Usually, when you read my posts (thank you), I'm telling you about some pretty fabulous places. The great things about my job isn't that I get to travel and do what I love to do, but also see first hand how a place puts its best face forward.
But some places don't, particularly if you are, like me, a gay traveler. Gay Americans, (and Canadians, French, Swedes, etc.) tend to forget that we live in countries that, by and large, are exceptions to the rule when it comes to gay-friendly environments, and with this article, I am actually going to recommend places that gay travelers not visit. Don't go to them, don't support them, and most of all, don't give them your tourist dollars.
It should be said that this list, based on existing legal penal codes, is painted in broad strokes -- no nation is absolutely safe or dangerous -- and that most destinations should be considered on a case-by-case basis; the International Lesbian and Gay Association is a good place to start your research. That being said, there are a few safe bets...
Yikes. A gay man was arrested this month for being gay in Cameroon; a suspected gay man was set on fire by a mob in Uganda (and later killed), a gay man's grave desecrated in Senegal -- you are taking life into your hands here. Whether the reasons are prejudices handed down from Victorian Age colonizers or a homegrown hatred, anti-gay sentiment in Africa has reached such proportions that the United Kingdom threatened halt all financial aid unless things turned around.
There are lights at the end of the tunnel: South Africa is a world leader in gay equality, Mozambique is pushing hard to establish itself as a liberal-minded democracy, and Morocco has a long-standing, if on-the-DL gay culture. Elsewhere, however, gay and lesbian travelers should seriously consider how just how badly they want to go to Mother Africa. Because she's a real bitch.
Asia is so big and encompasses so many disparate cultures I need to parse it down. Generally speaking, things get complicated in Islamic countries, but lighten up where Eastern faiths take hold.
1) The Middle East: Ideologically, the Middle East extends from Morocco in Africa all the way to Afghanistan, and when it comes to gays and lesbians... well, they may want your money, but they don't want you. Israel, followed distantly by Lebanon, are the havens, but jail sentences await you in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and death sentences await you in Iran and Yemen. In all fairness, many Middle Eastern countries, particularly glitzy Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, tend to turn a blind eye so long as things are kept under wraps, but the only thing harder than coming out of the closet is going back in.
2) Central Asia: Nicknamed "the 'Stans" because every nation there has a name ending in "stan" -- it's Persian for "land of" -- this region, from a gay-travel standpoint, is dismal. Yes, you can find gay bars in the cities of Almaty (Kazakhstan) and Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), but two guys holding hands here, generally, are asking for it, and forget any sense of "gay brotherhood;" foreigners can be viewed with deep suspicion.
3) Southeast Asia: We all know how freewheeling Thailand is, but leave her borders and things slow down immediately, even in hyper-modern societies like Singapore. From Indonesia (Bali is OK) in the south to Myanmar in the west and over to Vietnam in the east, LGBTQ Ps & Qs should be watched.
4) The Indian Subcontinent: India is making very slow inroads with gay equality, and Mumbai and New Delhi are gay hubs, but Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal, and Bhutan are stuck in the Stone Age.
5) Pacific Asia: It's not like China, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea (I'm omitting North Korea, a whack-job of a country that shoots or imprisons just about anybody for any reason, sexual orientation aside) are completely in the dark about the existence of homosexuals; they are an integral part of their histories. The many faces of LGBTQs a la the West, however, are very new, and go against traditional stereotypes. For example, okama is the traditional designation for "gay man" in Japanese but specifically refers to a very effeminate gay man. For butch boys, an alien concept, Japan adopted gei, taken from "gay." In all, when it comes to Pacific Asia, you may have more trouble running into the traditional modes (i.e., demure) of behavior that apply to everybody, gay and straight. That being said, things aren't so bad here, but for a good gay time, do your research and stick to major cities.
Australia & Oceania:
Australia? Friendly. New Zealand? Friendly. Samoa? Not so much.
Some regional polities can be quite liberal, particularly those under French and British sovereignty (Tahiti and Pitcairn, respectively), but several independent nations of the South Pacific are still under constitutions constituted of anti-gay colonial-age laws that are obsessed with men and ignore women entirely, leading to societies like Kiribati where male homosexuality is illegal but female homosexuality, by omission, isn't. It's not to say Pacific Islanders are particularly fire-and-brimstone homophobes, but when police in Fiji canceled a gay rights march this year, it was a bad sign.
That being said, the countries to avoid from a gay standpoint are countries that should be avoided period because they are flying apart at the political seams: Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. With regard to the rest of Oceania, a little forethought and planning go a long away.
Business Insider recently released a 13-country list of Europe's least gay friendly countries based on their laws and administrative practices. While some were no shock (Vatican City, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus, Turkey, and Macedonia) others are: Cyprus, Monaco, and San Marino.
Let it be said that some specific locations in these countries have thriving gay scenes (Istanbul, for example), but from an "official" standpoint, when I say avoid places like Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine, I mean it. They will beat the crap out of you. The general rule is that post-Iron Curtain and post-Soviet Union nations having a lot of catching up to do, and the gay travelers "who want to be gay" should stick to Europe's western sections. Even Greece, the place where gay began, is today very homophobic. But I hear Sweden is great (it's the most gay friendly country on Earth).
North America & the Caribbean:
The United States is tricky; you can have two states in the same country be next to each other that have entirely different laws. This is why Washington can be so gay-friendly and Idaho can be so not. Then again, how many people go to Boise for vacation? Plan accordingly. Canada, on the other hand, is peachy.
The fun (?) begins south of the border. Mexico is a hodge-podge of gay-friendly destinations (Mexico City, the Riviera Maya) and others not so (the state of Chiapas). The rest of Central America, with the possible exception of Costa Rica, is downright dangerous for homosexuals; Belize should be avoided outright.
And when it comes to the Caribbean, gay travelers should head to those islands under a European flag, because the region is practically Iranian when it comes to homosexuals. Officials in Dominica positively flipped when a gay couple got arrested in flagrante delicto during a cruise stop-over, possibly because it is so rare anybody is caught in the act and backward penalties can finally be enforced (Ok, public sex is an offense just about everywhere, but I wonder if hetero sex would generate such a hoopla). Dominica, Jamaica and St. Kitts & Nevis sentence gays and lesbians to 10 years of hard labor; 25 years in Trinidad & Tobago, and life imprisonment in Barbados. It says something when Cuba is the region's most liberal-minded nation.
Of all South America, only Guyana still lists homosexual acts as illegal. Elsewhere, this continent has, on the whole, made serious strides in the right direction, so much so that the "dangerous" countries for gays would be the ones with high crime rates, drug activity, etc. That is, the ones dangerous for everybody.
Keep in mind, however, that machismo is practically a religion here, and outside of the major cities, things can get complicated quickly. Of the entire continent, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Peru are probably those nations that will give you a hard time.
With all destinations worldwide, be cautious, conscious and certainly respect your surroundings, people and environment. Happy and certainly safe travels!