Safety is a key factor in picking travel destinations, particularly when you’re travelling as a person of colour, LGBTQ+, less able-bodied, a woman or non-binary person, or any other identity that might mark you out as a second-class citizen. That being said, today I read the article 10 Places LGBT Travelers Should Never Visit. It was total trash, which ruined my decaf latte. It’s time for diversifying gay travel because too many of these articles about ‘places LGBT travellers should never visit’ are fundamentally racist.
It begins with “places [they] love (New Orleans, Philadelphia, Cuba),” which all seem quite close to home for the American writer. They then present a list of 10 countries we should “avoid at all costs.” The countries — Nigeria, Honduras, Zimbabwe, Jamaica, Senegal, Lithuania, Sudan, Egypt, Russia and Uganda — read like Trump’s no-fly zone: they’re generally “far-away” and seem a little bit icky.
First up is Nigeria (a country I lived in for three months), and where the author makes their first unforced error by calling it a central African country. Maybe visiting was out of the question, but the quickest of searches, or a basic understanding of Africa, would tell you it’s West African (a denomination of political, historical, social and economic significance). But whatever, it’s only the first line of the first country of your ten-country listicle, right?
The author outlines ubiquitous homophobia on a national scale as well as the legal ramifications for being gay as reasons you shouldn’t “desire to visit”, before rhetorically asking in a pithy parenthesis “[but] why would you?” Because, of course, a country like Nigeria would have nothing to offer a traveller (or rather, a yuppie, listicle-reading Insta “travel photographer”).
Sadly, it’s mostly downhill from there. The pictures add some balance. Maybe the editor was a bit more woke. The slides accompanying Nigeria, Honduras, Egypt and Russia show visibly queer people and allies protesting with rainbow flags, dragged up Putins, and direct action at sports events and in the street. This is something completely missed in the text, undermining the resistance and fought-for visibility so characteristic of our LGBTQ+ history in the West and abroad.
It’s hard to pinpoint my favourite bit, but it’s easy to find the most racist. It’s the disembodied image of a pair of shackled bare black feet as the photo of choice for Sudan, because, well, why exactly? Literally, what were the search terms for the stock photo archive here and how were they relevant?
In my ignorance (or masochism), I did what Thou Shalt Never Do — read the comments section. Unfortunately, it shows precisely the kind of small-minded foolishness that this content feeds.
From one reader bemoaning the listing of “such obscure” places to another calling them “shitty” (shoutout to Trump v Haiti), we see a complete dismissal of entire countries and even continents. One Kerry Smith “wouldn’t go anywhere near Africa, the Middle East, Jamaica or parts of Eastern Europe.” Tl;dr — y’all were racist already and just wanted another reason to hate on Africa.
Ironically, Ruth Trewhella unwittingly captured the core sentiment exactly: “As always people find unity by sharing a commen [sic] hatred towards a group who are differnt [sic] from themselves in some way… Sad and disturbing.” In this case, our common hatred is towards the black, brown, and mostly poor bodies of our fellow humans across the ocean.
If I said I’d avoid America at all costs because:
- it’s a racist country where state-sanctioned violence against people of colour occurs daily;
- armed terrorists roam the street;
- militarised police mar the civil liberties of free organisations and protest, and where
- as a queer black man in some places, I would have a 1 in 2 chance of being HIV positive, while
- transphobic violence is skyrocketing;
They would argue that the United States of America has great culture and beauty there, too, and the picture I paint is not the whole story.
The fact that six out of ten of these countries are in Africa, and that a seventh — Jamaica — is a majority black, former-colony, is notable. There is no recognition of the fact that legally codified homophobia is a legacy of Western colonial-era laws. By presenting such a homogeneously negative view of these countries, they are just repeating tired colonial tropes of the “third world” and ignoring the many reasons people would visit these places. We go for family, work, natural beauty, music, food, language, fabulous beaches, school, and the literal pyramids.
Obviously, visiting these places poses a significant danger to members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly to those unable or unwilling to “pass” as cis and straight. At this point, I acknowledge my privilege in being able to do so and stress that no-one should if it makes them too uncomfortable. But this sort of chat collapses the diversity of our community into a single entity — queer or not — ignoring the many identities we have which are made up of ethnicity, class, education, jobs, hobbies and whatever else. It fails ‘Intersectionality 101.’ Fortunately, or unfortunately, our community is full of chameleons, and we are capable of adaptation to all kinds of circumstances, and this doesn’t make you less queer. You can be gay and an international health worker, trans and want to surf in Senegal, intersex and want to visit the literal fucking pyramids. Diversifying gay travel is nothing new for many of us.
Importantly, you can be queer and black, or Hispanic, or even Russian too, which is something an article like this “Pride piece” ignores. The total erasure of the hundreds of millions of black and brown people in the diaspora who might, you know, want to visit grandma at Christmas, just continues the age-old whitewashing of our history. For some, to stay away from these countries means suppressing their ethnic, national or familial identities, something many of us know too well even living in the West. By writing off entire countries or continents, all we do is marginalise members of our own community, both here and abroad.
Travelling while gay is a thing, but travelling while black comes with its own problems, too. My antidote to this fear is the Insta feed of a friend of mine who recently uploaded a video of herself ‘hella carefree in Krakow.’ Or more recently, she and another friend posted up on a Croatian beach serving all-black bald-headed/kinky afro’d full bikini-bodied realness, east of the iron curtain. Incidentally, this same friend spent six months in Paris and found the racism there almost unbearable. Should we sack Paris off too? Another friend studied Italian evening classes and heads out there whenever she can to gorge on fine art and pasta at a time where the refugee crisis is creating an acutely anti-black political environment. Members of my own family have emigrated from Italy, after having lived there for years, because it was just too hard existing as a black person.
These black women teach me that my queerness and blackness aren’t my only identities. And they remind me that as someone with the privilege of being able to afford to travel the world, with easy access to visas, and a body that can handle it, it would be foolish not to.
From what I can tell, the Pride article was a reprint of an identical piece published in 2015. But these total travel bans are still being published. We need advice about visibility, passing, safety, and activism. We need encouragement to develop ourselves as diverse individuals within a diverse community, despite shitty homophobic policies. We don’t need limitations on who we can be as LGBTQ+ people in the form of super racist listicles.
Some agencies like Responsible Travel are trying, and the Foreign Commonwealth Office (surprisingly) has some thoughtful advice. Equalidex and Asher & Lyric have provided helpful rankings of countries by available legal protections, which give a starting point for educating ourselves on the possible risks in visiting a given country (though the latter is unhelpfully named the “LGBTQ+ Danger Index”). Unfortunately, while there are heaps of LGBTQ+ travel blogs around, they’re often written by and for white travellers (or “ex-pats”), with lots of posts about North America, Western Europe and East Asia, and very little in spicier locales.
Here’s my contribution to diversifying gay travel with one great reason to visit each of the ‘banned’ countries below. But remember, safety first!
- You may also like Gay Ghana: Queer Undercover