanted to help the LGBTQ+ community educate themselves on the very complex and layered world of staying safe during international travel. But also, to try to bring more awareness to the often horrific treatment of LGBTQ+ people in many parts of the world. And hopefully this will bring about change, acceptance, and love for all people regardless of their orientation.
How can you help bring about change?
Are you an ally and upset by this information? Here are two obvious ways you can help:
1. Share this article. Bringing awareness to a problem is the first step to fixing it. Share it on social media, send it to your loved ones and anyone you think should see it.
Nigeria has emerged as the world’s most dangerous country for LGBT+ travel in a new index of global LGBT+ safety released earlier this month.
The LGBTQ+ Danger Index ranks the 150 most-visited countries using eight factors, including legalised same-sex marriage, worker protections, criminalisation of violence and whether, based on Gallup poll findings, it is a good place to live.
Homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years and, under Sharia law, the death penalty. Even the discussion of LGBT+ rights is outlawed in the strictly conservative country.
Nigeria was closely followed by Qatar with a score of -137, Yemen with a score of -128, and Saudi Arabia with a score of -126.
If you’re currently planning your 2020 beach holiday, be warned – the popular tourist destinations of Barbados, St Lucia, the Maldives, Tanzania and Kenya weren’t far behind, each with scores of -100 or worse.
Same-sex relationships are illegal in 38 of the countries on the list. In others, such as China, Russia and Indonesia, homosexuality may be legal but censorship laws and lack of criminalisation of violence make them unsafe destinations for LGBT travel.
Sitting happily at the other end of the spectrum, Sweden came out on top as the safest country for LGBT+ travellers.
Ticking all the boxes on same-sex marriage, discrimination and worker protections, adoption recognition, criminalisation of violence and a strong Gallup poll rating, Sweden earned a great safety score of 322.
Behind it were Canada, Norway, Portugal, Belgium and the UK, all of which are known for being incredibly welcoming to LGBT+ travellers.
Perhaps surprisingly, the US ranked far behind as the 24th safest country for LGBT+ travel. This is because there are no constitutional or federal protections for LGBT+ people in the US, and some states prohibit the “advocacy of homosexuality” in schools.