A few posts ago, I presented my readers with "Trouble in Paradise(s)" a broadly-written summary of all the places in the world LGBTQ travelers should not go because of anti-gay attitudes both in the local culture and government. I pulled most of the information from the IGLTA and individual countries' homophobic penal codes. There were a few surprises, like Monaco, and a few non-surprises, like Saudi Arabia.
It was, in effect, a travel warning. And I pulled no punches. For example, with the exception of South Africa and sorta-kinda Mozambique, I called Africa "a real bitch," because to a gay traveler, that is exactly what that continent is; a quick Google/Bing news search will show some particularly barbaric murders and court sentences of perfectly sane, consenting adults. My intent was simple: LGBTQ travelers face a set of codified and systemic prejudices in the majority of the world's countries (and more than a few American states). Several of these locations, the Caribbean and Oceania among them, are renowned, and indeed are economically dependent, on being tourist hotspots. I stated for the record that there are some locations, however pretty, that simply have not yet earned gay dollars being spent on them.
It shouldn't be too much of a shock that the post generated some comments. Over 200, before the comments shut down. A few readers, finding themselves and their countries/cultures/religions called out, reacted with extreme indignation... while at the same time remaining as narrow-minded as they were before. More than a few criticized me for what looked a like an ad hoc singling-out of this or that nation.
Well, now I have none other than the government of the United States on my side.
As reported in the New York Times, the U.S. State Department set up last month a Web portal for LGBTQ travelers. This is a go-to must for any gay or lesbian planning on leaving the country, if only for a day trip to Vancouver or Tijuana. Some of the advice is eminently practical, such as getting a good gay-specific guidebook from a reputable publisher. Others are eminently necessary, such as carrying documentation for children detailing paternity and custody. While the warning to keep public displays of affection under wraps may stick in many a gay man's craw, the sad fact remains that there are some places in the world, even in the United States, were doing just that makes life a lot easier.
Particularly useful is the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. STEP is "a free service provided by the U.S. government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. STEP allows you to enter information about your upcoming trip abroad so that the Department of State can provide you with current Travel Warnings, Alerts, and Country Specific Information. STEP also allows U.S. citizens abroad to get emergency and security messages from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate." Nobody wants to think about emergencies on a vacation, but it is wise to do so, gay or straight, and having the full weight of the U.S. government behind you does tend to make several problems evaporate fairly quickly.
The site has a few holes. The page contains a "Country Specific Information" link to the State Dept.'s exhaustive list of every nation, territory, protectorate, and rock in the middle of nowhere in existence. Each entry is a basic overview of the country, its population, urban centers, and other official statistical information US agencies keep on file. These overviews, however, do not enlighten gay and lesbians on the friendliness of the country, however. I clicked the entry to notoriously homophobic Nigeria but there was no mention of the local attitudes towards gays and lesbians in the country. This is curious, because the site does say how accepting the Netherlands is, although, to be fair, it does not mention that same acceptance in the Iceland entry.
So it is a little piecemeal. If you want a good read, the site makes available the State Dept.'s Human Rights Reports that goes into the infinitely detailed intricacies of individual countries, but it may just be easier to do your own research, using the State Dept. as a guide.
"By fighting for the rights of so many others, we realize that "gay rights" are human rights, and human rights are gay rights." That quote, said by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in December of 2011, emblazons the top of the Webpage. Many countries, even my own, have a ways to go when it comes to un-demonizing gays and lesbians. But when the U.S. State Department comes in on your side, it's a good sign.