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.
Greater Fort Lauderdale is proud to be the host destination for the first-ever Pride of the Americas on April 21-26, 2020. This historic and transformational event brings two continents and 35 countries together, welcoming everyone under the sun. Pride of the Americas will be hosted by Pride Fort Lauderdale with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau serving as the presenting sponsor.
“Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County is the perfect launch destination for Pride of the Americas 2020 because we are world renowned for our open embrace to the LGBT+ community and to all visitors from across the globe,” said Stacy Ritter, CEO and president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We are excited for Pride of the Americas attendees to experience our cosmopolitan destination, as well as our beautiful melting pot of cultures.”
Six days of events will begin with opening ceremonies on Tuesday, April 21 in downtown Fort Lauderdale, and culminate on Sunday, April 26, with an epic beach festival and fireworks display. Pride of the Americas will include social events throughout the destination, a parade, beach party, arts festival, A-list entertainment, sunset concerts, top DJs and drag brunches. A glamorous fashion show will feature designs by Bravo’s “Project Runway” alumni and local designers – modeled by male, female, transgender and drag models – at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in nearby Hollywood.
“Greater Fort Lauderdale is home to a thriving LGBT+ community, and we are very much looking forward to welcoming hundreds of thousands of LGBT+ visitors and allies to our destination where diversity shines brightly,” said Richard Gray, senior vice president of Diversity & Inclusion at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Pride of the Americas will draw attention to the shared issues LGBT+ individuals, families, youth and seniors face in Latin America and the Caribbean. Key thought leaders from different countries will share their expertise at life-changing conferences and symposiums on human rights, business, travel, health and wellness, education and more.
Although Greater Fort Lauderdale is close in proximity to Latin America and the Caribbean, they are miles apart regarding the treatment and acceptance of the LGBT+ individuals in their communities. The event hopes to bring international attention to these inequalities while improving education and understanding of the LGBT+ community on a global scale.
“Greater Fort Lauderdale is a community that celebrates diversity and inclusion in every way, each and every day, where Pride is our daily way of life,” said Miik Martorell, president of Pride Fort Lauderdale. “Pride Fort Lauderdale and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau are committed to leveraging Pride of the Americas to strengthen the LGBT+ communities and the Pride movement in the Caribbean and Latin America.”
Welcoming 1.5 million LGBT+ visitors annually spending $1.5 billion, Greater Fort Lauderdale is well-suited to host Pride of the Americas. With hundreds of gay-owned and operated businesses and the highest concentration of same-sex couple households in the country, the destination is one of the most diverse and welcoming in the world.
Greater Fort Lauderdale is also the LGBT+ capital of Florida and is home to one of the largest Pride Centers in the country, the world’s first AIDS museum, the global headquarters of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association, and the Stonewall Museum, one of the only permanent spaces in the U.S. devoted to exhibitions relating to LGBT+ history and culture. The LGBT+ Visitor Center is co-located with the Greater Fort Lauderdale LGBT Chamber of Commerce in the heart of Wilton Manors.
The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau has been reaching LGBT+ travelers since 1996, when it became the first Convention & Visitors Bureau with a dedicated LGBT+ marketing department. Since then, Greater Fort Lauderdale has continued to break down barriers and facilitate visibility for the LGBT+ community at large, acting as a pioneer in the hospitality industry and ensuring that the destination is inclusive and welcoming with a diverse, safe and open community for all travelers.
Four years ago, it became the first destination in the world to create a transgender marketing campaign. Now the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau includes trans, lesbian, gay and straight people in all its mainstream marketing initiatives.
About Greater Fort Lauderdale Greater Fort Lauderdale, also known as the “Venice of America,” boasts an average year-round temperature of 77˚F and has 3,000 hours of annual sunshine. Explore 4,000+ eateries, 300+ miles of navigable waterways, eight distinct beaches, a thriving arts and culture scene, craft breweries, rooftop bars, outdoor adventure, and world-class shopping – all conveniently located in the center of South Florida. Made of up 31 municipalities, the destination boasts more than 35,000 lodging accommodations at a variety of hotels, luxury spa reports and Superior Small Lodgings reflecting a cosmopolitan vibe. Upon arrival at FLL Airport (Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport), it is just 5 minutes to the beach, Port Everglades, the Broward County Convention Center and downtown. For trip planning inspiration, visit the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau at www.sunny.org and follow @visitlauderdale.
About Pride Fort Lauderdale Pride Fort Lauderdale (originally Pride South Florida) was founded 41 years ago amid protests after entertainer and evangelical activist Anita Bryant successfully waged a hateful public campaign to overturn a landmark gay civil rights ordinance in Miami-Dade County. The organization’s name and location have changed over the years, but its mission has remained the same—to instill pride in our community and support those organizations that serve the local LGBTQ community. In 2017, Pride Fort Lauderdale celebrated its 40th anniversary on Fort Lauderdale Beach, attracting more than 40,000 people for the festivities. For more information, go to PrideFortLauderdale.org.
The email from Viaggio winery’s weddings and events director read: “While Viaggio Winery welcomes your business, we have never hosted a same-sex marriage.
“[The owners] understand that California statutory law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and they don’t like to think they would ever discriminate on that basis even if a law allowed them to do so.
It then said that the owners would be willing to let the couple hold their reception there and take photos in their wedding dresses, as long as the ceremony was not on their property.
Responses to the Facebook post included: “The nerve thinking you and your beautiful bride would want to spend a dime there, or expose your family and friends to such a bigoted environment, after being told of the owner’s ‘feelings.’”
Another person said: “As a Christian I am so sick and tired of people using Jesus as a cover or an excuse for their homophobia. While they offer to take your money. How generous.”
The winery owners Teri and Larry Lawrence are also real estate agents.
According to her biography on the couple’s real estate website, Lawrence is “an active member of Eagle Forum of Sacramento, where she keeps abreast of current events regarding the family and business affairs”.
The Eagle Forum of Sacramento says it opposes same-sex marriage, abortion, sex education that does not teach abstinence or “‘New World Order’ interventions”.
Lawrence later provided a statement to FOX40 in which she said she had changed her mind about allowing same-sex couples to marry at the winery.
She said: “I realise now that contrary to my intent, this was hurtful to the people involved. Our staff, our customers, and our community have helped me see that I was wrong.”
The couple found another venue and are now happily married.
Pretty much everyone knows Illinois is one of the most welcoming places for LGBTI people in the US.
From Boystown to a plethora of LGBTI-owned and friendly businesses across the state, it’s a place where people of all backgrounds live and thrive. To embrace the state’s diversity, the Illinois Office of Tourism created a new campaign to spread a message to the LGBTI community and the rest of the world: that Illinois is Amazing for All.
The six-foot-by-23 wooden sculpture became an instant hit with the 200,000 visitors at the two-day festival. The sculpture is now sitting in the heart of Chicago’s LGBTI district, Boystown, at the corner of Halsted and Newport.
But why did Hoffman want to join Illinois in sending this message to the LGBTI community? Gay Star News sat down with him to reveal all about the now-iconic sculpture.
So why did you want to create this artwork to encourage LGBTI people to visit Illinois?
My main belief is the importance of public art and how it changes lives when you come across it.
A little bit of my background: I make stickers saying ‘you are beautiful’, as well as other outdoor installations. I started those in 2002. And we’ve now printed five and a half million stickers, and done these sort of installations around the world.
The message is that no matter who you are, you can see these stickers and know ‘you are beautiful’. And I think that that’s an incredible message. I think that came from struggling with self-esteem and different issues growing up and stuff.
So Illinois Office of Tourism reached out, because especially in Chicago, this project is very prolific. They wanted to partner and collaborate on this other great message – that Illinois is Amazing for All.
What inspired the design for the #AmazingForAll sculpture?
Basically, I make things in two very distinct ways. One is that things blend in like signage and then the other way is a handwritten style. When you do it that way, there’s a human connection there. Like someone is literally saying something to you. Then when you blow that up in scale, it’s just really incredible.
The sign in construction | Photo: Matthew Hoffman, Instagram
It must have been incredible when you debuted at Northalsted Market Days. How was that feeling? What was it like to have thousands of people see it?
It’s my favorite thing. I’m definitely someone who wants people to experience the work I make. I really stay in the background with a lot of the stuff I do. I try to keep a lower profile just because I don’t want it to be attached to my baggage. Like, who’s this person and what it’s about. This is a message for you in that moment. And so enjoy it.
So it was super cool to just see people enjoy it. It’s one of those things that when you watch people walk by, they smile, then they run up to it. And they ask their friend or a stranger to get their photo taken in front of it. That’s a really incredible experience.
It’s cool because not everybody is going to see that in person. They are sharing it around the world so all sorts of people are able to see it on their feed.
Have you lived in Illinois long?
I was born in Ohio and then we moved around. I went to school in Indiana. Eventually I moved to Chicago in 2002. So I’ve lived in the Midwest my whole life and I’ve been here about 17 years.
What’s life in Illinois like for LGBTI people?
I feel like it’s open and inviting. I’m not talking firsthand – I’m straight – but it seems open everywhere. There are some areas that need to get better, but it’s great for a really good portion of the state, especially in Chicago. I think it’s great.
Where’s your favorite place to eat?
So I’ve got an 11 year old. Me and him generally like the worst places, you know. But there’s this one called – Rosati’s [a Chicago pizza restaurant]. Yeah, we go like almost every day.
The completed sculpture when it debuted at Northalsted Market Days | Photo: Illinois Office of Tourism
What’s one thing everyone should do in Chicago?
There are these great architecture boat tours. That sounds like a tough sell to some people. But it’s a great way to explore the city and learn about things. We take the boat tours every year. It’s pretty cool because it goes down the river through the whole city, you learn a lot about the history, and then it actually takes you out on the lake, which is pretty fun.
So what plans do you have for the future?
We just put up a couple ‘you are beautiful’ pieces on fences, and one on a building. And we are going to do more of those. And then we also have a space where we have our studio, with a store and a gallery in the front. It’s in the Avondale neighborhood at 3368 N Elston Ave.
So we’re doing everything that we can to be a part of the community and bring people in. Our next big show is 20 July. It’s called Beautiful Together. And we’re inviting like 200 different artists to make a ‘You are beautiful piece’ and add their voice to the message. So that’s kind of the next big, big thing as far as our fun summer installations.
This article was sponsored by the Illinois Office of Tourism.
We are already midway through summer and LGBTI travelers, one of the most dynamic travel audiences, mold the landscape of the global tourism industry with their travel choices.
Travel by Interest, a gay travel website that turned into a global hotel-choosing tool, researched what gay travelers search for ahead of their summer holidays, and ‘Gay Beaches’ proved to be the hottest trend in Google with more than 58,000 average monthly searches.
But… could a gay beach, even if that gay beach is one of the best in the world, become a reason to choose your next destination? In some cases yes; in others no. One thing is for sure: gay men love beaches – who wouldn’t, as they are relaxed and carefree, making socializing much easier. But what did gay travelers search for regarding gay beaches?
The pattern ‘gay beach + destination’ seems to be very popular for both alternative and famous destinations. Yet, the searches do not just focus on destinations but also on more generic ideas, like gay beach resorts and – interestingly – gay beach weddings. It seems like year by year, gay men become more romantic!
Before we begin presenting the most searched gay beaches in the world, it is worth mentioning that in addition to the leaders in ‘Gay Beach’ related searches, United States & United Kingdom, we found a vivid interest from Canada, Brazil, and India.
During our research, we found many gay summer destinations, which were to be expected. But, on the top of all of them, we found the one and only Gay Barcelona, with the keyword ‘Gay Beach Barcelona‘ being hit approximately 1,600 times per month.
Next comes the notorious ‘Gay Beach Mykonos‘, which counts approximately 1,000 Searches per month in Google, while the most popular months are naturally from June to August. Mykonos is home to various gay beaches, but when people search this keyword, they most probably search for Elia Beach.
‘Gay Beach Miami‘ searches average approximately 1,000 per month, while the keyword’s peak months are January, March, April & May – when the relevant searches reach up to 1,300.
Stuck in the middle: Still Popular, but fewer searches
Some destinations surprised us as they had fewer searches than what we would expect. For example, Gay Beach Sitges is one of them, averaging 880 searches per month.
With a similar number of searches, we found Gay Beach Fort Lauderdale. However, the competition is so high on this keyword, that companies have to pay up to 5 euros per click to be shown on the first page of Google Results. It’s obvious that Fort Lauderdale will be companies’ least favorite destination of the year.
Gay Beach Tel Aviv, on the other hand, might have an average of 770 monthly searches per month on Google, but this doubles in May, right before Tel Aviv Pride. Gay Beach Ibiza proves to be an iconic keyword opportunity, gathering an average of 720 searches per month. The keyword shares almost the same searches with gay bar Ibiza and gay hotel Ibiza.
Finally, Gay Beach Lisbon has approximately 590 searches per month, a number that’s doubled during the summer months from June to September. The keyword “Gay beach 19 Lisbon” has also made its appearance through our research.
At the bottom: Fewer Searches, but still on demand!
Photo: Drew Sullivan on Unsplash
Lastly, we found some destinations – popular or not – which aren’t in the top positions. However, they still gather a respectable amount of searches. Gay Beach Bali is searched approximately 320 times per month, peaking during March. We should note that there are not any gay-only beaches in Bali – only gay-friendly.
The keyword Gay Beach Greece is also on the rise with 260 avg. monthly searches. Many islands and popular seaside destinations in Greece feature at least one gay beach. It’s nice seeing more gay travelers interested in learning more about them.
Gay Beach Ipanema is the only gay beach on our list that attracts more searches than the usual combination “gay beach + destination”. This keyword averages 210 searches in Google per month, while “Gay Beach Rio” gathers only 170.
Our research on the keyword ‘Gay Beach’ has brought forward many popular gay destinations, but also many alternative ones. Gay Beach Bali is definitely among the most unexpected keywords found on our report. So, tell us your opinion. Which of the above keywords did surprise you the most? And, don’t forget to let us know which trend you would like to cover on one of our next articles!
Ecuador has been for many years one of the world’s most amazing destinations for travelers from all over the globe. It’s beauty, history, culture and the Galapagos Islands have made Ecuador one of the top destinations in the planet. However, it remains unknown or in the back burner for most gay men, who feel safer with more traditional travel choices like gay cruises or events in different cities of the United States and Europe. Juan Maldonado, a dual-citizen of USA and Ecuador, and a proud resident of Wilton Manors (Florida’s “gay Mecca”), is determined to change this by promoting his home country as a fabulous destination for gay travelers that is both safe and uncomplicated. Even though most of Latin America is traditionally conservative, Ecuador is 1 of only 5 countries in the World whose constitution provides citizens equal rights regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity since 1998. Ecuador is also one of the few countries in the world to have banned conversion therapy. Under the 2016 Gender Identity Law, transgender people may change their legal gender solely based on self-determination, without undergoing surgery. As of July 2019, same-sex marriage is legal.
Aside from its LGBTQ rights record, Ecuador is simply an uncomplicated choice for North American gay travelers for several reasons. For example, its capital -Quito- is less than 4 hours away from Florida (which is about the same as flying to Denver). No visa or vaccinations are required for Americans and Canadians, and most Ecuadorians speak English. The official currency is the US Dollar, so there’s no need to worry about exchanging money or losing value. In fact, dollars go a long way in Ecuador -as much as 3 times- due to the very low costs of labor, food, gas, transportation, rent, etc.
For these reasons, and the fantastic year-round weather in Quito and other cities on The Andes, Ecuador has been recognized for many years as a top destination for retirement, and boasts a growing number of gay expats from North America. For the 7th year in a row, Quito has won the title of “Leader Destination in South America” in the World Travel Awards (i.e. the Oscars of tourism), and the Galapagos have been for decades one of the most coveted natural destinations in the planet. Prestigious publications like Lonely Planet, Condé Nast, Forbes and websites like TripAdvisor amongst many others, have recognized Ecuador’s unmatched beauty and potential. As an avid traveler himself, Maldonado acknowledges that male gay travelers’ preferences and expectations are unique and don’t necessarily fit canned travel packages that are available for the general LGBTQ market. “Our strategy is simple yet unique: we provide an all-male, all-inclusive (cruise-like) experience: all accommodations, meals, transportation, travel insurance, activities and excursions are included, and you can book with as little as $250. The itineraries have been designed to provide the perfect mix of nature, culture, gastronomy, fun and relaxation.
The convenience factor is also a priority: small groups, private transportation, WiFi 24/7, English-speaking guides, and a 24/7 personal concierge for safety. Lastly, the term ‘all-gay’ doesn’t apply only to our travelers, but our bi-national team which includes gay tour guides and concierge staff, drivers, and gay-owned or gay-friendly accommodation and service providers.” Maldonado was born in Quito and moved to the United States in 2006. After many years working for consumer products he decided to follow his passion for hospitality and started a vacation rental business by acquiring several properties in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, where he and his husband Bob have hosted over 2000 guests from 35+ countries. After a couple years of research and behind-the-scenes work, Maldonado and his best friend in Ecuador launched Ecuador Gay Travel in 2019.
Tinder unveiled a new personal security feature Wednesday aimed at protecting LGBTQ users when they visit countries where same-sex relationships are outlawed or criminalized.
Upon opening the popular dating app in one of these nearly 70 countries, users will receive a “Traveler Alert” that notifies them that they appear to “be in a place where the LGBTQ community may be penalized,” according to a press release from Tinder.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer users will also no longer automatically appear on Tinder when they open the app in these locations. Instead, users can choose whether to remain hidden on Tinder or make their profile public while they are traveling. If they choose the latter option, the app will still hide their gender identity and sexual orientation from their profile, so this information can’t be weaponized by others.
“We fundamentally believe that everyone should be able to love,” Elie Seidman, CEO of Tinder, said in a statement. “We serve all communities — no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation — and we are proud to offer features that help keep them safe.”
Tinder worked with the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), an advocacy organization that brings together more than 1,000 global LGBTQ organizations, to determine what countries should be included as part of the alert. The countries include South Sudan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran and Nigeria.
Also on the list is Egypt, where in 2018 there were widespread reports of the country’s authorities and residents using dating apps to entrap and persecute gay men. In addition to being imprisoned, some were subjected to forced anal exams, according to Human Rights Watch.
In the U.S. and abroad, there have also been numerous cases of people using gay dating apps to target members of the LGBTQ community and subsequently rob and/or attack them.
Experts say Tinder’s new feature is reflective of increased momentum to ensure the safety of the LGBTQ community through digital protections.
“Tinder’s new security feature is a welcome step in safety-by-design. It utilizes design strategies — defaults, aesthetics, opt-in buttons — to protect users rather than collect data,” Ari Ezra Waldman, director of the Innovation Center for Law and Technology at New York Law School, told NBC News in an email. “By automatically hiding a user or their sexual orientation, the app defaults to safety in hostile territories. It deploys a big red warning screen to get users’ attention. And it forces users to opt-in to more publicity about who they are.”
Waldman said other apps should consider adopting similar measures. “The default should be no disclosure until the user affirmatively says it’s OK based on a clear and obvious and understanding warning,” he added.
In 2016, the Pew Research Center found that use of online dating apps among young adults had tripled over three years, and experts say this number is assuredly higher in the LGBTQ community, where stigma and discrimination can make it difficult to meet people in person. One study reported that more than a million gay and bisexual men logged into a dating app every day in 2013, while another from 2017 states that twice as many LGBTQ singles use dating apps as heterosexual users.
The relatively high number of queer people using dating apps, therefore, makes increased protections a more urgent matter, said Ian Holloway, an assistant professor of social welfare at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.
“Tinder’s Traveler Alert is a great idea, but I wonder how it would translate to LGBTQ-specific platforms, where people know others’ sexuality by virtue of being on those apps,” Holloway said.
He pointed to Hornet as an example of an app that caters to gay men and has developed security guidelines, which includes obscuring users’ distance from others.
“I’m glad to see we’re thinking about these issues, but there are challenges that come with gay-specific apps,” Holloway added.
Last month, Tinder collaborated with GLAAD on a new feature that allows users to disclose their sexual orientation, which was not previously an option. The app also instituted a #RightToLove feature during Pride, which enabled users to send letters to their senators in support of the Equality Act.
LGBTI tour operator, Toto Tours, has decided to cancel their 16-day package tour to Ethiopia that was schedule for this October, amid concerns for the safety of their clients. The tour itinerary was to include visits to several religious sites.
The Ethiopian Orthodox organization, the Sileste Mihret United Association, alluded to violence.
The chairperson said: ‘Homosexuality is hated as well as being illegal in Ethiopia.
‘If Toto Tours comes to Ethiopia where 97% of Ethiopians surveyed oppose homosexuality, they will be damaged. They could even die.’
Toto Tours canceled Ethiopia trip after death threats
Dan Ware, owner of the company, decided to cancel the tour after consideration of the above statement, and also receiving several other threats of violence should the tour proceed.
According to reports from NBC Chicago, Ware explained: ‘We had descriptions of buried alive, burned alive; I had an ISIS-type video with a guy with a mask on his head, brandishing his sword saying we are going to cut your throat. It was not something to ignore.
Spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Ethiopia, Amanda Jacobsen, stated: ‘Our country specific information for Ethiopia notes the challenges American citizen LGBTI travelers to Ethiopia may face, including the fact that consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults is illegal and punishable by imprisonment.
‘There is no law prohibiting discrimination against LGBTI persons.
‘Ethiopians do not generally identify themselves as LGBTI due to severe societal stigma.’
Tour company still planning trips to countries where being gay is illegal
Ware stated that he hopes to one day still plan a tour to Ethiopia.
However, in the meantime, he’s refunding all clients who were booked on the October departure.
Toto Tours has been serving the LGBT community since 1990.
Their website states the name is derived from the Latin word meaning ‘all-inclusive,’ not in reference to Dorothy’s infamous dog from the Wizard of Oz. The company website still has trips planned to Botswana, Bhutan, and Egypt, all places where same-sex activity is illegal.