The LGBTQ community has had much to celebrate in recent years, with marriage equality legalized in dozens of nations across the world. However, we should be aware that repressive measures still exist for much of the international LGBTQ community, and travelers heading to less progressive countries should take note. Western privilege and basic precaution can protect LGBTQ travelers from most harm and discrimination, but it is worthwhile to be aware of legislation and cultural norms before embarking on a trip with your partner or contemplating a vacation fling. We’ve done a deep dive into five popular vacation destinations to get a sense of the LGBTQ laws and culture to ensure a safe, conscientious, and enjoyable trip.
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1. Saint Lucia
This tiny Caribbean island is known for its incredible natural beauty, as well as old plantations and botanical gardens. However, St. Lucia’s stance on LGBTQ rights is less idyllic than its gorgeous sand beaches. Under current legislation, any same-sex sexual activity between men is punishable by up to ten years in prison — and that’s for consensual acts. The discriminatory law actually dates back to British colonization, as Britain imposed its own rigid system on St. Lucia. Fortunately, there is no such legislation barring same-sex relations between women, but that does not mean it’s a culturally accepted practice.
Since gaining independence in 1979, Saint Lucia’s laws have stayed much the same, emphasized by the fact that it was the only UN member in the Americas to reject the 2011 UN’s expansion of human rights non-discrimination declaration to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Efforts are being made, especially by the United and Strong gay rights organization, to advocate for the LGBTQ community by organizing the nation’s first LGBTQ human rights office. The center is now operating in its second location after the first was burned down just months after opening.
Saint Lucia is largely a safe destination and worth visiting. However, it is essential for LGBTQ visitors to keep Saint Lucian culture and laws in mind and avoid engaging in overt displays of affection when in public.
Spring breakers, honeymooners, and reggae fanatics alike make their way to Jamaica to embrace the laid-back vibe and beautiful scenery. And while many LGBTQ visitors won’t have any problems in the island nation, they should be aware that sexual acts between men is illegal and highly frowned upon by the majority of Jamaican society, just as in St. Lucia. Interestingly, it is not illegal for women to engage in homosexual acts. That being said, violence towards openly gay individuals is far from uncommon, with numerous documented beatings and even murders. Most LGBTQ people living openly are kicked out of their family homes, increasing their vulnerability. The only operating LGBTQ advocacy group is J-FLAG, whose founder was murdered in his own home.
Foreign visitors to Jamaica should be cautious about disclosing their own sexuality. LGBTQ travelers can still have an enjoyable Jamaica vacation, but it is advisable to refrain from public displays of affection and approach the topic cautiously, since some reports claim that up to 96 percent of Jamaicans still view homosexuality as anti-Christian.
Booming and bustling India can be a sensory overload for first time visitors, but rich, diverse cultures, scenery ranging from the Himalayas to sandy beaches, and an undeniable energy draw many to the subcontinent. India is predominantly Hindu, which generally has a less discriminatory stance on sexuality than Islam and Christianity, but visitors should still be aware that Indian society is more complicated than what’s covered in “Eat, Pray, Love.” For example, a Delhi high court legalized consensual same-sex acts in 2009, only to have the Supreme Court reverse the ruling in 2013.
The LGBTQ scene is largely informal and behind closed doors, with the activist and NGO community hosting the majority of LGBTQ events. There is less of a sense of outwardly celebrating LGBTQ identity, which is more inconspicuous to foreigners and conservative Indians alike. To further ambiguity, arranged marriages are still common, so many self-identified LGBTQ people will still enter a heterosexual marriage to preserve family honor and tradition.
After reading our list thus far, you might be getting frustrated with the remnants of oppression from the British Empire that have deep roots in its former colonies: Kenya is not an exception. Though the country beckons to travelers of all types, whether you’re visiting to go on safari, relax on the Indian Ocean’s superb coastline, or explore the Great Rift Valley, LGBTQ travelers should be aware that homosexuality is considered culturally taboo and unnatural (by 96 percent of Kenyans, according to one study), with legislation criminalizing sodomy and sexual relations between males. There is also a lack of legal protection against discrimination concerning sexual orientation and gender identity. The pervasive stance on the LGBTQ community has roots in religious influence as well — most of Kenya is either Christian or Muslim.
But there’s an interesting cultural phenomenon in certain ethnic groups in the area: female same-sex marriage. These relationships are not viewed as homosexual, but rather as ways for families without sons to manage the inheritance of property within a family. Typically, the younger of the two women will have children with men in the community, but the two women are designated as guardians, and not the father.
Foreign LGBTQ visitors are unlikely to be hassled if they keep reasonable discretion.
Known for seemingly endless sand dunes, bustling markets, the Atlas Mountains, and excellent cuisine, Morocco is often high on the list of many travelers’ dream destinations. The north African nation maintains a more laid-back stance on the LGBTQ community than most African and Muslim nations, but it’s still best to exercise caution. Same-sex sexual activity is criminalized and can result in up to three years in prison. But travelers should note that it isn’t uncommon to see men holding hands — it’s an act of friendship in the Moroccan context, rather than a romantic one.
Foreign tourists are often of little concern to Moroccan authorities, unless they become involved with native Moroccans. Any Moroccan can be jailed for having sexual relations outside of marriage, so don’t expect to be bringing a newfound fling back to your hotel room. For foreign same-sex couples, these laws are not applicable. However, it is still wise to maintain a low profile in terms of sexuality, especially when traveling away from the main tourist hubs like Marrakech and Casablanca.
That being said, the LGBTQ presence in Morocco isn’t silent. A group known as Kif-Kif advocates for LGBTQ rights and distributes a magazine for the community. However, the government still doesn’t officially recognize Kif-Kif, so they largely have to operate out of Spain.
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