To travel or not to countries with anti-LGBTQ laws? – DW (English)

For LGBTQ people, visiting places that criminalize or discriminate against their identities often raises concerns. DW looks at why queer tourists and their allies should be open to destinations with anti-LGBTQ laws.
Two beds or one in a hotel room? The question may seem trivial, but not for a gay couple traveling in a country where same-sex relations are criminalized. It was among the questions I had to consider on a recent trip with my German partner Knut to Zambia, one of many countries in Africa and the Middle East that are among the worst places for LGBTQ individuals to visit, according to the latest Gay Travel Index 2023 by Spartacus.
And yet even Saudi Arabia, the nation rated the world’s worst for LGBTQ travelers, appears to want their tourist dollars. Last month the kingdom’s official tourism site said LGBTQ travelers are welcome while recommending visitors keep their gender and identity to themselves. The move shows that tourists there are rarely the targets of laws that criminalize LGBTQ people or discriminate against them. 
“Some places turn a blind eye to LGBTQ+ tourists or especially gay (male) tourists because we tend to be quite privileged in most places,” says John Tanzella, CEO of International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA). The travel expert refers to both economic privilege and gay men as cisgendered. 
Being a gay man who can potentially pass as straight while traveling to Zambia as a tourist should have provided a level of safety and comfort. But I wasn’t taking chances — I didn’t want to let anything that could give us away as a couple show in public. My behavior and fears weren’t unusual for an LGBTQ individual. “The moment you start showing a little bit of difference, and that could be on the visible gender fluidity spectrum or the queer spectrum, the problems start coming up,” says Rajiv Desai, a Berlin-based diversity, equity and inclusion practitioner. 
That means those who can pass as cisgendered and heterosexual are more likely to have an easier time navigating places with anti-LGBTQ laws
According to Desai, it’s not just about being LGBTQ, other aspects of a person’s (perceived) identity also play a role in determining their experience in a place.
“Each person will really have to look at who they are, where they’re going, and what that means for them,” he explains. While identity may play a major role on how safe and comfortable a person feels, where their money goes also matters.
And that’s something I also struggled when traveling with Knut to Zambia. I was unsure and somewhat uncomfortable that our tourist euros would end up in the coffers of a government that doesn’t support human rights for LGBTQ people — especially with our trip taking place just weeks after four women were detained for allegedly promoting homosexuality at a march against sexual and gender-based violence because they were carrying rainbow flags.
Local crackdowns on LGBTQ rights can irk tourists. According to a recent story in Bloomberg, the French parents of the partner of Ugandan LGBTQ rights activist Clare Byarugaba canceled a trip to her country because they disapproved of the country’s extreme anti-LGBTQ legislation. So it’s not only queer travelers, but also their allies who care about where their money goes. For many, a boycott is the easiest way to take a stand. But while it provides relief that some action has been taken, it may not actually serve local LGBTQ communities in those places. “Our stance is never to say, ‘don’t go to boycott,’ because there are LGBTQ people everywhere,” says IGLTA CEO John Tanzella.
Going to Zambia seemed to be the best choice for me. Introducing my partner to family members and the country I grew up in outweighed the benefits of a boycott. 
For Rajiv Desai, travel is a “learning experience.” The Indian-American DEI practitioner came out as gay while living and working in Dubai. And while that was challenging, it helped him better understand how queer people navigate and survive in places with anti-LGBTQ legislation.
“There is something to be said about visiting those countries and seeing the communities that live there (and) getting to know them,” he says.
Desai believes that those who want to show their support for local queer communities can do more by speaking with them and understanding how they are affected by anti-LGBTQ laws. “It’s not as clear cut as saying, ‘I’m not going to spend my dollar,'” Desai notes. Many global companies and governments that fly the rainbow flag during Pride Month continue doing business with countries that have anti-LGBTQ laws, he notes. So where people work, shop and who they vote for in their own countries also matters.
Tourism can have a positive effect on local communities. Take Jamaica for instance. In 2006, it was dubbed “the most homophobic place on Earth” by Time magazine. While the queer community there continues to face discrimination, the situation in the country has improved.
“There are still a number of social issues that affect the local LGBT community but Jamaica is certainly not the same space it was 10 years ago,” said Renae Green, World Board Member of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) in a written statement. “LGBTQ tourists have definitely helped with the mindset and shift we are seeing,” she added.
Traveling also shifts the mindsets of LGBTQ tourists. It can help them unpack their own misconceptions about places and how LGBTQ people are affected. So instead of focusing on individual actions such as boycotts, Desai recommends queer people understand how their own governments and countries may be contributing, for example, by doing business in countries with anti-LGBTQ laws.
It’s important for them to examine how they include LGBTQ people living in such places. “Companies can and should do more on addressing the harder conversations than just (doing) some of the more celebratory stuff,” he says.

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