We at Babbel greatly value the importance of travel and the opportunities it can provide for learning about language and culture, as well as for self-discovery. We also value diversity of all kinds. With these principles in mind, we created a list of the world’s most LGBTQ-friendly travel destinations, a compilation of places where members of the queer community are accepted with open arms. But it’s important to keep in mind that some countries aren’t as accepting. In some places, anyone who isn’t heterosexual and cisgender is at risk for persecution by citizens and/or prosecution by the government. Here are six of the least LGBTQ-friendly travel destinations, in no particular order.
Note: We’re not saying you absolutely shouldn’t visit these countries; we would simply urge caution and plenty of research before you go. For more information and resources, check out the Babbel Guide to Solo Female/LGBTQ Travel.
The Least LGBTQ-Friendly Travel Destinations Around The World
This small East African country appeals to some adventurous travelers, as it’s home to the tallest mountain range on the continent, it’s the source of the Nile River, and there is abundant wildlife.
Unfortunately, Uganda is also one of the least LGBTQ-friendly countries on Earth. Homosexuality is illegal and same-sex relationships are punishable by up to seven years in prison. On top of that, members of the Ugandan Parliament are working to bring back the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014, which pushes for life sentences for homosexuality (and sometimes even the death penalty). According to Pew Research Center’s Global Views on Morality poll, 93 percent of Ugandans view homosexuality as “morally unacceptable.” Unsurprisingly, Uganda also prohibits people from changing their legal gender.
Despite its appearance on this list, Russia is still a fairly popular travel destination. People visit it for the history and architecture of Moscow, the arts and culture of St. Petersburg and the natural beauty of Russia’s countryside. As the host of 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup, the world’s largest country has been in the spotlight a lot.
But a spotlight also has also begun to shine on Russia’s anti-LGBTQ-friendly policies. While homosexuality was decriminalized following the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian government under Vladimir Putin has continued to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community. In 2013, the “gay propaganda law” was made a part of federal law, barring all public mentions of homosexuality. Just one year ago in the Russian-controlled republic of Chechnya, government authorities detained and tortured men suspected of being gay. About 72 percent of Russians view homosexuality as unacceptable. The country does allow transgender people to change their legal gender with proof of a reassignment surgery.
This Caribbean island has rainforests, mountains and beaches. It’s also the birthplace of reggae music. Unfortunately, the relaxed vibes don’t usually extend to the LGBTQ community, and it’s not a great place for LGBTQ-friendly travel. In fact, a 2006 article in Time named Jamaica “the most homophobic place on earth.”
A law called “The Offences Against The Person Act,” which dates back to 1864, is still on the books and still enforced. The law calls for up to 10 years of imprisonment with hard labor for anyone convicted of “buggery” (anal sex). Oddly, it’s technically legal for females to have sex with other females because of the terminology used in this law. Discrimination and violence against LGBTQ people are common in Jamaica, as they are not protected by anti-discrimination laws. A 2014 report by Human Rights Watch found that LGBT Jamaicans are often the victims of physical and sexual violence, and many live in fear. “They are taunted, threatened, fired from their jobs, thrown out of their homes, or worse: beaten, stoned, raped, or killed,” according to the report.
Known for its gorgeous beaches and eclectic mix of cultural influences, Malaysia is popular with travelers around the world. But as far as LGBTQ-friendly travel destinations, visitors should exercise caution if they go to Malaysia.
According to the Pew morality poll, 88 percent of Malaysians think homosexuality is “unacceptable.” In addition, male homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia and has been since 1826, and it’s punishable with five years in prison. Like in Jamaica, homosexuality between females is technically legal because the criminalization is based on anti-sodomy laws with colonial roots. Transgender people in Malaysia cannot legally change their gender, either. A 2015 Human Rights Watch report found that under Malaysia’s Sharia law, “transgender persons face arbitrary arrest, physical and sexual assault, imprisonment, discriminatory denial of health care and employment, and other abuses.”
With delicious food, bustling cities and ancient temples galore, India is on many people’s travel bucket list. LGBTQ people are generally more accepted in India than in some of the other countries on this list (67 percent of Indians said homosexuality is unacceptable in the Pew poll), but there are still risks involved for some visitors.
Currently, the law of the land in India — section 377 of the penal code — effectively bans gay sex for men and women, calling for imprisonment as punishment. But the country’s Supreme Court is reviewing section 377 to determine its constitutionality and has set a July deadline for India’s government to explain its stance on the issue. LGBTQ activists see this as a potentially historic moment for gay rights in India. Transgender and gender non-binary individuals are permitted to change their legal gender to a third gender without reassignment surgery. Lumped together with eunuchs and hermaphrodites, people who are classified in this third gender are called hijras — a Hindu-Urdu word which stems from the Arabic word hijrah, meaning “flight or journey to a more desirable place.”
Turkey is unique in that that it’s home to the world’s only city that straddles two continents; Istanbul is in both Europe and Asia. Turkey also has a rich history that can be seen in its architecture and its ruins, as well as beautiful beaches and picturesque landscapes.
But visiting Turkey comes with its share of risks. The U.S. Department of State put a Level 3 alert on Turkey, saying Americans should “reconsider travel” due to “terrorism and arbitrary detentions.” The department also warns of an increased risk in areas near the border with Syria.
For LGBTQ-friendly travel, Turkey is not the place to go; here, much caution should be exercised. Technically, homosexuality is legal in Turkey. But in 2017, authorities in the capital city of Ankara banned LGBTQ events and Turkey’s president canceled the pride parade in Istanbul for the third year in a row. Homophobia is fairly widespread in Turkey, where the Pew morality poll found 78 percent of citizens view homosexuality as unacceptable. Transgender individuals are permitted to change their legal gender, but they must undergo reassignment surgery before doing so.
Don’t be discouraged by these facts. Travel on, but optimize for LGBTQ-friendly travel by doing it safely!