As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on my life as a gay man, travelling the world with my partner and give some thanks to the guys and gals that fought for our rights all those years ago.
I don’t write this as a gay travel blog. I don’t make being gay a big deal in any part of my life, but me and the other half do have to think carefully about where we travel to and we have to accept that we’re not always going to be welcome wherever we go.
Me and the other half, to be frank, are Boring Suburban Gays. We got to work, we come home. We look after our cats, see friends and family as often as we can and travel as often as we can. It makes me laugh when I watch TV shows about gay lifestyles with tribes, midweek clubbing and hookup apps; that is not my experience as a gay man!
We’ve been incredibly lucky in a way. We have supportive friends, families and employers who have never discriminated against us because of our sexuality. It’s only as we’ve got older that we’ve come to appreciate this fortunate position and realise that this is not every other LGBTQ person’s experience. Global travel has certainly helped shape our view and not everyone realises the thought that LGBTQ travellers have to put in to their holiday plans.
Being gay is illegal in a surprising number of countries – over 70 at the last count. Even if it’s not illegal, it still doesn’t mean that it’s socially accepted. So where does being gay stop us from going?
The Southern USA
I’d love to go storm chasing! The thrill of being face to face with a tornado terrifies and fascinates me in equal measure! There’s something about extreme weather which we both enjoy, be it the heat of Las Vegas or the cold of Lapland, but the states where the tornadoes live ain’t too friendly to us gay folk.
Texas, Kansas, Mississippi and South Dakota, to name a few, still have draconian and discriminatory laws against LGBTQ people. They also lack laws protecting LGBTQ rights whether its family and parental rights or employment rights. How could we travel somewhere where our rights wouldn’t be protected if we ended up being the victim of a crime?
We don’t have any burning desire to go to Dubai, but I’m a sucker for a skyscraper and Dubai is (currently) home to the tallest building in the world – the Burj Khalifa. At 163 stories high, it’s 59 floors taller than One World Trade Centre in New York. The thought of being stood at the top of the Burj and looking up to the sky makes me sick with vertigo; I bloody love it!
But Dubai has some of the most extreme anti-LGBTQ laws of anywhere in the world as it follows aspects of strict Sharia law. Consensual sex between two people of the same gender is punishable by fines, jail time, floggings, torture, death or deportation, if you are a non-citizen.
The building that will overtake the Burj as the world’s tallest is being built in Saudi Arabia. We won’t be rushing there either!
Ok, I’ve been to Kenya already but I travelled with my mum; it’s not somewhere me and the other half would travel to together. That’s a real shame too as it’s a beautiful country and being on safari is one of the most exciting and humbling experiences you can have!
As recently as May this year, Kenyan courts upheld laws introduced by British colonisers in the 1800s which impose prison sentences of up to 14 years for same sex relationships. The laws are actually very rarely used, with few convictions over recent years but the fact that they’re still in place sends a message to society and breeds discrimination. Much of Africa is, unfortunately, the same which makes a safari for the 2 of us very unlikely.
Some LGBTQ travellers suffer from IBA Syndrome (It’ll Be Alright), but really? Is it worth the risk?
Protections for travellers are often stronger than those for citizens but if these, and many other, countries can’t protect their LGBTQ citizens’ rights, why would I expect them to protect mine? And why would I spend my hard earned money in a place that rejects me and persecutes those like me?
I remember a story in the national press, years ago, about a lesbian couple who felt that they were discriminated against by the hotel staff whilst on honeymoon in the Dominican Republic and tried to sue their UK tour operator for not forcing the hotel to treat them like other, straight, newlyweds. I mean, come on! That’s not how the world works! We can’t force our laws and values on the countries we travel to. If these ladies had done their research, they’d have known that public displays of homosexuality are illegal in the Dominican Republic, punishable with up to 2 years in prison. What a great way to start married life!
There’s other stories that stick in my memory of gay couples being turned away from guesthouses, the owners citing religious beliefs as a defence for discrimination. Some high profile cases made it as far as the Supreme Court when the couples sued for discrimination. Not surprisingly, the B&B owners lost. I’ve never stayed in a guesthouse and would research whether one was LGBTQ friendly before ever booking one; I would be mortified if this happened to us whilst trying to enjoy a nice weekend away. You can’t earn loyalty points in B&Bs so I’m not likely to book one anytime soon anyway!
Aside from some childish name calling at school, neither of us have ever suffered homophobic abuse. We’re extremely lucky and we hope that continues. The only negative comments we’ve had whilst travelling happened in Miami, of all places! We were following the safety drill for the cruise ship we were on and some jocks behind us made comments about us being together. We weren’t offended, they were just idiots. Everyone else we spoke to on that ship were incredibly friendly, inquisitive about our trip and the other places we’d been. Some even told us to stick to the edges of the States as the middle states have some strange views on life. Sage advice!
It’s a shame that other countries in the world aren’t as forward thinking and accepting of diversity as we are in the UK, but that’s the way it is. The guesthouse incidents prove that discrimination happens everywhere but at least the law protects our rights at home, we don’t get that abroad.
The best thing we can do is march in our parades, wave our rainbow flags and support organisations and governments to change laws and protect the rights of all of their citizens. The fight might have started 50 years ago, but it’s far from over.